Jeremy Hunt DCMS2
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has delayed his decision over whether to refer News Corporation's BSkyB bid in order to hear further "undertakings" from the company.

Hunt announced today that he intends to refer the bid to the Competition Commission, saying he believes "the merger may operate against the public interest in media plurality", but feels that it is right to allow more time for merging parties to challenge his position.

Hunt will not say at this stage how long he will allow, claiming that: "It is in the nature of this process that I cannot give clear dates for each step as we move forward".

If the bid is successful, News Corp will take full control of BSkyB by purchasing the 60.9 per cent of the company it does not own.

Ofcom's report on the bid, which was published today, recommends that it should be referred to Competition Commission.

Hunt said today that he was "minded" to follow Ofcom's recommendation, but first he will consider "any undertakings in lieu offered by any merging party which have the potential to prevent or otherwise mitigate the potential threats to media plurality identified in the Ofcom report".

He said today in his his statement that he will consult other expert bodies in considering any undertakings from News Corp.

"In considering whether to accept undertakings in lieu, I will ask the Office of Fair Trading, under section 93 of the Enterprise Act 2002 as an expert public body with experience in negotiating undertakings in lieu, to be involved in the process from this stage.

"I will also ask Ofcom under section 106B for advice whether undertakings in lieu address the potential impact on media plurality.

"If this process produces undertakings in lieu which I believe will prevent or otherwise mitigate the merger from having effects adverse to the public interest, and which I propose to accept, I will then publish the undertakings in lieu and (as required under the Act) begin a formal 15 day consultation period during which time all interested parties will be able to express their views."

Speaking at a campaign meeting about the proposed merger earlier this month, Lord Razzall warned that "all hell will break loose" if Jeremy Hunt ignores the recommendation by Ofcom.

At the time he said it would be "inconceivable that a secretary of state faced with a recommendation from Ofcom should ignore it".

Editors' Blog: See a timeline of events related to the News Corp BSkyB bid at this link.

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