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RUPE, SON SET IN EAST

News Corp. sells interest in Japan's Asahi TV

TOKYO — News Corp. and partner Softbank Corp. of Japan said Monday they are selling their shares in Asahi National Broadcasting Co. (TV Asahi) to the major daily Asahi Shimbun.

The move comes about nine months after Rupert Murdoch shocked Japan’s sheltered TV world by acquiring a major stake in one of the nation’s top-five networks. Opposition within TV Asahi and among Japan’s news media and bureaucracy are seen as the reasons for the move.

In a hastily arranged Tokyo press conference, Murdoch, Softbank’s Masayoshi Son and Asahi Shimbun president Muneyuki Matsushita announced the terms of the deal. News Corp. and Softbank will sell their 21.4% stake in the company to the Asahi Shimbun for 41.75 billion yen ($345 million). The amount is the price at which News Corp. and Softbank bought the shares in June 1996.

They acquired their share after purchasing, Obunsha Media Co., a part of financially troubled publisher Obunsha Co.

In making the announcement, the three said the deal gives them the chance to concentrate efforts on the JSkyB direct satellite broadcasting service that is scheduled to go into regular operation with 150 channels in April 1998. The three also pledged cooperation on direct digital broadcasts in the JSkyB project.

Matsushita said he looks forward to future business ventures with News Corp. and Softbank, and added that the newspaper is looking to expand its multimedia business.

Despite the rosy picture of cooperation presented in the news conference, it appears that Murdoch could not overcome the barriers erected against taking a greater control of TV Asahi by the company and by Japanese bureaucracy.

Pubcaster NHK reported that a lack of cooperation by TV Asahi was one of the main factors in convincing News Corp. and Softbank to sell their shares.

The bid by News Corp. and Softbank to put its people on TV Asahi’s board of directors was met with a series of conditions on their participation by the network’s president, Kunio Ito.

He said for the new board members to be accepted, News Corp. and Softbank could not interfere with the broadcaster’s activities, and they could not acquire more TV Asahi shares. The protests came despite pledges by Murdoch and Son, a California-educated entrepreneur of Korean descent, that their intentions were friendly.

In addition, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications had said they would “carefully monitor” the activity of the two at TV Asahi.

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