TV regulator may outfox Murdoch

FROM PHIL REEVES

in Los Angeles

American opponents of Rupert Murdoch's aspiring US network, Fox Television, were rubbing their hands in glee yesterday after a blow was dealt to the Australian media mogul by a senior regulator in the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a sworn declaration, the official, Roy Stewart, said when Mr Murdoch acquired six US television stations in 1985 - a move that laid the foundations of Fox - Mr Stewart did not know the Australian-based News Corporation controlled 99 per cent of their equity. His claims will boost the FCC's investigation into whether Mr Murdoch misled it over whether his acquisitions violated US laws banning foreign companies from owning more than 25 per cent of a broadcasting station.

Mr Stewart, who headed the division that processed Fox's application to purchase, said that when he approved the deal, he thought Mr Murdoch, about to become a US citizen, would own 75 per cent of the stock.

"At no time was I aware that News Corporation would own 99 per cent of the licensee's equity or any percentage above 25 per cent," he said. "Had I been aware of that fact, I would have requested more information."

Earlier, the FCC investigation into Mr Murdoch seemed to be running out of steam. Last week NBC, the US network that had led the attack, dropped its complaint to the FCC after announcing that it had struck a deal with Mr Murdoch in which two of its cable stations would have access to his satellite systems in Asia.

Fox Television immediately took issue with the declaration by Mr Stewart. The company said it was clear in 1985 that all but 1 per cent of the $600m (£377m) paid for the stations came from News Corporation.

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