Mark Thompson has called on the British government to intervene in News Corp’s bid to take full control of BSkyB. Speaking on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show in New York, he agreed there was potential for an abuse of power by the Murdoch media group if BSkyB, the UK’s biggest broadcaster in terms of its £5.4 billion revenue, comes under the same ownership as News International, the UK’s largest newspaper group. Combining BSkyB with News International, owner of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, raised issues of “how you ensure plurality in the system”, Thompson warned. He said that the UK government should look at those issues – although he stopped short of calling for the deal to be blocked. “If the two were combined, there might be a significant loss of plurality in our media market,” Thompson said. News Corp is bidding to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own in a move that would compound its status as the overwhelming player in British media. Vince Cable, the government business secretary, does have the power to veto the deal on media plurality grounds. But there’s scepticism that the government will act, given that Rupert Murdoch was spotted going into the back entrance of 10 Downing Street for a secret meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron shortly after May’s general election. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has wondered what all the fuss is about given that News Corp already gives the outward appearance of owning Sky. Rival newspaper groups though are worried about the potential to cross-sell newspapers and cut-price pay-TV subscriptions. In any case, there’s nothing Cable can do until News Corp formally notifies the European Commission in Brussels about its plan to buy Sky outright. That’s at least a couple of weeks away, if not more, I’m told. Brussels has to make sure it has all the relevant information. Thompson did the interview during a series of meetings he was having in New York and Washington DC, as well as giving a speech on public service broadcasting. What’s interesting is that Thompson felt so strongly about what Murdoch is attempting to do that agreed to the interview in New York, the seat of real power for News Corp, given that it’s where Rupert Murdoch lives.
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