'Public Interest Issues' Raised by BSkyB's Stake in ITV, Regulator Rules

30 April 2007

LONDON: Communications regulator Ofcom on Friday completed its 'public interest' probe into BSkyB's recent purchase of a 17.9% stake in the UK's largest commercial broadcaster ITV.

As requested by the Secretary of State for trade and industry, Ofcom has now submitted its advice as to whether the transaction raises public interest concerns over the concentration of ownership of British media enterprises.

The watchdog's advice is that public interest issues do exist, in relation to sufficient plurality of news provision for both cross media and TV news.

The S of S will now mull this advice which, in Ofcom-speak, "will inform his decision on making a reference to the Competition Commission".

It will also present a piquantly poisoned chalice for the office's current occupant, Alistair Darling. Especially as he (and the rest of the UK government) are on red alert for a possible general election called as early as next year.

If Darling sips from the left side of the chalice, he risks incurring the electoral wrath of BSkyB's parent News Corporation - which controls not only Sky (with over 8 million claimed subscribers) but also four national daily news titles accounting for over 37% of the UK's daily newspaper readership.

But if he sips from the right-hand side, the hapless minister will be swamped by screeches of "whitewash" and "gutlessness" by the the rest of the British media and the anti-Murdoch industry at large.

The minister, neatly impaled on the horns of a dilemma, will announce his decision by 26 May.

Data sourced from Ofcom (UK); additional content by WARC staff