Murdoch – a view from Brussels

News Corporation’s bid for the 61% of shares in BSkyB that it does not already own has been filed with the European Commission. They will now have 25 working days, until 8 December, to conduct an intitial investigation into the deal on competition grounds. It will then decide whether to conduct a second, or longer phase II investigation, which could take up a further 125 working days.  Within a couple of days of the notification, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) wrote to the Commission calling on them to reject the appllication on both competition and media plurality grounds.

Although the Commission does not appear to make any provision for sounding out public opinion on such matters, the EFJ wants the matter to be raised in the European Parliament before 8 December. Murdoch has, from his point of view, a good track record in dealing with regulators and he always thought he would not have any problems getting the Commission to give him the green light, from the European perspective and their are rumours that he would be prepared to offload somen of his his UK assets (Sky News?) to win approval.

He may not now be so confident of the reaction in the UK. Within hours of the news that the Commission had been officially notified of the proposed purchase (how much News Corporation will pay has sttill to be agreed between the parties, but £8bn is suggsted) Business Secretary Vince Cable announced his decision to refer the bid to the media regulator Ofcom. When first announced earlier this year many thought the take-over would sail through, but a high profile campaign lead by the internet campaigning network 38 Degrees, supported by the NUJ and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF), together with pressure from MPs and Lords, plus press interventions by some heavyweight commentators, raised the stakes for Cable. In addition for once in their lives a number of media organisations, including the BBC, joined forces last month to voice serious concerns. After all if the Murdochs get their way, we would end of up a Mudoch controlled  media empire double the size of the BBC, making it the largest media company in the history of the UK.

So what to do. 38 Degress has already launched a further email action, asking people to get ine MP’s on side against the takeover, and the Ofcom consultion, launched yesterday, gives the public the opportunity to have our say, with 19 November being the deadline for written representations. Details may be found on the Ofcom web site, so tell  them and your MP what you think. Ofcom then has to sumit its report, including its recommendation and a summary of submissions, to Cable by 31 December. He will then decide whether to refer the case to the Competition Commission for further analysis, which could take a few more months and reaaly annoy the Murdochs.

More background info may be found on the CPBF web site at: www.cpbf.org.uk so please make your voice heard.

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