Jeremy Hunt

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt answers an urgent question after the Government provisionally accepted plans to hive off Sky News

Credit: PA Wire
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will today write to Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading to ask whether the events of the past week require another look at the decision on News Corporation's bid for the remainder of BSkyB.

Ofcom had previously recommended to Hunt that the bid be referred to the Competition Commission, before undertakings such as the spinning off of Sky News as a separate company were put forward and accepted.

But today's letter asks the two bodies whether the revelations relating to News Corporation title the News of the World, which published its last edition yesterday, would require them to look again at the decision.

Hunt asks for the regulators to consider whether the events would change their advice on the bid with respect to three areas: whether the closure of the News of the World causes additional plurality concerns, whether a fit and proper persons test would impact on the merger and whether any of the new information causes a reconsideration of the advice he has been given.

This includes the bodies' "confidence in the credibility, sustainability or practicalities of the undertakings offered by News Corporation", he adds in the letter.

Hunt has come under increasing pressure in the past weeks to review his plan to give the bid the green light.

The latest consultation on the bid closed on Friday, in a week which had seen the News of the World at the centre of further phone hacking allegations.

This included claims that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was hacked while she was missing in 2002 and that private investigators were paid to access the voicemails of the families of 7/7 bombings victims.

In an interview with the BBC, Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted the bid could not be completed while the criminal investigation was ongoing.

"They've chosen a course that relies on assurances from News Corporation about what they would do and their behaviour in the future. I have to say after this week I don't think it's right and I don't think the public will accept the position whereby this bid is waved through over the coming months, even if it is in September, on the basis of assurances from News Corporation.

"That's why we're saying this bid cannot be completed, the process cannot be completed by Jeremy Hunt, until after this criminal investigation."

He added that he also believes Ofcom must have a chance, when the criminal investigation is complete to consider a fit and proper person test.

"I say this to the PM candidly. Over the next 72 hours I hope he changes his position on this because I don't want to force this to a vote," he added.

According to campaign group 38 Degrees, if there is no change, a vote will be held in Parliament on Wednesday.

In a statement the National Union of Journalists said it had added its voice to demands for a debate.

"It is vital that this deal is halted until the results of the criminal investigation and the public inquiry are publicly available," NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said.

"A survey carried out at the weekend shows that only one in 10 members of the public believes Murdoch is a 'fit and proper person' to run BSkyB – a damning insight into the scale of public anger about this scandal.

It also called for a 'fit and proper' test of media ownership to be applied to all Murdoch-owned press and media in the UK.

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