Murdoch’s BSkyB deal referred to Competition Commission


by a Newsnet reporter

A week is a long time in politics, and in the world of corporate media.  Just a few days ago it appeared that Rupert Murdoch’s News International had its bid to take over the lucrative BSkyB satellite broadcaster all tied up.  However Murdoch’s ambition to control 100% of the shares in BSkyB looked to have failed yesterday.  The fall out from the NotW now looks as though it will kill the deal.

In an announcement to the House of Commons on Monday, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred the bid to the Competion Commission.  The move followed the announcement by News International that it would no longer abide by certain guarantees agreed with the broadcasting regulation authorities in order to protect the independence of Sky News.  

The company’s action was widely seen as Murdoch’s least worst option.  By removing the guarantees the company gave Mr Hunt no choice but to refer the bid back to the Competition Commission, who may take six months to make a ruling.  This move forestalled recent calls by politicians that the government should block the merger and buys News International more time.  

However it now appears increasingly unlikely that News International will be considered a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting company.  Revelations about alleged illegal practices at the News of the World continue to come into the public domain.  Over the weekend it was alleged that NotW reporters had tried to illegally obtain personal details relating to British victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.  It has also been alleged that reporters from the paper made illegal payments to police officers in an attempt to obtain personal information relating to the Royal Family.

In his statement to the House the culture secretary affirmed that there was also to be a public inquiry into the original police investigation into phone hacking as well as a separate inquiry into the “practices and ethics” of the British press.  Mr Hunt also confirmed that the enquiry into the phone hacking scandal would be led by a judge.

The Prime Minister David Cameron was not present in the House of Commons when Mr Hunt made his statement, which was called “an insult to the House and the British public” by Ed Miliband the Labour leader.  Mr Miliband insisted that Mr Hunt’s decision was made out of the “fear” that the government would lose a Commons vote on the matter on Wednesday due to the lack of support of Lib Dem MPs.

Mr Miliband added: “This is a prime minister running scared from the decision he made.  This is a prime minister who is refusing to show the responsibility the country expects.  The victims of this crisis deserve better.  This House of Commons deserves better.  The country deserves better.”

However in an angry exchange, Mr Hunt warned that the Labour leader not to “throw sticks in glass houses” and deflected Labour criticism of David Cameron’s employing Andy Coulson as his press director by reminding him that he had also appointed a former News International journalist as his media adviser.

“He criticised me in his comments for willing to accept assurances from News Corp, ” said Mr Hunt, and added, “He was willing to accept assurances from the very same people about Tom Baldwin.”  

The Labour leader’s media advisor was formerly a journalist with the Sunday Times, part of the News International group.  According to the Telegraph newspaper, the former Conservative deputy chairman Michael Ashcroft is planning to publish evidence claiming that Mr Baldwin paid someone to illegally obtain details of Mr Ashcroft’s bank accounts.