Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that he will consider referring News Corporation’s bid, to take control of the remaining 61% of the company that it does not own, to the competition commission.
Mr Hunt has suggested the merger may go against the public interest in media plurality, but would first consider the bid before reference to the commission was formally requested.
Media watchdog Ofcom has previously recommended that the bid be formally investigated.
Rupert Murdock’s News Corp – which also owns The Sun and The Times – approached BskyB in summer of 2010 with offer to buy the remaining 61% of the company it didn’t own. Business Secretary Vince Cable referred the bid to media regulator Ofcom on the grounds that it may be against the interests of the public.
News Corp has requested that Mr Hunt takes special “undertakings in lieu” in the hope that this will diminish his fears and prevent the issue being referred to the Commission.
Current media coverage suggests that the News Corp may be offering to make concessions in order to avoid a lengthy consultation process.
Mr Hunt said: “News Corporation says that it wishes me to consider undertakings in lieu which it contends could sufficiently alleviate the concerns I have such that I should accept the undertakings instead of making a reference.”
Mr Hunt has also suggested that the office of Fair Trading should be involved in the process.
If the requested undertakings are accepted, this will be then followed by a 15-day consultation period where the parties will be able to debate the issue.
Business Secretary Vince Cable – who was stripped of all media regulatory powers after telling an undercover journalist that he was “at war” with Rupert Murdock – said he was confident that Mr Hunt would follow due process.
Mr Cable told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I was dealing with that issue, I no longer am. It’s been handed over to one of my colleagues and I have complete confidence he’s going to deal with this in accordance with due process. It’s not helpful or appropriate for me to charge into the controversy.”