In a rebuttal of Ofcom’s recommendation to Department of Culture Media Sport to refer to the Competition Commission its bid for BSkB, News Corporation has accused the regulator of producing a biased, seriously flawed and ‘tainted’ report.
The Ofcom report and News Corporation’s submission to DCMS have been published today as the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, announces that while he agrees with Ofcom there is a case to refer the bid, he will give some time for News to make further submissions that may produce guarantees ‘in lieu’ that mean a referral is no longer necessary. Based on Ofcom’s concerns these will have to centre on guarantees over Sky News continued independence and ‘quality’.
In its submission News says the Ofcom report is “deficient in a number of ways. …News has been subject to an administrative review process which was seriously flawed: the initial decision to intervene in relation to this transaction on the basis of a public interest concern was taken by a secretary of state [for business, innovation and skills] who was biased against the interests of News and its shareholders.” This is a reference to Vince Cable who was caught on microphone telling reporters pretending to be constituents that he had ‘declared war on Murdoch’ and he was going to win. Cable was removed from the process as a result but News contends the process was already tainted. This assertion also serves to ‘tee up’ a Judicial Review process – on the grounds objective due process wasn’t followed – should the decision eventually go against them.
Ofcom – whose report found “a merged News Corp-BskyB….may be expected to operate against the public interest since there may not be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of media enterprises providing news and current affairs to UK-wide crossmedia audiences..” – reacted angrily to the News submission. “News Corp’s response makes a series of assertions of purported errors by Ofcom in its report. Ofcom entirely rejects this analysis,” it said today.
“Specifically, News Corp alleges that Ofcom did not have an open mind when considering the issue of plurality referred to it by the secretary of state (then Cable). This allegation is without foundation.” It says News implies there are undisclosed documents containing evidence of this but Ofcom says: ““On January 7 Ofcom fully disclosed all relevant communication between Ofcom and BIS in a freedom of information response. These documents, which are available on Ofcom’s website for public scrutiny, show that Ofcom’s dealings have been absolutely proper at all times.”