Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#NewsCorp's #BSkyB deal: what do the documents reveal?

James Murdoch
James Murdoch phoned Vince Cable as part of News Corp's lobbying over the BSkyB deal. Photograph: Warren Allott/AFP/Getty Images
The government has published a tranche of documents relating to the deal that never was – News Corporation's aborted £8bn bid to take full control of BSkyB.

Much of the paperwork published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is traffic between civil servants, ministers and interested parties, including News Corp.

It is interesting because it shows government thinking on the deal, including "lines to take" when dealing with questions from the media and shadow ministers.

The Guardian's Polly Toynbee gets an honourable mention after calling a BIS press officer to ask "a few questions that I couldn't answer".

The document also illustrates the manner in which News Corp lobbies government – which is aggressively and unrelentingly. A phone call to Vince Cable from James Murdoch in June 2010 (it is mentioned in passing, but we know it was made to notify the business secretary of News Corp's offer to the BSkyB board) was followed days later by a request for a meeting.

An unnamed civil servant tells Cable's officials: "It seems reasonable to assume that since the phone call earlier this week, the two companies are closer to a deal and that James Murdoch wants to update the SofS [secretary of state] and, in the light of their experience in the ITV share acquisition case, would want an indication from the SofS as to whether he would use his powers of intervention." (BSkyB's 2006 purchase of a 17.9% stake in ITV was referred to competition regulators and it was eventually forced to reduce its holding.)

The civil servant says it would "perhaps seem unreasonable to refuse their request", although the meeting didn't take place, according to a list of ministerial meetings with media proprietors released by the government earlier this year.

News Corp continued to bombard the departments with briefing documents – including a lengthy demolition of an argument against the deal advanced by Enders Analysis, which said it would have a dramatic effect on media plurality. An avalanche of letters from the alliance of media groups that opposed the deal, including Guardian Media Group, which publishes the Guardian, was also made available last night.

The deal didn't happen, of course, and the documents will be of most interest to media industry scholars.

But we have published links to all the relevant material below. If you can find anything interesting we may have missed, please take a leaf out of News Corp's book and shout loudly.

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