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By Ray Fleming

RUPERT Murdoch is 80 next week and yesterday the British government gave him the nicest possible present in advance when the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that he intended to withdraw any objection to Mr Murdoch's ambition to take over the part of BSkyB that he does not already own despite strong objections from four leading and politically disparate newspapers that the move will seriously affect the plurality of news coverage in Britain -- a view that Ofcom shared in its advice on this matter to Mr Hunt, saying that the take over would operate against the public interest and should be referred to the Competition Commission for detailed consideration.

Mr Hunt's questionable decision to ignore Ofcom's advice follows from the opportunity he gave Murdoch's News International to make proposals to allay objections to the BSkyB deal as they affect Sky News. At the heart of these new proposals is an assurance to appoint an independent board and chairman of Sky News which will guarantee its “editorial independence and integrity”. This is a very familiar Murdoch tactic. Mr Hunt says he has sought a great deal of independent advice. Did he speak to those involved in Mr Murdoch's similar guarantees to the Wall Street Journal in 2007 and to the UK's Times newspapers many years earlier? I think not. If he had done so he would not have set so much store by the latest variant of such assurances.