BSkyB takeover plan receives flurry of late submissions

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Image caption News Corp's proposed takeover of BSkyB is subject to Sky News being spun off as a separate company

A final decision on News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB is still some way off, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated.

His department has received a deluge of last-minute submissions on News Corp's plan to buy control of the broadcaster.

It will "take some time" to assess the "volume of responses", the department said in a statement.

Mr Hunt will also consider whether closure of the News of the World will affect the deal and UK media plurality.

Consultation on plans by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to buy the 60.9% of BSkyB it does not already own closes on Friday.

But following revelations about phone hacking and other activities by the NoW, Mr Hunt has received thousands of new submissions this week.

Campaigners against the BSkyB takeover believe that more than 200,000 submissions will be lodged by the deadline.

At a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that a final decision on the takeover would take "some time".

This was followed up by a statement on behalf of Mr Hunt. "The Secretary of State has always been clear that he will take as long as is needed to reach a decision," it said.

All the responses submitted will be carefully considered, and Mr Hunt will "take advice from Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading before reaching his decision".

The statement continued: "Given the volume of responses, we anticipate that this will take some time. 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."

News Corp, which owns 39.1% of BSkyB, has offered 700p a share for the remainder of the satellite broadcaster.

Mr Hunt has previously signalled that he is minded to approve the takeover, subject to News Corp spinning off Sky News.

In a statement News Corp said "it notes today's comments by the Prime Minister" on the BSkyB bid and "our priority is to continue to co-operate with [Mr Hunt] and the existing regulatory process".

Shares in BSkyB fell more than 4% in morning trading on Friday as investors speculated that the NoW affair would damage News Corp's bid.

Alex DeGroote, analyst at Panmure Gordon, said in a research note published on Friday: "Probability of deal collapse much higher now."

Rivals gain


Shares in other UK media companies rose on hopes they will grab market share from NoW's closure. Trinity Mirror shares rose as much as 12% in early trade before slipping back.

On Friday, Labour leader Ed Miliband called for the bid to be referred to the Competition Commission.

The European Commission has already cleared the proposed takeover on competition grounds, as broadcasting and newspaper ownership are considered two distinct markets.

However, the UK Competition Commission could consider the deal's impact on the plurality of the media, and whether it reduced the number of independent voices.

The 168-year-old News of the World is being closed after it publishes its last edition this Sunday, although there is speculation that the Sun newspaper could start publishing on Sundays.

The NoW is accused of hacking into phones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians. Police have identified 4,000 possible targets.