Ofcom eyes News Corp 'fit and proper' probe

Media watchdog Ofcom has released a letter it has presented to the chairman of the House of Commons culture committee, over News Corp’s proposed takeover of broadcaster BSkyB.

Ofcom’s letter to MP John Whittingdale made clear its awareness that it can commission an investigation into whether New Corp would make a “fit and proper” owner of BSkyB’s broadcasting licences.

It also said any such investigation would also include an evaluation of whether the conduct of those leading the company was considered fit.

“In considering whether any licensee remains a “fit and proper person” to hold broadcasting licences Ofcom will consider any relevant conduct of those who manage and control such a licence,” the letter said.

It added that it was “monitoring the situation closely and in particular the investigations by the relevant authorities into alleged unlawful activities in regard to any evidence or findings of any relevant conduct.”

“We are writing to the relevant authorities to highlight our duties in relation to ‘Fit and Proper’ and indicating that we would like to be kept abreast of the timescales of their
investigations and of any further information which may assist us in the discharge of our own duties,” it said.

While Ofcom does not suggest that it will launch such an investigation while the police and civil inquiries continue, the publication of the letter showed it heaping pressure on News Corp and made clear its approval of the deal was not certain.

News Corp is negotiating with BSkyB shareholders to buy the remaining 61 per cent of the company that it does not already own.

Shares in BSkyB fell seven per cent today after Ofcom’s letter and further statements showed the chances of the bid’s success slipping.

The letter’s release came as News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks held another meeting with News of the World staff.

Her statement to them revealed that she was no longer leading the company’s internal response to the police investigation and News Corp’s management and standards committee would report directly to its recently-hired executive vice president Joel Klein in New York.