BSkyB takeover faces probe

U.K.'s Competition Commission likely to investigate deal

News Corp.’s planned £8 billion ($12.4 billion) takeover of U.K. paybox BSkyB is likely to be subject to a six-month inquiry by Blighty’s Competition Commission.

Media minister Jeremy Hunt is expected to publish a report by regulator Ofcom this month, which was handed to him Dec. 31.

While the contents of the report are confidential, informed speculation in the local media suggests that Ofcom has recommended that the Competition Commission should examine the BSkyB buyout.

At issue is whether outright ownership of BSkyB — the conglom already owns 39% of the satcaster — would have an adverse impact on media plurality in the U.K.

The matter is a red-hot political potato that has already caused Prime Minster David Cameron to censure one senior politician and strip him of his responsibility for ruling on the deal.

After it emerged last month that business secretary Vince Cable had privately told undercover reporters that he intended to “wage war” on News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch, Cameron handed the BSkyB brief to Hunt.

However, Hunt’s own impartiality has been questioned.

He is widely regarded as being pro-News Corp., but is, according to reports, determined to maintain an arm’s length relationship with the company until BSkyB’s ownership is resolved.

Despite widespread opposition to the deal by many of News Corp.’s U.K. rivals, Murdoch is expected to get his way — although Hunt may insist on caveats.

There has been speculation that Murdoch would be prepared to sell the loss-making Times and Sunday Times to avoid accusations of media plurality and achieve his aim of owning BSkyB outright.

The European Commission has cleared the takeover on competition grounds.