Media: Murdoch vows to keep up cut-price newspaper war

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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch yesterday vowed there would be no let up in the newspaper price war which he started four years ago. Cathy Newman heard the media baron tell opponents of his price-cutting policy to `go to hell'.

Mr Murdoch hit out at his critics at the annual general meeting the satellite broadcasting company, BSkyB, saying there was "no way" he would call a truce in the newspaper price war. "No one else wants to call a truce, they insult me every day, so they can go to hell," he said.

The Times, which is controlled by Mr Murdoch's News Corp, sells at 10p on Mondays, a 25p discount.

Mr Murdoch was unconcerned about suggestions that the Government should introduce anti-trust laws like those in the US, which would stop companies such as News Corp selling papers and other goods at cut-price. "People don't seem to like competition much in this country," he said.

The media tycoon painted a fairly bleak picture of prospects for BSkyB, in which he holds a large stake, saying the costs of new contracts for sports rights and launching digital television would dent profits.

"We'll do very well if we have a flat year this year," he said.

Shareholders at the AGM had listened to David Chance, deputy managing director, extolling the benefits of pay-per-view television, where viewers pay to watch specific films and sporting events.

But Mr Murdoch poured cold water on BSkyB's hopes of screening pay-per- view football, films, musical and sporting events. "Pay-per-view throughout the world has only worked in a big way for huge boxing matches," he said. "When it comes to pay-per-view on a more regular basis, it is much more difficult."

The head of News Corp confirmed recent reports that his son, Lachlan, was set to succeed him. Sky High, a new book by Mathew Horsman, a media analyst and former Independent journalist, features an interview with Mr Murdoch where he says his children have reached a "consensus" that Lachlan will take over.

Yesterday, Mr Murdoch said: "The children selected him [Lachlan]. It was their vote." However, he signalled he had no intention of giving up just yet. "I'll stay alive for a while yet," he said, joking that the succession issue would be resolved "a month or two after I die".

BSkyB said profit before tax for the three months to the end of September was pounds 4.7m lower than the year before at pounds 61.6m after an increase in costs - such as the new exclusive contract with the Premier League for live football rights - and higher investments in other operations, such as the interactive broadcaster, British Interactive Broadcasting.

Sam Chisholm, chief executive and managing director of BSkyB, stepped down yesterday, six weeks earlier than expected. He suffers from severe asthma, and has been replaced by Mark Booth, a 41-year-old American with substantial experience in the pay-TV market.