David Prosser: Take the politics out of the Sky decision
Friday 14 January 2011
Outlook Once Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation announced it wanted to take full control of BSkyB, the decision by the authorities on whether to allow it to do so was always going to be politicised. Such is the strength of feeling about Mr Murdoch that was inevitable – and the Vince Cable "incident" has made matters worse.
What the Government – specifically Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary – should do now is seek to depoliticise the affair. Mr Hunt could begin that process by announcing today whether or not he intends to refer the deal to the Competition Commission.
Ofcom submitted its recommendation on New Year's Eve. Reports suggested yesterday that the regulator has called for a referral, but either way there is no reason for Mr Hunt to delay his announcement a moment longer. And that announcement should simply be that he is following Ofcom's advice.
Mr Hunt is understood to have held discussions with NewsCorp over the past week. That is a mistake, particularly if the talks lead to some sort of negotiated settlement that sees NewsCorp's bid approved in return for concessions given to the Culture Secretary.
Those concessions would bebetter negotiated with the Competition Commissionf, if Ofcom has indeed suggested the matter be settled there. A referral would no doubt irritate NewsCorp, which would then have to wait another six months for a final decision, but Mr Murdoch knew the deal would take some time – the first approach came last June – and if it is worth doing, the delay should not be too burdensome.
At the end of the Competition Commission inquiry, Mr Hunt will face the same dilemma. Again, the simplest way to take the politics out of the deal would be to rubber stamp the inquiry's conclusions.
This is the right course of action, not least because it is the only way for Mr Hunt to ensure his own integrity is not tainted by allegations of bias. But accepting the verdicts of Ofcom and the Competition Commission is in everyone else's interests, too. Why bother having expert regulators, and expensive inquiries, only to ignore their advice? And why should any company trust that regulation gives them certainty, if there is a suggestion that political considerations may be more important?
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