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Hours before the Hong Kong government was to consider the application, News Corp. Ltd. deferred its bid to buy a 22% stake in Television Broadcasts Ltd. by saying it wants time to reexamine the $ HK1.8 billion ($ 232 million) bid.

China’s recently expressed disapproval toward foreign ownership of Hong Kong media is believed to be the main reason for the withdrawal.

The mainland’s objections were echoed by some local legislators and the Hong Kong Journalists Assn. in the last few days.

The colony’s governor, Chris Patten, heads the Executive Council (Exco) that could have the final say on whether the TVB deal proceeds.

Exceeds foreign ownership limits

News Corp.’s 22% bid exceeded the 10% share non-Hong Kong residents are allowed to hold. However, the Broadcasting Act allows the Broadcasting Authority a discretionary power that may bypass the restriction.

The bid also exceeded the 15% limit being considered by government for shareholding by newspaper owners of a TV or radio station.

News Corp. owns the South China Morning Post and Chinese-language paper Wah Kiu Yat Po.

If the Broadcasting Authority rejects an application, Exco has the power to overturn the decision.

Further discussions

A News Corp. representative said the company needs to further discuss the bid’s structure with government Broadcasting Authority officials and with TVB’s main shareholders, Sir Run Run Shaw and Robert Kuok.

The stake in TVB would have married News Corp.’s satellite broadcasting expertise to TVB’s extensive Chinese-language programming library.

News Corp. did not say when it would resubmit its application.