The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt is to follow an Ofcom recommendation to refer News Corp’s acquisition of BSkyB to the Competition Commission, but only after the company has been given the opportunity to reduce the impact of the proposed takeover.
Ofcom’s report was first passed to Mr Hunt on December 31, recommending a referral to the Competition Commission under Section 104 of the Enterprise Act 2002. The culture secretary then met with both News Corp and Ofcom, before writing to News Corp and BSkyB on January 7, stating that he intended to refer the matter to the Competition Commission, and giving them the opportunity to challenge his thinking.
“As a result of these meetings and my consideration of the Ofcom report and subsequent submissions from the parties involved I still intend to refer the merger to the Competition Commission. On the evidence available, I consider that it may be the case that the merger may operate against the public interest in media plurality,” said Mr Hunt. “However, before doing so it is right that I consider any undertakings in lieu offered by any merging party which have the potential to prevent or otherwise mitigate the potential threats to media plurality identified in the Ofcom report”.
In response to the Mr Hunt, News Corp said it wanted undertakings that the company argues could alleviate competition concerns be considered – normal practice in such circumstances – and possibly including a sale of all or part of Sky News as reported earlier this month.
If Mr Hunt decides the undertakings will prevent or mitigate the effects of the merger on the public interest he will set in motion a 15-day consultation period during which interested parties will be able to give their views.
“It is in the nature of this process that I cannot give clear dates for each step as we move forward. 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,” said Mr Hunt.