No jihad on Blair, says Murdoch

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RUPERT MURDOCH denied his papers would wage a "jihad" on the Government for deciding to block BSkyB's pounds 623m bid for Manchester United, as the Tories seized on evidence that ministers tried to influence the outcome.

"I'm disappointed but we're not going to start a jihad on the Government or anything like that," Mr Murdoch said yesterday. The deal was scuppered on Friday when Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said it would give BSkyB an unfair advantage in future televised sports rights negotiations. He accepted the opinion of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) that it could also have "damaged ... British football". He said he made his decision in his "quasi-judicial" capacity as secretary of state; it was guided strictly by the terms of the case and not any external political factors.

But it emerged the Government tried to influence the MMC when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport submitted evidence on the takeover. Chris Smith, secretary of state, sent a letter, and representations were made to Peter Mandelson, Mr Byers' predecessor, sources said.

The department said it was reflecting views of the football lobby. But John Redwood, Tory trade and industry spokesman, said the disclosure showed government claims of impartiality were hollow.

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