UK media alliance slams Jeremy Hunt over Sky deal

News Corp's plan to spin out Sky News from BSkyB will not protect media plurality, rivals insist, in a letter to MPs.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

When Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt decided not to refer News Corp's bid for full control of BSkyB to the Competition Commission, following the offer to spin off (the loss-making) Sky News, it looked as though the game may be up for the media groups who have been fiercely oppposed to the deal from day one. But they're not giving up without a fight: they've just sent an open letter to Hunt, arguing that the Sky News compromise won't do anything to protect media plurality, and insisting that a review is still needed. Good luck with that...

The main contention of the media alliance (which includes the likes of Guardian Media Group, BT, Trinity Mirror, Associated Newspapers and Telegraph Media Group) is that the technical separation of Sky News from BSkyB is not really the point - since the former will be still be reliant on the latter for about 85% of its revenue for the next decade, and will also be using the Sky brand under licence. So News Corp will have 'a ready means... to turn the financial screw... if it so wishes.'

The other key plank of News Corp's argument is that Sky News will be given complete editorial independence (independent directors, an independent chairman, and so on). But the groups claim that these safeguards are 'weak' at best, and 'of the sort that News Corporation has previously being adept at undermining'. (No specifics on this one, understandably). So there's no guarantee that it won't exert editorial influence, in other words.

The rival group clearly wishes to foster the idea that this deal has been waved through by the Government in return for the Murdoch's past/ future support for the Tories at election time. But Hunt dismissed such 'conspiracy theories' today; he also pointed out that he'd referred the deal to two independent regulators, despite being under no compulsion to do so.

One thing's for sure: if News Corp was hoping opponents of the deal would go quietly into the night following the Sky News offer, it''s going to be disappointed. There's too much at stake here (and not just for those recalcitrant Sky shareholders pushing for £10 a share). But is the Government really likely to perform a U-turn and refer the deal now? Sounds like a long shot - though if they can keep up the political pressure, who knows...

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