MMC makes public its Man United concerns

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The Independent Online
THE MONOPOLIES and Mergers Commission yesterday took the unprecedented step of revealing the criteria on which its inquiry into British Sky Broadcasting's pounds 625m bid for Manchester United would be judged.

In a sign of increasing transparency at what is traditionally one of the UK's most secretive bodies, the MMC published a letter outlining the key issues it will be considering in its inquiry. Although a similar letter is always sent, this is the first time the MMC has chosen to publish it in the case of a takeover.

The MMC said the decision reflected the high profile of the controversial deal. The watchdog has received more than 100 submissions about the bid since Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, referred the bid to the MMC in October, on the grounds of concerns about competition and public interest.

"It's transparency, basically," a spokeswoman for the MMC said. "The whole purpose is to make sure that we haven't missed any important issues as part of our investigation."

However, the MMC stressed that it had not yet reached any conclusions about whether the takeover was against the public interest.

Most analysts expect the bid to be cleared, arguing that the precedent of media groups owning football clubs has already been well established in France and Italy.

The MMC panel is due to interview BSkyB and Manchester United about the issues it has raised over the next few months, before submitting a report to Mr Mandelson by 12 March.

The inquiry will investigate whether BSkyB's takeover of Manchester United will give the satellite broadcaster an advantage over other media groups in the battle for football rights. It will also tackle the issue of possible increased prices for the consumer, or whether BSkyB's ownership would allow Manchester United to spend more than its rivals on new players.

BSkyB reiterated its belief that the deal does not raise any competition or public interest concerns: "We look forward to putting our case vigorously in due course," it said.

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