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Murdoch plays down DirecTV tie

Conglom topper also feels sorry for Turner

NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch downplayed fears that his News Corp. with DirecTV in tow would become a threatening presence in the media space. “We’ll still be a minnow compared to AOL Time Warner,” he said.

And that’s just what he told Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), head of the Senate commerce committee who threatened last week to hold hearings into the possible combination of News Corp. and the biggest U.S. satcaster.

In an interview aired Monday on CNBC, Murdoch said McCain had assured him he hadn’t formed a view of the deal one way or the other.

AOL Time Warner, he added, reaches 15 million cable homes — a fact that “they have used ruthlessly” to quash competition.

Tentative on merger

Murdoch was surprisingly cautious on the possibility of a satellite merger, given the fact that the two sides headed back to the bargaining table recently with much fanfare and a sweeter deal to discuss. “It’s a very slow process we’re going through now with Hughes,” he said, putting 50-50 odds on an eventual pact.

GM’s Hughes Electronics controls DirecTV.

Murdoch also reiterated that he’d like to unload Fox Family and thinks Walt Disney might be interested, but probably not Viacom. He told Neil Cavuto separately on Fox News that he would not sell the channel, which Fox owns jointly with Haim Saban, for less than $4 billion-$6 billion.

Wary about economy

Murdoch also said he is more downbeat than his media peers on the outlook for the global economy, he has no plans to buy Yahoo! (although it would be great fit for Vivendi Universal), and he feels sorry for Ted Turner, who seems depressed in recent interviews.

“It was his mistake for selling out. It’s very hard to sell out and keep control, despite what people say,” Murdoch said.

Murdoch, and the first in a four-part profile of Saudi prince and investor extraordinaire Al Walid bin Talal, were star attractions on CNBC’s relaunched “Business Center” Monday. That’s when Lou Dobbs took back the helm at archrival “Moneyline” in a biz news showdown.