The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, has tentatively approved proposals put forward by News Corporation as part of its full acquisition of BSkyB.
In undertakings published on March 3, 2011, News Corp offered to spin Sky News as a separate company. A subsequent consultation produced no further information causing Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading to revise their opinions, however the proposals have been strengthened, and the revised undertakings published.
- The need for Sky News board meetings to include an independent director with senior editorial and/or journalistic expertise if decisions on editorial matters are to be made.
- The appointment of a monitoring trustee whose main role is to ensure that News Corp complies with the undertakings in the run up to spin-off.
- A requirement for Sky to continue to cross-promote Sky News on its channels.
- A requirement for Sky News’ Articles of Association to be approved by the Secretary of State.
“The regulators have confirmed that the proposed undertakings are still sufficient to ensure media plurality,” said Mr Hunt. “I could have decided to accept the original undertakings but a number of suggestions were made in response to the consultation, which could further strengthen the undertakings, particularly around editorial independence, business viability and the articles of association. I am therefore proposing some changes to the undertakings and I will now hold a further public consultation.”
In a short statement BSkyB said it noted the comments made by the secretary of state. Separately, News Corp said it would continue to engage constructively with the regulatory process.
In its letter to the Secretary of State, Ofcom identifies a number of issues raised by respondents with regard to the future distribution of a spun-off Sky News. Specifically the lack of an obligation that requires News Corp to carry Sky News itself. The regulator sees no need to impose such a requirement, however Sky News will receive an EPG slot on Sky no worse than its current position – it is currently top of the news section – and HD and DTT distribution will be maintained. News Corp has said it will use all reasonable endeavours to ensure third-party carriage, including on Virgin Media, though the regulator said the loss of cable distribution would not affect plurality.
A new consultation period on the revised undertakings will run until midday on July 8.