Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to the media regulator Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading over News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. The move keeps alive the possibility the matter could still be referred to the Competition Commission.
Following the dramatic events of the past few days – that led to the closure of Britain’s best-selling newspaper, the News of the World, in the fallout from the phone hacking scandal – Hunt is to ask whether the regulators have cause to change their minds on the previous advice given in June.
Separately, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has urged News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch to think again over his bid and do the “decent and sensible thing”. The statement from the Lib Dem coalition partner goes further than any previous political intervention.
In his letter, Hunt sets out three specific points:
- Whether the closure of the News of the World has resulted in a significant change in the media landscape
- Whether Ofcom’s current consideration of the ‘fit and proper persons test’ might have any impact on the merger
- Whether the events surrounding the closure of the News of the World might have any effect on the credibility, sustainability or practicalities of the undertakings given by the News of the World.
Although the closure of the 168 year old paper has reduced the number of national titles owned by News Corp subsidiary News International to three, there are suggestions that a new Sunday edition of The Sun is in the pipeline, following the appointment of a managing editor to run a seven-day news operation.
The shorter letter to the Office of Fair Trading also asks if any of the revelations or allegations have caused the regulator to change its opinion.
As part of the undertakings made by News Corp in its bid to purchase the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own, Sky News would be spun-off into a separate company, addressing concerns over media plurality.
Shares in BSkyB continue to slide, by mid-morning the 705p price was below the 52-week high of 850p, the city having already decided the deal is close to collapse.
On Friday, in a letter to John Whittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said the current undertakings made by News Corp in relation to the purchase were the subject of a consultation that would run for an extended period.