The politics of the News Corp referral
The official line could not be clearer.
This was a decision for the business secretary alone. He was acting in a semi-judicial capacity. If he had the slightest doubt, Vince Cable had no choice but to refer the matter to the proper authorities. Was politics a factor? Deary me, no.
Hold on a second. We are talking about whether the Murdochs - the most powerful media-owning family on the planet - and News Corp - the owner of many of Britain's biggest-selling and most influential papers - should take 100% control of BSkyB - the principal broadcast competitor to the BBC. You don't get much more political than that.
Vince Cable did have a choice. The business secretary could have said that the proposed takeover raised competition concerns which the European Commission should rule on but not concerns about media "plurality" - whether the takeover limits the number of media voices. After all, he could have argued, News Corp already controls, even if it doesn't 100% own, the company behind Sky TV.
Had he done so he would have infuriated many in his own party, given Labour another stick with which to beat him, his party and the government and put himself in opposition to the bosses of the Guardian, the Mail and the BBC, who recently wrote a joint letter raising their concerns about the deal.
However, by referring the deal, Cable has added to the growing list of government decisions which have disappointed the Murdochs.
Rupert and his son James believed that David Cameron would, on coming to power, neuter Ofcom, the regulator which they regard as over-mighty and as having held back their businesses. Daddy Murdoch's recent speech in London argued that governments shouldn't curb the "enthusiasm or energy" of growing companies as "this is what competition is all about". He went on to complain that "when the upstart is too successful, somehow the old interests surface, and restrictions on growth are proposed or imposed. That's an issue for my company. More important, it's an issue for our broader society".
The Murdochs hoped to persuade ministers to cut the BBC down to size and believed that the six-year licence freeze was more of a let-off than a disaster for the corporation.
And now this.
Yesterday I wrote about the problems this government now confronts. Imagine how much harder they would be if the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times were to start shouting betrayal over Europe, defence deals with the French or going "soft on crime" or if they were to mock the prime minister daily for hiring "a vanity photographer" at public expense.
The editors of those papers will insist that they make their own editorial decisions and are too good at their jobs to allow their papers' stances to be determined by something like a referral to Ofcom. However, I wonder whether, the next time they happen to chat to their proprietors, the message they'll hear from Rupert and James is "I'm right behind this coalition. I hope you still are?"