Watchdog to probe News Corp licence

BRITAIN’S media watchdog said it will contact police to determine if phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World are relevant to whether News Corp would be a “fit and proper” owner of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Ofcom is required to ensure that anyone – including controlling directors — holding a broadcast licence remains fit and proper to do so.

The regulator said it was monitoring the unfolding situation at News International and the News of the World carefully and would be contacting relevant authorities to help it fulfil this duty.

Crucially, Ofcom said a licence holder would not necessarily have to be charged with a criminal offence for this issue to be questioned.

Elsewhere, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will consider the impact of the News of the World’s closure when determining whether News Corp’s bid for full control of BSkyB can proceed.

A consultation on News Corp’s controversial approach for the satellite broadcaster concluded yesterday, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said, but Mr Hunt is likely to take “some time” to reach a decision.

The department stopped short of giving a precise date — despite reports suggesting a September decision was likely – and added that the Secretary of State “will take as long as is needed”.

A DCMS spokesman said: “He will consider all relevant factors, including whether the announcement regarding the News of the World’s closure has any impact on the question of media plurality.”

The Culture Secretary paved the way for the deal to go through last month when he agreed beefed-up proposals that will see Sky News run as an independent company to allay fears that the deal would give News Corp too much influence.

But the DCMS has received an unprecedented 160,000 responses to its consultation process — in the previous consultation, the department received 40,000 responses.

The DCMS said that Mr Hunt will take advice from Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading before reaching his decision.

Ofcom’s decision to contact relevant authorities — which include the Press Complaints Commission and parliamentary select committees, as well as the police — could delay the decision ever further.

The market

SHARES in satellite TV group BSkyB fell on turmoil around the News Corp bid to cement the jewel fully into the Murdoch empire.

Shares in rival British media companies rose on the Murdoch family’s shock decision to sacrifice the News of the World over the phone hacking scandal.

As the News of the World newspaper prepared to print its last edition, shares in BSkyB fell almost 7% to 756p as investors feared the deal may fall through.

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