The Murdoch clan, especially James Murdoch, will be hoping last week’s “make nice” speech in London won’t be waste of time after a less-than-enthusiastic reception from the UK government to the formal bid for the rest of Sky from its biggest shareholder, 21st Century Fox. Fox submitted its bid to European authorities on Friday, a move that started the ball rolling on scrutiny of the 11.7 billion-pound offer.

That will give the UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley 10 working days to decide whether to refer the bid to British media watchdog Ofcom. And the first reaction from Ms Bradley was a surprise — she said in a statement that she is “minded to order an Ofcom probe of the bid over concerns about media plurality and broadcasting standards. They were two of the very issues James Murdoch tried to play down in his speech late last week.

In a statement, Bradley stressed that she has not yet made a final decision on whether to intervene and said she had written to both Sky and Fox asking for them to make written representations by March 8, with the aim of announcing a final decision on intervention in the week commencing March 13 (a week today).

Any decision to intervene would not block the deal, it would trigger an Ofcom assessment of public interest considerations as well as a Competition and Markets Authority report on jurisdiction, to be considered by Bradley acting in her quasi-judicial role. The offer comes five years after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal forced the then-News Corp to withdraw an earlier offer (which did not have a formal price). If the EU regulators either delay or block it from happening, watch the anti-EU invective step up from the family’s UK attack dogs, such as The Sun. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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