Hunt gives Murdoch BSkyB get out of competition jail for free card

If you were under the impression that the Tory-led government was not in hock to Rupert Murdoch’s vote winning news empire then it might be time to think again.

This morning culture and media secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated he will consider undertakings in lieu from Murdoch’s News Corporation which if accepted would mean its proposed takeover of BSkyB (pdf) would not have to be referred to the Competition Commission. Funnily enough this decision has been met with widespread derision.

The FT’s Alphaville blog this morning has one of the best headlines: “All we are saying, is give Murdoch a chance”. Give it up for the underdog.

“Hunt…has decided to bend over backwards to help News Corporation win control of BSkyB. Even though the Office of Fair Trading says the £12.2bn buyout should be referred to the Competition Commission for a six month review, Hunt disagrees.”

The FT itself says right that reaction to today’s news falls into two camps. And the majority camp sees the move “a favour to News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch”.

Did someone say they had concerns about media plurality? Not to worry Vince Cable, the business secretary has complete confidence in Hunt’s handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB.

“I’ve complete confidence he’s going to deal with this according to due process. But the Ofcom report was only published this morning, nobody’s yet had a chance to read or analyse it, I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate for me to [comment] … Indeed, I would be following due process in the same way that Jeremy Hunt is.”

Phew. What about Hunt’s boss David Cameron? Oh he is too busy with fine dining. He’s been challenged about that and asked to explain why he held a secret dinner with James Murdoch (as you do) as the Government prepared to take the crucial decision on BSkyB? What do you think they spoke about? The weather maybe (as brought to you by BSkyB?).

What was Cameron thinking? He has just lost his former News Corp lieutenant and comms chief, Andy Coulson, who left with a force 10 gale blowing around him and his first dinner is with Coulson’s former boss. Some distance maybe?

More than that Cameron has his members of his coalition partners preparing to sue News International for phone hacking. That is namely Simon Hughes, the deputy Liberal Democrat leader. Yet none of this has any impact on Cameron.

Even before Hunt made his announcement today his credibility was already shot.

Last week Trinity Mirror chief executive, Sly Bailey, launched a blistering attack on culture secretary Hunt, saying he had to be “educated” about the dangers of allowing News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB.

While Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, today accused Hunt of bias over News Corp’s planned takeover of BSkyB and called for the immediate publication of Ofcom’s report into the matter.

Well as you can see this morning there is no bias. And what exactly is it that News Corp is prepared to give up as a concession to gain full control of the ever mighty BSkyB?

Oh the talk of the sale of Sky News. Most agree there is no chance that this would ever come to pass. Unless someone knows another Sheik with a desire to own a satellite news channel? Well there was talk of Sky News launching an Arabic channel.

As the Telegraph points out this is not least because Sky News is losing more than £30m a year. And there is no media group out there that could take that on.

The paper says another option is “hiving-off” of Sky News and creating an independent board of directors for Sky News, or an editorial board managing its content. But is that much of a concession? Who would benefit? No one.

The court of public opinion (aka Twitter) is also none too impressed as this raft of tweets shows.

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