Minister gives Murdoch more time on BSkyB


BRITISH SECRETARY of state for culture Jeremy Hunt has given Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation extra time to make concessions in its multi-billion bid to take full ownership of BSkyB, which broadcasts Sky News and Sky Sports.

Mr Hunt said that, while he still intended to involve the regulator, News Corporation had asked him to consider undertakings that might alleviate his concerns. These are understood to include guarantees to make Sky News editorially independent of the company while still owned by it.

Media regulator Ofcom is firmly against the deal, making it clear in a report sent to Mr Hunt, and published by him yesterday in edited form, that News Corporation’s attempt to take control of the 61 per cent stake in BSkyB that it does not already own would lead to an unacceptable concentration of media ownership in the UK.

News Corporation accused the regulator of conducting a “one-sided” and “seriously flawed” examination of the bid and warned that a referral to the Competition Commission on the strength of the report would be “seriously in error”, according to a company submission released by Mr Hunt.

Hinting strongly that it will go to the courts if its ambitions are blocked, the Murdoch media giant said the “biased and prejudiced approach” shown by Liberal Democrat secretary of state Vince Cable had tainted the review.

Mr Cable lost responsibility for adjudicating on media mergers last month after it was revealed that he had voiced his opposition to the takeover to undercover Daily Telegraphreporters, saying that he was “at war” with Mr Murdoch.

However, Ofcom issued a quick rejection of News Corporation’s claim, saying that it had given “a clear, accurate and independent assessment of the public interest issues” in its report and rejecting the company’s claims that it did not have an open mind.

Labour, which has repeatedly highlighted the close ties between Mr Murdoch and the Conservatives, challenged Mr Hunt’s delay in making a final decision on whether to refer the takeover to the Competition Commission, given “that Ofcom had made it clear that there are potentially serious public interest concerns raised”.

Mr Murdoch’s company, which owns the Sun, the News of the World,the Timesand the Sunday Times, made an £7 billion offer last June for the 61 per cent of BSkyB that it does not already own, though it was opposed by other companies who fear that it would give him too much power, and allow cross-advertising between his various newspapers, TV and radio stations.

Meanwhile, trade unionists gathered in London last night to mark the 25th anniversary of Mr Murdoch’s decision to sack 5,500 workers and abandon Fleet Street for a non-union printing plant in Wapping in London’s East End.