Britain to Probe Murdoch's UK Media Dominance

27 February 2007

LONDON: In a rare display of defiance of Britain's other ruling family - clan Murdoch - the Blair administration has called for an investigation into News Corporation's UK media interests.

Although the probe will focus on satellite TV monopoly BSkyB and its 17.9% spoiling stake in the nation's largest commercial broadcaster ITV, the Murdoch family's extensive press interests are also likely come under scrutiny.

Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling on Monday instructed communications regulator Ofcom to review whether NewsCorp's holding in ITV "raises public interest concerns about the number of different owners of media enterprises" in Britain.

The remit is sufficiently broad to include the clan's four national newspapers - The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World - which between them command around 37% of the nation's readership.

Ministers are insistent that the investigation was ordered on legal as opposed to political grounds, a nicety unlikely to cut much ice when the Murdoch media get their orders as to which political party to support in the 2008 general election.

BSkyB cfo Jeremy Darroch argues that the investigation is at odds with the government's own guidelines concerning the ITV stake.

"I think this is very negative in terms of the investment climate for this business," he said. "Any positive environment for investment requires that business should be able to rely with confidence on government guidance when making decisions."

The decision to proceed with the politically sensitive probe was hailed by parliamentarians, MP John Grogan calling it "a pivotal moment in British broadcasting when finally a government minister has had the courage to stand up to Mr Murdoch".

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff