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Court dismisses challenge to Aussie pay TV licensees

The Federal Court of Australia dismissed a challenge by a consortium of companies, including News Corp., to U.S.-backed companies getting Australia’s first two satellite pay TV licenses.

Australis Media Ltd., a company holding one of the two pay TV licenses, said in a statement all parties agreed to have the action dismissed.

As reported, News Corp. said it lodged a writ in the Federal Court seeking to set aside the government’s approval of the two successful pay TV licensees on grounds of lack of disclosure of ownership information.

Australis won the “B” satellite license through a government tender process with a bid of $ A117.0 million, funded by the Lenfest group of the U.S.

Lenfest’s major shareholder is Liberty Media Corp., which is affiliated with Tele-Communications Inc.

The “A” license was offered to UCOM Pty. Ltd., a company that bid $ A77 million. It will be controlled by a co-venture between Century Communications Corp. and Continental Venture Capital Ltd.

The two bidders beat other, more favored rivals, including a News Corp. consortium that includes government-owned telecommunications concern Telstra Corp., Kerry Packer’s Nine Network and its commercial TV rivals Seven and Ten.

Australis moved to have the News Corp. consortium’s challenge heard quickly to reduce delays to its plans to introduce pay TV service later this year.

Australis and UCOM were cleared by the Australian Broadcasting Authority, which oversees the issue and control of broadcasting licenses, and Australia’s antitrust authority, the Trade Practices Commission.

News Corp. hasn’t commented on its reasons for withdrawing its writ, but several newspaper reports this week suggested the move created some divisions within News Corp.’s own consortium.

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