Murdoch rails at 'over zealous' regulators

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of BSkyB, yesterday launched a scathing attack on regulators and rival pay-TV platform ITV Digital.

Speaking after Sky's Annual General Meeting, he said the company was being hampered by over-zealous regulation and political lobbying by the heavily loss-making ITV Digital, a joint venture between Carlton and Granada.

"Rather than compete they [ITV Digital] run to the government to help. We are the force for competition in this market, our rivals have still not adjusted to that. They are used to a cosy duopoly [in ITV]."

Mr Murdoch, a frequent visitor to Downing Street himself, said: "We don't believe in going to politicians for help. We believe in the market."

Sky is under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading over allegations that it is over-charging ITV Digital and the cable companies for its content. Sky said yesterday that it had not yet received a statement of initial findings from the OFT.

Mr Murdoch said "we'd be happy to help" ITV Digital but the regulators would bar such a move. Similarly he said he no longer held any ambitions to expand into terrestrial television in the UK. "If we took over, say, Carlton or Channel 5 and made a success of it, all we'd get is abuse and extra taxes. This country has not believed in success," he said.

Sky yesterday reported first- quarter figures, for the three months to 30 September, showing operating profit before goodwill increased 23 per cent to £45m. There was net growth in digital subscribers of 190,000. Sky shares closed up 6 per cent at 794p.

Mr Murdoch, whose News Corporation media empire spans much of the world, said that the current downturn in advertising was the fastest deterioration in the market he had ever witnessed. He said the British newspaper market, where his company publishes The Times and The Sun, was more competitive than ever. He added that he was not looking to buy assets at the moment. "We think things will be cheaper in six months' time," he said.

Turning specifically to Sunday Business, the weekly newspaper owned by the Barclay brothers that is desperately seeking an investment partner, Mr Murdoch said he was not interested in getting involved. He said he had personally received no approach.

It is understood three overseas groups, led by Handelsblatt of Germany, are considering investing in the publication, which is seeking more than £7m for a 50 per cent stake. It is thought that both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph group had shown some interest in Sunday Business but are no longer looking at it. The Barclays are hoping for a deal by Christmas.