Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he intends to refer News Corporation’s bid for full control of BSkyB to the Competition Commission.
Mr Hunt said the merger may operate against the public interest in media plurality, but added that he would first consider undertakings from News Corp before confirming the reference to the Commission.
A report by media watchdog Ofcom previously recommended that the proposed deal should be investigated further by the Commission.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – which also owns papers including The Sun and The Times – made an approach in June to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own, but Business Secretary Vince Cable stepped in to refer the deal to Ofcom on public interest grounds.
News Corp has told Mr Hunt it wishes him to consider special “undertakings in lieu”, which it hopes will allay his fears and prevent him from referring the matter to the Commission.
Recent media reports have suggested that News Corp has told the Government it might be prepared to make concessions to avoid a lengthy consultation, with separating Sky News from BSkyB one option said to be under review.
Mr Hunt said: “News Corporation says that it wishes me to consider undertakings in lieu which it contends could sufficiently alleviate the concerns I have such that I should accept the undertakings instead of making a reference.”
Mr Hunt has requested that the Office of Fair Trading is involved in the process. If the undertakings are accepted, a 15-day consultation period will commence when parties will be able to express their views.
News Corporation said it had submitted evidence showing that the level of plurality in the UK has increased since 2003, when the Communications Act was enacted. It added that it believed Ofcom’s analysis to be deficient in a number of ways.
The media group said: “News Corporation has made a submission to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport setting out a number of issues with the Ofcom report. However, in the interests of progressing to a transaction, News Corporation has submitted an undertaking that we believe addresses Ofcom’s concerns.”