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Culture Secretary defends News Corp plans

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has defended his handling of News Corp's plans to spin off Sky News to address concerns over its planned takeover of BSkyB.

The Cabinet Minister told MPs he believed the proposed deal - which he announced earlier this month that he intends to accept - would strengthen media diversity.

He said the decision he had to make was whether the merger proposals pushed plurality of the media from "sufficiency to insufficiency".

"I am confident that the proposal that I said I am minded to accept actually strengthens plurality because it strengthens the independence of Sky News over and above where it is now," he said.

He said the News Corp plan to fund Sky News for 10 years as part of the deal would ensure financial security for the channel.

"It would be theoretically possible for the management of Sky to cut the Sky News budget in half tomorrow if they were to choose to do so," he told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

"Under the new structure ...it won't be the same as the BBC licence agreement but there will be financial security in the support that Sky News are going to get from Sky through that contract that will last 10 years and that will be set at a level that makes Sky News profitable.

"So I believe that we have something that is going to be financially sustainable and it is very important that it should be."

Mr Hunt was pressed by committee member Jim Sheridan on meetings with James Murdoch, non-executive chairman of BSkyB and chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia.

"I met James Murdoch twice as part of the process of coming to the decision that I am minded to take with respect to this merger and the dates of those meetings have been published and all those present and the minutes will be published as soon as the merger process is complete," Mr Hunt said.

Asked by Mr Sheridan: "Since your latest meeting with James Murdoch have you had any discussions with the Prime Minister either face-to-face, telephone, email about the bid?"

Mr Hunt replied: "The Prime Minister was not consulted about the decision that I am minded to take, was not involved in the decision in any way at all."