The City Diary

Look out, Murdoch: Virgin space invaders are after your 'Battlestar'
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The Independent Online

It turns out that James Murdoch, the chief executive of BSkyB, is a bit of a science fiction geek. Our man in telly land tells us that one of theDigger's son's favourite programmes is 'Battlestar Galactica', the critically acclaimed remake of a 1970s stinker that has run for three series on Sky 1. Bidding will soon start for series four, and Murdoch is bound to keep a close eye on the auction. Virgin Media, which is launching Virgin 1 as a rival to Sky 1 in the autumn – after a dispute over carriage fees left the cable company without Sky's popular channels – would dearly love to have 'Battlestar' on its schedule. The show's plot about a rag-tag band of human beings fleeing from a powerful alien enemy probably resonates with Virgin executives who have fought unsuccessfully to overturn Sky's supremacy.

The sincerest flattery

Maybe Apple's iPhone will not sweep all before it when it launches in the UK this autumn, after all. Nokia has released pictures of its new N81 handset, which could be an iPhone with a different badge. The devices are so similar that some wags are suggesting Apple's lawyers and engineers may want to take a look at the insides of the Finnish device to see if comparisons are only skin deep. Not that we are suggesting for a minute that Nokia has in any way, shape or form done anything untoward. That is a ridiculous notion.

You don't have to breathe fire to be a dragon

Fighting talk from consumer champion Karen Darby. The founder of SimplySwitch.com, a price comparison website, recently cashed in her chips for a nifty £7m, and is now looking for a career as a "media personality". To this end, she has an agent, and was disappointed not to get what she calls "the woman's place" on 'Dragons' Den', the BBC business show. "They went for Deborah Meaden instead," she sighs, before being slightly rude about her rival. Doesn't she realise the media biz is all about making friends and influencing people?

Two law firms divided by a common language

Legal eagles are keeping an eye on the merger of London firm Dewey Ballantine with New York outfit LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae. The two are expected to merge by the autumn to create a 1,300-lawyer outfit. The question will be, who gets to run the London headquarters? Will it be Fred Gander, Dewey's managing partner, or his LeBoeuf counterpart, Peter Sharp? Merging a US and UK law firm, with their very different cultures and working practices, can be tricky. No doubt both will be criss-crossing the Atlantic to promote their credentials.

The queen of eBay

Margaret Whitman, the chief executive of internet auction house eBay, is officially more powerful than the Queen. Ms Whitman was ranked 22nd on the 'Forbes' list of the world's most powerful women last week, just above Our Madge at 23. She was far too powerful to come to the phone, but a footman told us: "I have met her and she is very humble." And getting humbler. Back in 2005, 'Forbes' ranked her number five.

Couture clash

Strangely, being a billionaire doesn't mean that your peers will love you. Ms Whitman's company recently suffered something of a knuckle-rapping during talks with French billionaire François-Henri Pinault. The chairman of luxury goods group PPR was upset over website policing that allows knock-offs to be sold by overly entrepreneurial internet users. PPR is threatening legal action.

Blackwatch: how much evidence do you need?

Conrad Black's lawyers were back in action last week, urging a Chicago judge to either overturn his conviction or grant him a new trial because of "scant and questionable" direct evidence supporting the US government's case against him.

Black's legal team argued in a filing to Judge Amy St Eve that the evidence put forward by prosecutors to the jury does not support the guilty verdict reached last month. Lord Black of Crossharbour, the former chief executive of Hollinger International and owner of 'The Daily Telegraph', is currently living in his Palm Beach mansion awaiting a final decision on whether he will have to do time. In July, he and three other former Hollinger International executives were convicted on three counts of mail fraud.

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