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.
‘Report the urgency! This is a climate emergency!’: 70 arrested outside New York Times demanding paper treat climate like the crisis it is
Hundreds of people descended on the headquarters of the New York Times on Saturday to demand the "paper of record" drastically improve its coverage of the global climate crisis and specifically demanded its reporters refer to the situation as a "climate emergency" in alignment with what the world's scientific community is warning.
Coordinated by Extinction Rebellion NYC, 70 people were reported arrested after the group staged a sit-in on Eight Avenue in midtown Manhattan in order to bring attention to the failure of the paper—and that of the journalism industry overall—to adequately report on the global urgency of skyrocketing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, rapidly warming oceans, and all the associated perils that result. The group hung banners in front of the Times building as well as from the Port Authority Bus Terminal on the other side of the street.
Internet destroys ‘opposite of a journalist’ Chuck Todd over his ‘vapid’ Trump interview
While NBC might be happy with the ratings it got from a highly-touted interview with Donald Trump conducted by Meet The Press host Chuck Todd, the reviews of the NBC political director's performance were bad. Really bad.
Focusing on Todd's inability, or lack of desire, to push-back on any of the president's claims -- including particularly egregious claims Trump made about detaining immigrant children at the border that the president blamed on Barack Obama -- one Twitter commenter called what Todd does for a living the "opposite" of journalism.
Particularly brutal was an assessment by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen who tweeted: "Just watched @chucktodd 'interview' the president about kids and the border. I don't what that was. But it was not public discourse. Nothing to do with eliciting information, or accountability, or where do you stand? It was like feeding English sentences into a wood chipper."
‘Hope Hicks did not testify’: Rob Reiner says questioning ‘didn’t happen’ because it was not broadcast on TV
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Hicks, the former White House communications director, testified for seven hours. The interview was not broadcast, with the House Judicial Committee instead releasing a 273-page transcript of her testimony.
The director was interviewed on MSNBC by Chris Hayes on Thursday.
"Hope Hicks did not testify. Nobody knows about Hope Hicks," Reiner argued. "It didn’t happen."
"Because it didn’t happen in front of the cameras," Hayes said.