BSkyB takeover: Jeremy Hunt seeking new advice

 

Jeremy Hunt: "I am writing back to them and saying, do you still stand behind the advice that you gave me?"

The culture secretary is seeking fresh advice from regulators on News Corp's takeover bid for BSkyB, amid the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

Jeremy Hunt has written to media regulator Ofcom after the 168-year-old paper was shut down.

Mr Hunt asked for a fresh assessment of the proposed buyout by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which also owned the paper.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called on Mr Murdoch to "do the decent thing" and reconsider his BSkyB bid.

After meeting the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was allegedly hacked while she was missing in 2002, he said these "grotesque journalism practices" had led to public revulsion.

Mr Clegg said: "Rupert Murdoch is now in town in London seeking to sort things out. I would simply say to him, 'look how people feel about this, look how the country has reacted with revulsion to the revelations'.

"Do the decent and sensible thing, and reconsider, think again, about your bid for BSkyB."

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister would not be making any public comment on the BSkyB bid, as he had no role to play in the decision.

Analysis

The government may be unwilling to publicly sound the death knell of the planned Murdoch buy out of BSkyB but behind the scenes funeral arrangements are being made.

The reason? Public opinion.

Throughout the whole hacking scandal, the government has found itself lagging well behind public opinion and is determined not to allow itself to be seen as somehow on the side of Rupert Murdoch.

The problem ministers face, however, is in finding a politically palatable way of killing the deal without invoking the wrath of Mr Murdoch or the courts.

A reference to the Competition Commission would still leave the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt with the responsibility for taking the final decision.

A reference to Ofcom would not involve the government but Ofcom in the past has shown a marked reluctance to block such deals.

In his letter to Ofcom, and the Office of Fair Trading, Mr Hunt writes: "I would be grateful if you could indicate whether this development (and/or the events surrounding it) gives you any additional concerns in respect of plurality over and above those raised in your initial report to me on this matter received on 31 December 2010."

He goes on to ask if last week's events caused them to reconsider previous advice about the "credibility, sustainability or practicalities of the undertakings offered by News Corporation".

Explaining why he had written the letter, Mr Hunt said: "I'm trying to give the public confidence that I am doing this fairly and impartially... I want to take independent advice, and Ofcom are the expert regulators."

Mr Hunt said: "New things have come to light and I wanted to know if that had a bearing on the advice they gave me previously."

He said the hacking allegations were "stomach-churning" and had "totally shaken" people's trust in British journalism.

BSkyB's share price fell on Monday and dipped below the 700p offer price proposed last year by News Corp, when it expressed interest in bidding for the 61% of shares in BSkyB it did not own.

Milly Dowler's parents Bob and Sally Dowler and her sister Gemma told Mr Clegg the deleting of messages on her phone had given them hope she was alive.

Afterwards their solicitor, Mark Lewis, added to the pressure on News International's chief executive and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, when he said the Dowlers thought she should resign.

He said: "She should take responsibility and do the honourable thing and resign. They don't see why Rebekah Brooks should stay in her job."

Commons vote

Mr Miliband has demanded the BSkyB bid be referred to the Competition Commission, and said the government could not rely on assurances from News Corp executives in the wake of the hacking scandal.

He has put down a motion calling for the bid to be delayed until the criminal investigation is completed and is seeking support from the Liberal Democrats and some Tories.

Mr Miliband claimed Mr Hunt had ignored Ofcom's original advice to refer the matter to the Competition Commission and he added: "The government, having repeatedly said there was no alternative to their flawed process, now appears to be moving towards my position."

News Corp chairman and chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, is in London to organise his organisation's response to the phone hacking crisis.

Nick Clegg urged Rupert Murdoch to 'do the decent thing and reconsider'

He has been in meetings with his son James, Mrs Brooks and other senior News International executives.

Mrs Brooks is under pressure to quit after the paper was closed amid the damaging allegations about hacking.

She was the editor when voicemails on 13-year-old Milly Dowler's mobile phone were allegedly intercepted, but has denied knowing it was happening.

The emergence of those and other allegations last week prompted News International to announce the closure of NoW.

The NoW's former political editor David Wooding said on Twitter the historic final edition of the paper had sold 4.5 million copies.

He added: "Great news for the charities who will receive all the profits."

 

More on This Story

Phone-hacking scandal

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 

Comments 5 of 444

 

More UK stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.