Rupert Murdoch took a step closer to taking full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB today after the Government provisionally accepted plans to hive off Sky News as a separate company.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has agreed beefed-up proposals that will see the news station run as an independent company to allay fears that the deal would give Murdoch’s News Corporation too much control of the media.
The consultation has been extended to midday on Friday 8 July, after which Hunt will decide whether to wave through the merger once and for all or refer it to the Competition Commission.
News Corp, which also owns the Sun and the Times newspapers in the UK, wants to buy the remaining 61% of shares in the company it does not already own.
It last year offered 700p a share, valuing the company at £12.3bn, but the board told Murdoch to come back with a higher offer.
The revised plans revealed today by Hunt would make sure that Sky News has an independent director with senior editorial experience and a monitoring trustee to ensure News Corp complies with the deal.
Sky would also have to continue to “cross-promote” Sky News on its channels.
News Corp‘s bid has been fiercely opposed by an alliance of rival media firms, including the publishers of The Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, who have previously said they were willing to take legal action to block the deal.
The most recent consultation period, which received 40,000 responses, produced no new evidence that caused Hunt to alter his provisional opinion that the merger should go through.
“I am aware of the huge interest in the proposed merger and am grateful to those who responded to the consultation,” said Hunt.
“The regulators have confirmed that the proposed undertakings are still sufficient to ensure media plurality.
“I could have decided to accept the original undertakings but a number of suggestions were made in response to the consultation which could further strengthen the undertakings, particularly around editorial independence, business viability and the articles of association.”
Hunt said he had met representatives from several media companies and the global campaign group Avaaz as part of his “careful” consideration of the issue.
In a statement released this morning by News Corporation said: “News Corporation notes today’s statement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport of his decision to open a public consultation on the amended undertakings proposed by the company in lieu of a reference of its proposed acquisition of BSkyB to the Competition Commission. We will continue to engage constructively with the regulatory process.”