Jeremy Hunt, the UK Culture Secretary, whose Department for Culture, Media, Olympics and Sport is assessing the News Corp bid for the 61 per cent of BSkyB it doesn’t already own, has admitted that the process is taking longer than anticipated to conclude.
He told the Broadcasting Press Guild that the Department was going to go through the process “totally thoroughly and totally impartially” and that he hadn’t given the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Ofcom an artificial deadline. “We had a large number of responses to the public consultation and we’re going through those responses to see where there are substantive points that might mean that the ‘undertakings in lieu’ that I said I was minded to accept before need to be adjusted.”
He said that if it were concluded there needed to be an adjustment, there would be a further consultation period. “It’s a very important decision; we have to get it right. I would like to conclude it as quickly as possible, but the most important thing is to get it absolutely right.”
He said that officials in his Department, the OFT and Ofcom were working as fast as they could, but reiterated he would not be setting an artificial deadline. He said that the government wanted to flesh out the “very important details” of the carriage agreement and the brand licensing agreement under which Sky would carry the output of the new, hived-off, Sky News. A number of respondents had suggested that this was a central consideration, as it impacted on the financial sustainability of the new entity.
“Those are big and very complex agreements, and we want to make sure we get those absolutely right and are completely satisfied with those and that’s one of the reasons why it’s take a bit longer than anticipated,” he said.
Officials confirmed that some 40,000 submissions had been received, “a number of which had identical wording,” observed Hunt.