The concerns were identified by the media watchdog Ofcom, which also recommended referring the merger to the Competition Commission.
Business Secretary Vince Cable stepped in to refer the deal to Ofcom on public interest grounds when News Corp approached BSkyB in June 2010. However, the responsibility for the ruling on the merger now falls with Hunt after Cable was recorded by undercover journalists saying he had ‘declared war’ on News Corp's owner Rupert Murdoch.
Yesterday, a Downing Street spokesmen insisted that a meeting in December between David Cameron and James Murdoch would have no impact on the government's handling of News Corp's bid to take full control of BSkyB and that the decision was Hunt’s alone to make.
‘On the face of it, Jeremy Hunt’s intention to refer the News Corp bid to the Competition Commission seems sensible - after all, in-depth analysis of mergers and acquisitions in the regulated industries is the reason it exists,’ said James Tyrrell at Insight Public Affairs.
‘So too is his approach in allowing News Corp to clarify exactly how they would manage Sky News at an arm’s length, to pacify critics of the deal.’
‘Hunt was always going to have his hand forced, considering Vince Cable’s overt bias; the concerns raised by Ofcom over plurality (how can a Secretary of State dismiss such advice outright) and the Conservative leadership’s close personal relationship with News Corp’s proprietors. Add into the mix the growing fallout with the Coulson News of the World saga and Hunt’s approach seems to be aimed at avoiding a ‘perfect storm’ at all costs.
Fiona Mason, managing director, public affairs at MHP Communications said that any decision was likely to ‘get the conspiracy theorists going’.
‘My view is that it shows that the Secretary of State is not afraid of making decisions that could be seen as unpopular, many would argue that referring the Bid to the Competition Commission would be an easier option. I think though it will be widely interpreted as a positive sign for News Corporation.’