Ofcom prepared to investigate BSkyB deal

By Ian Dunt

Ofcom announced that is willing to intervene in Rupert Murdoch's attempt to gain control of BSkyB today, as the phone-hacking scandal threatened to inflict even more damage.

The move piles further misery on Mr Murdoch, as he desperately tries to limit the financial damage of a scandal which has seen his political influence dwindle.

The media regulator has a statutory duty to establish whether News Corp's owners are "fit and proper" persons to own a broadcast licence.

In a letter to John Whittingdale, chair of the media committee, it said that it regarded evidence that the News of the World newsroom was out of control as relevant to its judgement on the character of News Corp's owners but that it could not act until the "whilst allegations are unsubstantiated".

The letter sought to "highlight" the watchdog's duties, heavily implying that it was prepared to step in once the legal process was over.

News Corp currently owns 39% of BSkyB but it wants full control.

The consultation ended at noon today, leaving media secretary Jeremy Hunt with 156,000 contributions, almost all of them negative.

In a bid to defer the decision until the political scene had become less volatile, Mr Hunt said it would take several weeks to assess all the responses.

"Given the volume of responses, we anticipate that this will take some time," a spokesperson said.

"He will consider all relevant factors including whether the announcement regarding the News of the World's closure has any impact on the question of media plurality."

With Labour leader Ed Miliband now issuing no-holds-barred attacks on Mr Murdoch and the prime minister firing a warning shot across the bows this morning by telling reporters he would have accepted Rebekah Brokes' resignation, the last thing the media mogul needed was a negative impact on his business efforts, especially after he took the drastic step of closing the News of ten World yesterday.