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Murdoch gains in US battle

Rupert Murdoch yesterday won a partial - but possibly decisive - victory in his battle to preserve his Fox television network in the face of accusations that it breached foreign ownership laws in the US.

In a keenly awaited ruling, the Federal Communications Commission decided unanimously that Fox, which is 99 per cent owned by Mr Murdoch's Australia- based News Corp, did not deceive the authorities when it purchased the six original Fox stations in 1985.

Existing federal regulations limit a foreign interest to 25 per cent of a US broadcasting company, a move which the Australian-born media tycoon sidestepped by becoming a US citizen before the acquisition. But the FCC said its commissioners knew the situation when they permitted the deal and thus had not been misled.

The commission did overturn one part of the earlier decision, decreeing that despite Mr Murdoch's American citizenship, Fox is a foreign company. It gave him 45 days to make the case that the public interest would be served by granting him a waiver.

Legal experts not involved in the case yesterday predicted that the breadth of Fox's programming and the fledgling new Warner and Paramount networks modelled after Fox, would be enough to carry the day.

"The bottom line is, we're very happy about most of it," Mr Murdoch told reporters yesterday.