21st Century Fox removes Fox News Channel from Sky TV

21st Century Fox has removed its Fox News Channel from the Sky TV lineup as it awaits British government approval of a deal to take over the European pay television service.

The media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons issued a statement Tuesday saying that the decision to pull the network was because of poor audience response in Britain. Fox News Channel is the No. 1-rated cable network in the U.S., and is favored by viewers looking for a politically conservative take on current affairs.

“Fox News is focused on the U.S. market and designed for a U.S. audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the U.K.,” the representative said. “We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the U.K.”

Such low viewership means 21st Century Fox is losing money by putting the Fox News feed on Sky.

According to the Guardian, which first reported that the channel was being dropped and noted that it was getting as few as 2,000 viewers a day, the move is unrelated to 21st Century Fox’s $15-billion bid for Sky.

But Fox News has been a repeated and easy target for critics of 21st Century Fox as it awaits government approval to acquire the 61% of Sky it does not own.

For a year, Fox News has been dealing with a deluge of sexual harassment allegations that escalated under the network’s founding chief executive, Roger Ailes, who died in May less than a year from his ouster over the matter.

The harassment scandal has led to the firing of top executives and talent and the suspension of two current Fox News hosts. The network has had racial discrimination suits filed against it as well.

Earlier this summer, Britain’s Office of Communications determined that the Murdochs and other Fox executives qualify as a "fit and proper" media owner, but the country’s secretary of state has asked that office to revisit its findings. The deal is still being studied to determine if it gives the Murdochs too much influence over British media.

Opponents of the deal have also expressed fears that the rightward tilt of Fox News editorial content could seep into Sky News. Inaccurate and politically biased coverage is forbidden by British broadcast regulations.

Murdoch’s previous attempt to take full control of Sky in 2011 was dropped amid the phone-hacking scandal that involved his British tabloid newspaper News of the World, which has since been closed.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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