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ThE MaStEr

Calls to block Sky takeover 'premature'


October 13


The government has said that calls for business secretary Vince Cable to block the proposed takeover of Sky by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation are "premature".

Yesterday, a group of media firms - including the owners of The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Mirror - submitted a petition to Cable urging him to intervene in Murdoch's £8 billion bid to take full control of pay-TV operator Sky.

The media groups are concerned that the integration of Sky's television platform with the News International titles, including The Times and The Sun, could have "serious and far-reaching consequences for media plurality".

The letter was also signed by Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham, BT chief executive Ian Livingstone and BBC director general Mark Thompson, who recently expressed his concern about the proposed deal.

During question time yesterday in the House of Lords, Labour's Lord Solely called on the government to take "a very clear view against the takeover by News Corporation of Sky".

Baroness Rawlings confirmed that Cable had received the protest letter, but added that it was too early to indicate his response, reports PA.

Speaking on behalf of the government, she said: "We have received a letter from a variety of media groups asking for the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills to consider blocking any questions of acquisition of Sky by News Corporation.

"However, it is premature to speculate as the parties have not yet announced the result."

In June, News Corp failed with an offer worth 700p per share to acquire the 61% of Sky that it does not already own. However, the two parties agreed to keep the lines of negotiation open.

Today, The Times newspaper ran an editorial criticising the move by BBC director general Mark Thompson to sign the protest letter.

The Times, one of four newspapers owned by News Corp subsidiary News International, accused the BBC of "seeking to gain commercial advantages in league with News Corp's rivals".

"By lending his name to the campaign to prevent News Corp from purchasing those Sky shares that it does not already own, Thompson has made a serious and surprising error," the editorial claims.

"He has embroiled his taxpayer-funded organisation in a political and commercial battle that it should have nothing to do with."

The article further suggests that Thompson's intervention will place undue political and media pressure on Cable as he makes his judgment on News Corp's offer.

It concludes: "The Times does not pretend to be able to judge this matter objectively. It simply expects that Dr Cable will do so, guided by the law rather than pressure group politics."

In the next few weeks, News Corp is expected to formally notify the European Commission about its intention to mount a takeover of Sky.

Cable will then have 25 days to decide whether to refer the deal to media regulator Ofcom for further investigation on grounds that it could threaten media plurality.

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The government has said that calls for business secretary Vince Cable to block the proposed takeover of Sky by Rupert Murdoch





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