Hunt Balls: Jeremy’s inability to engage brain on the BSkyB bid….


….and why Murdoch’s critical path analysis has gone wrong

Jeremy Hunt gave us all a catch-up yesterday on how near the smooth running tram that is Newscorp’s BSkyB bid is to going off the rails. Although (as far as I know) Mr Hunt has never driven a tram before, it will be the ideal second career for him once this one implodes, because his mind too runs on unchanging tracks. JH fessed up that it had “taken longer than expected” to reach his decision to go ahead anyway. This was because he had been in receipt of a large number of impertinent letters from uppity subjects demanding to know why he was happy to hand over Britain’s private televisual sector to a gang of criminals.

Mr Riminge-Slange went further and admitted that the overwhelming majority of the letters are “submissions raising concerns over the deal”. Here he was, trying to run a Culture Ministry, and a lot of culture-vulture moaning minnies were getting in the way. Still, they all had votes and so etc etc etc.

Well, they do have votes: but the remarkable similarity in the wording of some letters suggests that Newscorp competitors are hoping to slow things down….while they continue to dig into the dungheap called Hackgate.

It’s all very trying for Jeremy. But as yet, he hasn’t got around to wondering if 40,000 concerned voters sending letters (about what, to most people, is an obscure media negotiation) might be a sign that it’s the wrong thing to be doing. That he might be, you know, driving the No 17 tram when the 35b is newer, quicker, and cleaner.

He was less specific about the “ongoing legal negotiations over the proposed spin-off of Sky News”, but I can provide some illumination on that subject. The swarm of bluebottles in this particular wriggling pit of worm-ointment work for Ofcom: the sticking point is that they don’t believe Murdoch will stick to the deal. The Digger does have form re this one – and 40 years of it might just be a guide to the future.

The sticking-point about Sky news’ branding is, however, so brazen that even Mr *unt can see it coming.  The Minister said that details regarding “brand licensing” agreements between the hived-off Sky News and parent company BSkyB were “taking a long time”. If an insider The Slog spoke to this morning is right, the ‘brand licensing’ descriptor is smoke and mirrors: as always with Rupert Murdoch, he wants the brand ‘separation’ rules to be generalised and vague – and thus capable of multiple interpretations as and when he decides to renege on them.

But I understand there is pressure on Jeremy Tai-ping-Errah from above to get on with it. When I say ‘understand’, what I mean is I have now twice picked up a rumour in the Media Village that Uncle Roop (who expected the deal to be approved at the end of April) is getting twitchy about the length of time this rubber stamp the consultation process is taking. There are two reasons for this.

First off, there’s the rising BSkyB price as speculators bet on Mr *unt giving the go-ahead for the deal. News Corp chief operating officer Chase Carey has said the £7-a-share offer remains in line with projections made when tabled, but that’s bollocks: Sky’s share price today sits at £8.45. City slickers are predicting that BSkyB’s key shareholder’s and directors won’t accept a penny less than £10.50p per share.

And Murdoch’s apprehension is being heightened by the continued weakness of the dollar in relation to the Pound….given that the offer is denominated in Bernanke-confetti.

Secondly – and perhaps even more important – the Phone-Digger wants a signed deal in his pocket before any more evidence about the innate criminality of senior Newscorp executives comes to light. Yesterday’s unmasking of a guilty party by Jude Law’s brief Hugh Tomlinson in the Court of Mr Justice Vos makes the urgency even more pressing. That legal process is now being fast-tracked. It’s a race against time, and Rupert Murdoch is losing it.

Meanwhile, News Corp told the FT: “We continue to co-operate fully with the regulatory process.” (Translator’s note: ‘cooperate fully’ is Wapping dialect for ‘hide all the bodies’. Also sometimes, “Nahwarriesmite”).