Opposition mounts to News Corp's bid for BSkyB

Jeremy Hunt The culture secretary was given responsibility for deciding on the deal at the beginning of the year

In less than a week, Jeremy Hunt has received 100,000 submissions about News Corp's bid for BSkyB - almost all of them opposed to the bid.

The sheer volume of submissions means the culture secretary will not make his final definitive ruling on whether the takeover should be allowed for many weeks, probably not till September.

In that sense, the protesters, led by the campaigning group Avaaz, have done Mr Hunt something of a favour - because the last thing he wants to do is approve the takeover in the current highly charged climate.

Update, 15:55: I was fascinated that in the House of Lords debate today, Lord Puttnam said that he believed Jeremy Hunt as culture secretary could intervene to block News Corporation's bid to own all of BSkyB, on the grounds News Corp would not be a "fit-and-proper" owner (in the light of the recent revelations about conduct at the News of the World).

The reason his remarks stood out is that he was the architect of the relevant provisions of the enterprise and broadcasting acts.

But Jeremy Hunt is persuaded, on the advice of his lawyers, that Lord Puttnam is wrong.

It is true that Mr Hunt has the power to vet any takeover of a broadcaster on the basis of whether the new owner would be fit and proper, or whether the takeover would restrict "plurality" (broadly choice and diversity of media).

But there can only be one review, Mr Hunt's officials say - and that is always launched after the relevant company, in this case Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, formally announces its intention to make an offer.

Signs for the Sun, the Times, Sunday Times and News of the World Advertisers may take their business to other News International titles

And once the terms of that review are set, these officials add, they cannot be changed.

In the case of News Corp's proposed offer for BSkyB, the terms of the review were set at the end of last year by Vince Cable, as business secretary (before he was stripped of his media responsibilities). And Mr Cable restricted the scrutiny to the impact of the planned takeover on plurality.

The question of whether News Corp is a fit-and-proper owner was not part of the terms of reference.

That means, according to the culture department, Mr Hunt is now unable to consider whether News Corp is fit and proper in determining whether the bid should be allowed.

He has been told by his lawyers that News Corp will sue him, and win, if he now tries to change the terms of reference, to encompass a fit-and-proper test.

Green light

So, in case you haven't guessed by now, this means that when Mr Hunt delivers his verdict on the takeover - which won't be September, as I mentioned earlier - he will do so only the basis of its effect on plurality.

And since he has already made public his view that the takeover should be allowed on those grounds (subject to safeguards for the independence of Sky News) it is reasonable to assume that he will give the green light to News Corp buying BSkyB (though he knows that when he does so, the public outcry will be something to behold).

Or to put it another way, Mr Hunt might whisper that if you want to blame someone, as and when he allows the takeover to proceed, blame Mr Cable.

Update, 16:20: I am told that some of the companies that are pulling their advertising from the News of the World are shifting it to its sister daily paper, the Sun.

Which raises an interesting question.

If the News of the World as a brand is so badly damaged, so irrevocably associated with journalistic behaviour viewed by the public as despicable, perhaps - as part of its rehabilitation - it should be renamed.

The obvious new name for it would be the Sunday Sun.

Now my sources at News International tell me that such a name change is not being discussed right now. But they don't say it won't ever be.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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  • Comment number 158.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Objective: Get News Corp out of the UK.

    Step 1 - News of the World closed down by James Murdoch (after getting the nod from his dad) in the hope that this will be accepted as a token of News Corp's regrets. But it's not sufficient, especially as Rebekah Wade is still in post.

    Step 2 - People power force the Sun out of business.

    Step 3 - Get News Corp declared not a fit and proper person.


  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    this would prejudice the police case, this is against the law

    I am sure that if they felt the could make a profit from it they would and bug!!! the law

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Try writing your own copy instead of being fed it from your NI friends. You have gone down in my estimations hugely this week. Never trust you again.
    Cable was going to refer the BSkyB deal to the competition commision and got axed for it, something you neglected to mention, some business editor. Hunt was put in place to avoid that and so make the process smoother for Murdoch. Ofcom can kill it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    Advertisers pull business = income falls; kock on effect on other News Corp vehicles = huge losses. BSkyB takeover in jeopardy. Kill NOW; lquidate company clear debts and shred. Rebekah Brooks saved, but the bet is huge! Only the Old Man could have sanctioned this gamble.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    I can understand the anger surrounding the latest round of phone hacking allegations - even though its more a case of self serving hypocracy, given how readily we ignored the crimes committed when it was just celebreties - but some people are going a little heavy on the hyperbole. There is one reason and one reason only why RM has amassed such power and its because the public CONSUME his products

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    News of the World will close, but reborn as another title, Sun-linked or not. Staff invited to "apply for other jobs", which will result in lower wages with a new, untainted, title, but same top management. If that is not "sharp practice" I don't know what is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    How much is enough?

    Shut them down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    What happened to my comment ?

    I submitted ti several hours ago when the last one shown was number 141 by "Johnny Rotten".

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    As I said elsewhere, Mr. Murdoch could simply set up shop elsewhere in Europe and broadcast to Britain from there. using a foreign broadcast licence, out of control of Ofcom and the UK government.

    NDS not BSkyB control the conditional access system for the channel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    If ever there was a law crying out to be changed, this is it.

    The "fit & proper" test should always be on the table, so the government should say that this is clearly a problem - and change the law.

    In fact, they should allow that test to be applied to any ownership at any time and have the power to reverse takeovers e.g. the Cadbury takeover would be a prime candidate where promises were broken

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I thought they usually cut out a cancer completely to save the patient. This is just tinkering. The cancer will return... Get rid of it by cutting ther cancer out completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    It beggars believe that David Cameron is still dithering over the question of a public inquiry. But then one has to bear in mind that some of the mud that would be thrown from a public inquiry may be heading for him. Andy Couldson was just too near the seat of political power not to have influenced key media decisions. Ed Milliband seems to be providing leadership on the issue than David Cameron

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I see Sun Editors have walked out in protest at the redundancies, but apparently they just went down the pub for a pint with the NotW staff and are now back at work..my source for this incredible story..Sky news...(on cable)

    I never watch Sky but I'm making an exception now. Great to watch them squirm :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Will Cameron condemn Murdock treatment of their workers it's time to see were the pm stands on this point

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    It was stated (on 24 Jan: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9371000/9371363.stm) by Mark Stephens, who represents several hackees, that hacking is 'endemic' in "Fleet Street". Surely the Sun should be investigated in the same way as the News of the World, along with other national newspapers. If Mr Stephens is correct, the News of the World is the beginning of this story, not the end.

  • Comment number 142.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Closing down NOTW - just a cynical PR exercise

    Just a rebranding...

    1. Will become Sun on Sunday

    2. Internet is decreasing power of papers anyway

    3. Real prize is BSkyB

    Why give Murdoch more power in UK that he gets in no other country including USA.?

    Why give it to someone who does not live here or pay tax here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    There is a bad smell around News International:-

    1. They have too much power over the government...All parties should get together and create rules that nullify their power. This cannot affect freedom of the press but may be it means that Murdoch owns too many newspapers...Anyway it is wrong

    2. They have too much power over the police....

    3. They have too much power over the media in general

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Seen Murdock interview who filmed this the bbc gave the impression they did the interview seen it since on sky and now believe this is nothing but a propaganda film for Murdock


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