LONDON – The British government Thursday cleared the way to approve News Corp’s bid to win control of broadcaster BSkyB after it agreed to spin off its Sky News operation to address competition concerns.
The decision to allow the Rupert Murdoch-owned group to proceed sparked a furious response from rival media groups, who accused the government of a “whitewash”.
In a long-awaited announcement, culture and media minister Jeremy Hunt said he would accept the proposals on Sky News “in lieu of” referring the BSkyB deal to the competition authorities.
“The undertakings that News Corporation has offered would involve Sky News being ‘spun-off’ as an independent public limited company,” he added.
The deal now faces a period of consultation before Hunt announces his final decision on March 21.
News Corp’s proposals would turn the loss-making rolling news channel into a new company, with its shares distributed among existing BSkyB investors but with a board primarily composed of independent executives.
Murdoch’s company had been waiting on Hunt’s decision over whether to refer its £7.5 billion ($12.2 billion, nine-billion-euro) bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB shares it does not already own to British competition authorities.
Hunt said he had taken advice from the media regulator that the proposal to hive off Sky News “will address concerns about media plurality should the proposed News Corporation/BSkyB merger go ahead”.
Later, Hunt, from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, rejected claims in parliament that he had passed the deal because Murdoch’s newspapers had supported the party ahead of last May’s general election.
“I have been absolutely scrupulous in making sure that there were independent views commissioned and expressed and published at every stage of this process, precisely because I wanted to reassure the public that this was not being taken on the basis of party interest,” he told lawmakers.
The government had delayed a decision on whether to refer the BSkyB deal for a full competition inquiry in January after media regulator Ofcom suggested the move might hamper competition.
The minister said at the time the move would give News Corp more time to gather information to support its bid and satisfy his concerns.
News Corp also owns British newspapers including The Sun, The Times and top-selling Sunday tabloid News of the World.
An alliance of media groups including BT, the Telegraph Media Group, Guardian Media Group and Trinity Mirror condemned the deal and dismissed the spinning-off of Sky News as “pure window-dressing”.
“Smoke and mirrors will not protect media plurality in the UK from the overweening influence of News Corporation,” a spokesman for the alliance said.
It said the undertaking on Sky News failed to address “profound concerns” that the takeover would give News Corp greater power to restrict or distort competition through cross-promotion or banning rivals’ advertisements.
The alliance would be “vigorously contesting this whitewash of a proposal during the consultation period, as well as examining all legal options,” the spokesman added.
Opponents of the deal include the owners of the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, who compete with the News Corp-owned Times titles, and the Daily Mail and Mirror newspapers — the main rivals of Murdoch’s tabloids.
News Corp also controls such major US media outlets such as Fox television and Wall Street Journal.
Maddow reveals how Chinese group Falun Gong went from disrupting events to running a shadow campaign for Trump
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Tuesday detailed the remarkable journey of the group Falun Gong shifting from disrupting White House events to dominating the conversation on Facebook.
Maddow hilariously recounted the "major embarrassment" for the George W. Bush White House when a protester interrupted remarks by President of China Hu Jintao.
The protester was credentialed to cover the event for the Epoch Times, which is controlled by Falun Gong.
"Well, NBC News has a scoop out today about that group, about how that paper, the Epoch Times has transformed itself a lot in the Trump era. It’s a real revelation, this reporting from NBC News," Maddow said. "I mean, Epoch Times and its media group, they’ve made themselves into a whole new thing entirely and in a very big way."
China accused of using Twitter, Facebook against HK protests
Twitter and Facebook said Monday they had uncovered a campaign by China to use the social media platforms against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
"We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change," Twitter said in an online post.
Facebook said a tip from Twitter led to the removal of a network of pages, groups and accounts originating in China and involved in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" focusing on Hong Kong.
Twitter said it suspended 936 accounts that originated in China.
Conservatives went insane over the New York Times’ ambitious slavery project — but why?
Last week, The New York Times published a powerful and unusual feature called the "1619 Project," which marked the 400-year anniversary of a pivotal, but largely forgotten, event that defined everything about America as first a British colony, and then a nation, through history and up to the president day: the first recorded arrival of a ship loaded with enslaved Africans.
One of the curious responses to the 1619 Project, however, was the massive explosion of outrage from Republicans and conservative commentators. Why, exactly, did an in-depth discussion of slavery trigger such a firestorm from the right?