Lobbying push from News Corp deal opponents

An alliance of UK media groups has further criticised the UK government’s decision not to refer News Corp’s attempt to purchase the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own. BT, Guardian Media Group, Associated Newspapers, Trinity Mirror , Northcliffe Media and Telegraph Media Group are sending a letter to all British MPs and interested members of parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, contending that the decision by Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s Culture Secretary, not to refer the issue to the Competition Commission was wrong.

The group had previously written to Hunt during an earlier consultation period recommending that he  ignore offers from News Corp to separate off Sky News, suggesting that any such pre-condition offer should not stop him referring the bid . The letter said that to be meaningful, the offer would have to guarantee selling off Sky News completely.

Hunt said March 3 that he would not refer the bid, after News Corp agreed to Sky News being spun off as a separately listed company, with the majority of its funding coming from News Corp. The letter argues the new arrangements are likely to increase News Corp’s control over the news channel rather than decrease it because Sky News will not have sufficient access to its own funding stream.

“We regard the proposed undertakings as being fraught with uncertainty and unlikely to safeguard plurality,” says the letter . “We do not believe that, given these concerns, and those of many others in civil society, the Culture Secretary should accept these undertakings, but should forward the matter to the Competition Commission for a full investigation.”

Advisers to the group stress that the lobbying campaign does not mean they have abandoned hope of a legal challenge to Hunt if he allows the merger following a 15-day consultation, but suggest it is a stronger option at present. “Politics can be a quicker and more decisive path than the law,” said a spokesman for the alliance.

Opponents of the bid believe the Liberal Democrats, minority partners in the UK’s governing coalition, are unhappy about the terms of the deal. Tory politician Hunt assumed responsibility for the deal shortly before Christmas, when Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, was stripped his powers governing the deal after he was secretly recorded saying he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win.”

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