Please block Murdoch BSkyB deal says UK government to OFT and Ofcom

UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is to write to media regulator Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading to ask them to look again at the News Corporation bid to buy satellite broadcaster BKyB on the grounds of (a) media plurality (there’s less Murdoch dominance now the News of the World has closed, so good for News Corporation) and whether or not News Corp is a ‘fit and proper’ putative owner for BSkyB (it clearly isn’t, so bad for the Murdochs)

This is, inter alia, to avoid likely defeat in an emergency House of Common debate to be called this week by Labour.

In the meantime, over the weekend, we’ve learned (or think we’ve learned) that:

1/ News international executives failed to tell boss James Murdoch about a damning internal report from 2007 that revealed the extent of phone hacking and also payments to police.

2/ Rumours abound that News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the NoW, had an affair with assistant commissioner John Yates, the top cop who decided there was no need to launch a further investigation into the paper following the jailing of royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private eye Glenn Mulcaire. Yates denied this to the Sunday Telegraph. He also said his decision not to investigate further was “a pretty crap one.”

3/ Access to Mulcaire was strictly controlled by six NoW journalists, mostly news editors, who might find themselves in court.

4/News International expects more journalists (although not executives) to go to jail.

5/ Senior Murdoch lieutenant Les Hinton (currently running the Wall Street Journal), who twice told Parliamentary committees that he could find no evidence of anything untoward going on, may be ‘sacrificed’ after 52 years toiling for the Murdoch empire.

All this, you will note, keeps the Murdoch family (chiefly son and heir James) well out of things and provides a certain amount of cover for Rupert Murdoch’s favourite executive Brooks (apparently he gave her a Lowry painting for her 40th birthday).

So where does this leave the bid for BSkyB?

Firmly in the long grass if the OFT and Ofcom, as they surely will, recommend a referrral of the bid to the Competition Commission, which often takes years to make up its mind. And it’s difficult to see how it could come to a conclusion anyway while UK PM David Cameron’s two promised inquiries, into NI’s actions and UK media ethics in general, are taking their course.

So we’re talking years.

Rupert Murdoch would probably be best advised to pull the bid while all these inquiries are going on in the hope that he can come back down the line with a cleaned up company.

But such a company might not include a Murdoch of any description in a senior role (which is certainly what American investors would prefer and News Corp is an American company) and that would rather defeat the object for Rupert.

Rupert is famously unsentimental about business but not, it seems, when it involves the family or, indeed, the fascinating Mrs Brooks.

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