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News Corp Withdraw Sky News Spin Off, Deal Referred To Competition Commission

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News Corporation withdrew its offer Monday to spin off Sky News pending the successful takeover of BSkyB.

In response, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in the Commons that the takeover bid will now be referred to the Competition Commission.

Speaking in the Commons Hunt said: "On January 25 I said I was minded to refer News Corporation's proposed merger to BSkyB to the Competition Commission in absence of any specific undertakings in lieu." As a result of News Corp's withdrawal of the Sky News deal, Hunt said: "I am going to refer this to the Competition Commission with immediate effect."


Hunt also said that the law on media plurality "had to be reviewed" and said it would be addressed in a bill in the second half of this parliament. He also said he was worried email hacking would become "the next big scandal".

Labour leader Ed Miliband responded by accusing the government of "chaos and confusion" adding that it was "wrong" for the Prime Minister to have discussed phone hacking in a press conference, not in the Commons.

Miliband said that the culture secretary had been left to answer questions that the prime minister could not. Miliband said: "The culture secretary has no direct responsibility for the judicial inquiry that he talked about. He has no direct responsibility for the police and the relationship with the media. But he has been left to carry the can by a prime minister who knows there are too many difficult questions for him to answer. It is an insult to the House and to the British public."

The move by News Corp to withdraw its offer to spin off Sky News has been seen as an attempt to take the politics out of the BSkyB takeover.

News Corp said in its statement that they are "ready to engage with the Competition Commission on substance".

The statement said: "News Corporation today announces that it is withdrawing its proposed undertakings in lieu of reference to the Competition Commission with respect to its proposed acquisition of BSkyB."

"Should the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport decide on this basis to refer the proposed transaction to the Competition Commission for a detailed review, News Corporation is ready to engage with the Competition Commission on substance."

"News Corporation continues to believe that, taking into account the only relevant legal test, its proposed acquisition will not lead to there being insufficient plurality in news provision in the UK."

John Whittingdale, the Culture Committee chairman, now says it is not clear whether the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks will attend the Committee next Tuesday. They were issued written invitations to attend this morning.

Whittingdale commented:

We need to know who authorised the activities that have now been uncovered at News International. Of the three, we can only compel Rebekah Brooks to attend as she is a UK citizen.

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Sky News: Keith Vaz's interrogation of John Yates was 'disrespectful and unnecessary' says an indignant John O'Connor, former Scotland Yard Commander. I can understand why the phone hacking was indeed a 'low priority with all the terror going on'.

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Statements from News International

The Sun:

We're able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son medical records, nor did we commission anyone to do so. The story came from a member of the public. The member of the public has provided a written affidavit confirming this. We are not aware of Mr Brown or his family making a complaint at the time.

Sunday Times:

We had 'reasonable grounds' to investigate the purchase of Mr Brown's property 'in the public interest'. They deny that they broke any law in investigating the purchase of the flat.

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Met. Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, offers 'full support' to John Yates in statement.

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@ ShippersUnbound : Vast majority of NotW staff to get other jobs in News Int

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James Forsyth in The Spectator:

Government support for Labour’s motion tomorrow is a victory for Ed Miliband — and it is a sign that whatever hold Murdoch had over British politics has been thoroughly broken by this scandal.

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Dee Doocey, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly policing spokesperson, is calling on

Assistant Commissioner John Yates to resign. She will ask Boris Johnson to support her call for his resignation at Mayor's Question Time on Wednesday.

Baroness Doocey commented:

“It is shameful that John Yates found time to have five lunches with News International, but after just a few hours decided there was no additional evidence to justify a further investigation into phone hacking. Yates has failed literally hundreds of victims.

While he remains in post as Assistant Commissioner of the Met, its reputation will not recover.He must take responsibility for this pitiful review and accept that he has lost all credibility.”

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'The Home Secretary, who has remained very silent on this, should be talking to senior police officers across the country about how to take this forward to respond to public concerns, and make sure this could never happen again'.

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“It is welcome news that the Government says it will support our motion. It is now for Rupert Murdoch to recognise the strength of public feeling, and the will of all the major parties.”

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@ paulwaugh : Jeremy Hunt can't back the Lab motion, No.10 says. If PM ducks out of facing EdM+ Hunt has legal role, who will reply for Govt? Cable? AG?

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Downing Street: Government will vote with Labour tomorrow to request that Rupert Murdoch withdraw his bid for BSkyB. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to hold talks on hacking this evening

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@ GuidoFawkes : Stand by folks, story coming detailing @PiersMorgan's complicity in phone hacking. We're naming names and places. #CircularFiringSquad

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"If the House of Commons expresses a clear view about what is in the public interest for the bid to be withdrawn then that will help in making the right call.

"Mr Hunt said very clearly that everybody in the House of Commons apart from him because he's in a particular role, could express a view about whether Mr Murdoch should withdraw the bid. He said that in the House of Commons yesterday.

"That's why I hope as many people right across the House of Commons will support this motion as possible because I think what the public want us to do as a House of Commons, is to stand up and say it's not conceivable that Rupert Murdoch could expand his reach in the British media, while the issues that happeend at News International, while the issues of criminality are still being investigated and while there's so much that seems to be coming out day by day, and I think this is a moment when the House of Commons can rise to the occasion and can be a united House of Commons."

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Lib Dems are expected to support Ed Miliband's motion, a source has told the Huffington Post.

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"I hope the Government will support the motion, because I think it is in the interests of the country... the public will be saying to us 'this is an opportunity for politics to rise to the occasion'".

He says he hopes if the House of Commons comes to a consensus, then Mr Murdoch will listen to them.

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"As for the position of Mr Yates [Assistant Met Commissioner John Yates], bluntly I find his position quite simply untenable. You can take this on three levels: we don’t know the full detail yet, so we don’t know whether darker elements are involved in this. There is always a question of corruption in the police and we don’t know the extent of that at the moment."

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@ SkyNewsBreak : Ed Miliband to hold talks with David Cameron and Nick Clegg on phone hacking scandal this evening

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'Please if you have anything that would support my investigation, now would be a good time to get it on the table. I've been in touch with Mr Watson, not yet Mr Bryant. From the amount of media coverage, it seems a lot of media outlets have information'.

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A: "We'll always, we'll always be accused of that... With absolute confidence, because I know what's been there - for instance when there was speculation around victims of the 7/7 bombings, we did not know that they were contained within our material."

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Initially it was difficult. I held a meeting at which for the first time 2 news int. executives came along. We discussed with them properly what 'full co-operation' means. After that things were much better. Will Lewis and Simon Greenberg were the people I spoke to.

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"There must be people sitting on a lot of material"

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@ ChrisBryantMP : If brooks or murdochs refuse to attend dcms committee sergeant at arms can be empowered to force them.

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Answering how quickly the public inquiry can get going:

'only limited amount public inquiry can do whilst i'm still conducting my inquiry. i can tell you that for the 8 arrests already made, charges will not be made til October'

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She says: "There's nothing to stop the Prime Minister naming the head of the Judge led inquiry" and indicates no charges until October

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“There are times when the House of Commons has got to rise to the occasion and speak for the public.

“We have said that the purchase of BSkyB should not proceed until after criminal inquiries are complete.

“The simplest way to achieve this is for Rupert Murdoch to recognise the feelings of the public and the will of the House of Commons and withdraw this bid.

“I am calling on Parliament to show its will tomorrow.”

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This House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB

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500 people have written to ask if they had been hacked, of those 70 have been, Sue Akers says

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Sue Akers, head of Operation Weeting (which is investigating phone hacking) tells the Committee of the process and ambitions of the inquiry will be:

We should note that we have been talking today with reference to a document published by the Guardian, which may contain inaccuracies. We have 45 full-time officers currently working on it, we can add more if necessary.

A vast number of people feel they have had their privacy violated. We have a commitment to inform people that they have been hacked. There are nearly 4000 names in the original Glenn Mulcaire documentation. We have undertaken to personally inform those affected. The mobile phone companies are helping us to compile a comprehensive list. We will be going round to see these affected people

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@ benfenton : News Corp has just announced a 5bn dollar share buyback. it does not necessarily mean they cannot buy BskyB by any means but v significant

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Then they will inform all the victims.

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