By Ray Fleming

FACED with the view of Ofcom, Britain's media regulator, that the take-over of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's News International would operate against the public interest, the responsible minister, Jeremy Hunt had two options -- to accept Ofcom's opinion and refer the case to the Competition Commission for an in-depth analysis or to reject Ofcom's opinion and allow the take-over to go ahead. Instead he has chosen a third course which seems designed to give News International the opportunity to propose changes in its original submission to take care of objections to it raised by Ofcom and other observers. it is a curious decision by Mr Hunt because it seems to put News International in the privileged position of being able to adjust its proposals after judgement has been made on them.

Mr Hunt's statement explaining his compromise gives every indication of having been drafted by lawyers burning the midnight oil but one phrase in it seems fairly clear, that he is “minded to refer the BSkyB take-over bid to the Competition Commission but will first consider undertakings from News Corporation which it contends could sufficiently alleviate the concern I have.” For the moment Mr Hunt should probably be given the benefit of the doubt about his handling of this sensitive issue which seems designed to show that his final decision will be taken in as transparent a way as possible.


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