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Attorneys for Fox News Employees Hope to Influence 21st Century Fox’s Sky Bid

Variety logo Variety 5/5/2017 Brian Steinberg
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Some of the employees who have filed lawsuits against Fox News Channel in recent weeks are hoping to generate some headlines of their own.

Two attorneys representing current and former Fox News staffers in some of the growing stack of litigation that has swirled around the 21st Century Fox unit say they will try to use the controversy to influence the British media-industry regulator known as Ofcom that is investigating whether the Murdoch-controlled Fox is “fit and proper” to buy the 61% of the British satellite-broadcaster Sky it does not already own. 21st Century Fox reached a deal late last year to buy the remaining Sky stake for $14.6 billion – a pact that would give Fox enormous global heft.

Lisa Bloom, an attorney who represents one of the women who recently levied sexual-harassment allegations against the former Fox News stalwart Bill O’Reilly, said Friday she will travel next week to the United Kingdom to make a “verbal submission” to Ofcom officials. Wendy Walsh, a one-time Fox News contributor who made public accusations against O’Reilly,  and her client, will accompany her.

Douglas Wigdor, a New York attorney representing 11 current and former Fox News employees in a racial-discrimination lawsuit filed against Fox News, will visit Ofcom next Thursday. “I am pleased that Ofcom has invited me to appear in London next week on behalf of our 20 clients and look forward to sharing the information that I have come to learn about 21st Century Fox through the dedicated men and women that I am privileged to represent,” Wigdor said in a statement. Fox News has said that it “vehemently denied” the claims of the lawsuit.

A 21st Century Fox spokesman said the company declined to comment.

The attorneys may not  hold sway over the regulatory agency. “Sky is already deemed to be controlled (but not owned) by Fox. As such, it may be difficult for Ofcom to explain why the Murdoch’s were ‘fit and proper’ prior to the Sky offer but not after,” said Jason Bazinet, a media-industry analyst for Citi Research, in an April 27th note.  He also noted that Ofcom gave Fox a “fit and proper” certification in the aftermath of the company’s  phone-hacking scandal, which came to great light in 2011 after employees of a Murdoch-controlled newspaper  were accused of phone hacking and police bribery, among other misdeeds.

“We don’t expect a different result this time around,” Bazinet said. Ofcom is expected to finish its review by mid to late June of this year.

The attorneys’ efforts illustrate how Fox News Channel corporate culture remains under scrutiny and continues to serve as a thorn in the side of its parent, despite the fact that it generates a good chunk of its operating profit.

In the past ten months, the network has parted ways with some of its most senior executives. Roger Ailes, the company’s former CEO and guiding light, was ousted last year in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations levied against him by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and other current and former female employees. O’Reilly parted ways with Fox last month after advertisers left his primetime “O’Reilly Factor” in the wake of revelations he had paid as much as $13 million in settlements to women who had accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.

Ailes has denied all charges made against him. O’Reilly said he made the settlements to protect his children, noting that his fame made him a target.

But the departures have not ended there. Earlier this week, Bill Shine, a Fox News co-president and a longtime producer at the network, resigned. Shine had been named in several lawsuits alleging he may have had a role in fostering a culture at Fox News in which sexual harassment was tolerated. “Bill has played a huge role in building Fox News to its present position as the nation’s biggest and most important cable channel in the history of the industry,” Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and Fox News, said in a statement. Rank-and-file employees at the network say they anticipate other executive shuffles could be in the works.

Meantime, 21st Century Fox is contending with matters on these shores as well.  The company has said it is cooperating with a probe by federal investigators that is believed to focus not only on the structure of payments made to Fox News employees who had made allegations of sexual-harassment, but also on  whether intimidation tactics were utilized against employees at the network.

A spokesman for the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which is believed to be handling the matter, declined to comment on whether the federal office was involved in such an investigation.

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