Murdoch set to win US ruling

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation last night looked set to consolidate its position in the US television market without having to forfeit ownership of its lucrative US media holdings.

Published reports in the US said the US Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio, television and telecommunications, would reject an FCC staff recommendation that News Corp.'s holding in six Fox television stations be reduced to 25 per cent.

The recommendation had been in line with US rules prohibiting large foreign stakes in federally regulated media companies. News Corp. is based in Sydney, Australia. In order to build the Fox Network, Mr Murdoch became a US citizen to appease regulators.

A spokesman for News Corp. in London said the reports had not yet been confirmed, but that an announcement may be made today. The FCC would not comment.

If the decision goes in Mr Murdoch's favour, it will safeguard an important part of his global television empire, which includes 40 per cent of satellite and cable broadcaster BSkyB in the UK, 63.3 per cent of Star TV, the Asian satellite broadcast company, and a new venture, Foxtel, in Australia.

Shares in News Corp. climbed 20 cents to A$6.83 (300p) in active trading in Sydney yesterday. Analysts said the stock was also boosted by stronger- than-expected third-quarter profits of A$291m, up 28 per cent year on the previous year.

The rise came principally from the group's US television and newspaper holdings and from the strong performance of News International's UK newspapers, particularly the Times.

Fox Television had its best financial performance ever in the1994-95 broadcasting season. It also finished third, ahead of mainstream network CBS but behind ABC and NBC, among adults aged 18-49.

Overall, operating profits at UK newspapers in the three months were up 35 per cent, on higher revenues. Circulation at the Times was up 34 per cent in the year to date, to 630,000 copies. The higher sales were due to a low price of 20p per copy, instituted by News International during the current national cover price war. The Sun's price rise to 22p from 21p had "no adverse effect" on circulation, the company said.

News Corp. also announced it would build a printing plant in Ireland, in what was seen by media analysts as a direct threat to the market share of Tony O'Reilly's Independent Newspapers.

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