|Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP|
(South West Surrey)
Ofcom's widely-leaked recommendation was confirmed today: the bid should be sent for competition review. Whether the full Ofcom report will be unveiled is at this stage unclear, and in my guess unlikely.
But the extraordinary part is Jeremy Hunt's decision to grant a stay of execution and allow News Corp extra time to address concerns over media plurality if Murdoch's group controlled news output from Sky, along with a raft of newspapers and news websites it already owned.
This "third way" seems designed to avoid a judicial review, for had Mr Hunt simply followed Ofcom's recommendation it's plausible that News Corp's lawyers would ask for a review; whilst, if the Culture Secretary ignored Ofcom's recommendation, a bizarre allegiance including Guardian Media Group, Telegraph Media Group and British Telecom looked like they might challenge.
Robert Peston broke this story on Radio 4's Today programme (around 7:25am if you're thinking of listening again):
"Jeremy Hunt does appear to be bending over to help News Corp"
"It's absolutely extraordinary when you get a clear review from Ofcom that that recommendation does not start straight away"John Humphrys then tossed in concerns surrounding reports of David Cameron's "cosy dinner" with News Corp executives plus the earlier questionable decision to move the review from a minister seen as hostile to the bid (Vince Cable) to one who's previously made "sympathetic" statements about the bid (Jeremy Hunt).
I don't like this decision at all. It reeks of the kind of cronyism that dogged the Conservative governments of the 90's. If the industry regulator - Ofcom - has made a recommendation, then why are we even in a position that a Secretary of State can choose to overturn the review?
At the very least it's a waste of public money commissioning a review in the first place if the government of the day has already decided that the outcome must be sympathetic to those bodies under review.
Another remarkable facet of the saga is that it comes in the wake of phone hacking allegations at the News of the World - a News Corp newspaper. Whilst many Labour politicians are now happy to highlight the seeping evidence seemingly indicating the practice of phone hacking was far more prevalent than previously claimed, when in government many of these same Labour MPs were far more muted in their protestations.
Shares in BSkyB lept 6p to 756p on opening after the announcement this morning, and they're up 3.8% (27.5p) since opening on 22nd Dec on the day after Vince Cable was stripped of the decision.
If Murdoch has a stranglehold over the current government, is it just an extension of an influence he held over the previous?