Public demand inquiry into Murdoch expansion

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The Independent Online

There is strong public support for an independent investigation into the bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB, shown in an opinion poll to be published today.

The ICM survey of 2,000 people, carried out for a group of rival media organisations, found that 63 per cent believed there should be an independent inquiry into the proposed takeover.

Only 5 per cent said they supported the News Corp bid while 44 per cent opposed it and 52 per cent said they neither supported nor opposed it, or did not know.

The poll found that 84 per cent believed that no single organisation should be allowed to control too much of the news media, while 75 per cent said it was important that there should be competing, independent sources of news in the UK.

The poll was commissioned by BT, Guardian Media Group, Associated Newspapers, Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe Media and Telegraph Media Group, all of which oppose News Corp's attempt to buy the 61 per cent of Sky it does not already own.

Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, is due to receive a report on the bid from the media regulator Ofcom by 31 December. He will then have to decide whether to refer it to the Competition Commission.

Mr Hunt's suitability for the role has been called into question because of his past comments in support of Mr Murdoch. Six months ago Mr Hunt said: "It does seem to me that News Corp control Sky already, so it isn't clear that, in terms of media plurality, there is a substantive change, but I don't want to second-guess what regulators might decide." His critics say that he has already done exactly that.

It has also emerged that Mr Hunt held a private meeting with Mr Murdoch's son, James, the chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia, soon after the bid was launched in June.

The decision on the expansion of Mr Murdoch's UK media empire lies with Mr Hunt after Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was stripped of responsibility for media regulation last week. Mr Cable was recorded telling two undercover reporters that he had "declared war" on Mr Murdoch.

The ICM poll was taken before Mr Cable's comments emerged, and a spokesman for the media groups said: "This deal marks a significant change of control and the public is clearly concerned. If anything, popular awareness of the issues at stake will now be substantially higher."

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