Murdoch gets another chance

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he's taking more time to consider News Corporation's BSkyB bid. That's bound to go down well...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Hunt has already seen evidence from Ofcom, which today published its take on the proposed £12.2bn deal - in which News Corp would buy up the 61% of BSkyB that it doesn’t already own. Ofcom was unequivocal in its distate towards the merger, saying it ‘may operate against the public interest in media plurality’ and that the bid must go to the Competition Commission.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Hunt giving as much of a green light to the deal as he can, agreeing in principle with the regulator, but conceding he’s first going to give News Corp a chance to say what it may do to alleviate any concerns. Rumour has it this may be anything from flogging the loss-making Sky News, to offloading the Sun and Times newspapers or restructuring the business.

Hunt had planned to announce whether he was referring the bid to the Competition Commission by the end of the month. It could be a lot longer now, which will add further fuel to the already fervent belief that News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch has our senior politicians eating out of his hands.

Not that Hunt is prepared to admit that, of course. ‘My main concern is not to work to an arbitrary timetable but to ensure that I reach my decision in a fair and even-handed way which is transparent and ensures that all concerns are properly considered,’ he said. In any normal case this would be fair enough. But cynics may point out how weird it sounds to hear the word ‘transparent’ where Murdoch is concerned. This is a man who was dining with the PM over Christmas, a fact that sat as well with certain sectors of society as a flag-waving female did recently with Sky’s football presenters.

The PM has said that the Christmas meeting won’t have any impact on this decision at all, and that this one is Hunt’s to make alone. Murdoch will still be laughing - things have certainly turned far more forgiving since Vince Cable was 'declaring war' on him late last year.

But while the Government may seem reluctant to shove News Corp in front of the regulator, equally it can’t exactly just wave the deal through – the potential for added flak is just too great, given the News of the World hacking saga is still rolling on. So in a way you can’t blame the Culture Secretary for dallying – whichever way his decision goes, Hunt is likely to become the hunted.

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