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Saturday 6 November 2010

That’ll Cost You, Sport – 22

And so, while I was otherwise distracted doing city break things, normal politics continued in the UK, and the decision on whether to refer the News Corp bid to take over the 61% of BSkyB that they do not already own arrived on the desk of Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Whatever Cable decided, he was going to get a kicking from part of the media. Had he waved the News Corp bid through, all those players who had already opposed it would be unhappy, and if he referred it, Rupe’s troops and their cheerleaders would kick off. It was a thankless task.

Ultimately, Cable played the safety shot and referred the bid to Ofcom – coincidentally the body that Young Dave had indicated, before the General Election, would be all but abolished if the Tories won. It was also the body that had ordered BSkyB to lower the price they charged third party suppliers – like BT and Virgin Media – for broadcasting their content.

So now the Murdoch press is annoyed with poor Vince. But could he have acted differently? Passing the bid could have meant the matter ending up with the EU Competition Commission, or Cable could have tried to pass it to them at the outset. But the principle of subsidiarity would in all probability have meant the EU passing it back to Cable, as an example of a matter best dealt with initially at member state level.

Subsidiarity is one concept that the Europhobic tendency have difficulty recognising: to them, the EU is a solely centralising force, sucking the life out of member state Governments. That idea, though, is fatuous: subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken at as local a level as possible.

Which brings us back to Cable and Ofcom. And the word the latter will have at the centre of their investigation is plurality: this is the idea that allowing News Corp to own 100% of BSkyB would concentrate too much of the marketplace in the hands of one organisation. After all, Rupe’s troops already have a third of the newspaper market, and BSkyB’s revenues significantly exceed those of its largest competitor, the BBC.

Cable has instructed Ofcom to report back by the end of the year, and then he may yet refer the matter to the EU. But for Murdoch, this is getting in the way of setting up his legacy: Rupe will be 80 next March, he cannot go on for ever, and the thought that News Corp may not, like the empire of William Randolph Hearst, long survive his passing must have occurred to him.

And if Cable does pass the bid to the EU, having had Ofcom do their investigation, he may have to wait long beyond that 80th to get his 61%.

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