UK minister stripped of media role for Murdoch jibe

LONDON, (Reuters) – British Business Secretary Vince  Cable was stripped of power over the media sector but remained  in government yesterday after he was taped “declaring war” on  News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch.

Vince Cable

The sacking of Cable, a Liberal Democrat, would have  destabilised the Conservative-led coalition which has mapped out  a tough austerity programme.

The Lib Dems’ poll ratings have slumped after their  leadership including Cable backed higher tuition fees for  students, breaking a pre-election pledge.

Prime Minister David Cameron regarded Cable’s comments as  “unacceptable and inappropriate”, his office said in a statement  which reprimanded Cable and curtailed his influence.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, led by  Conservative Jeremy Hunt, will take charge of media regulation  including News Corp’s bid to take full control of pay TV  operator BSkyB.

News Corp wants to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB it does not  already own for 7.8 billion pounds ($12.2 billion) to  consolidate the business it helped build.

The European Commission on Tuesday granted unconditional  approval for the bid, putting the ball back in Britain’s court.

Political analysts said the removal of Cable from the  equation would reduce the chances of it being blocked. Hunt has  in the past praised News Corp Murdoch’s role in developing  Britain’s television news market.

Cable, 67, is one of the best known members of the Liberal  Democrats, the junior partner in the Conservative-led government  which took office in May, the country’s first coalition  government since World War Two.

His pivotal role in the party and the desire not to disrupt  the coalition saved his skin.

“The coalition needs a Vince Cable, first of all to keep the  Lib Dems on board, he’s the man who can communicate with them  far more than (party leader) Nick Clegg,” said Steven Fielding,  director of Nottingham University’s Centre for British Politics.

Opposition Labour called Cable a “lame duck” and his  diminished role could limit his ability to rein in bank bonuses,  an issue on which he has been outspoken.

In comments originally made to two undercover reporters from  the Daily Telegraph newspaper and obtained by the BBC, Cable  said: “I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are  going to win”.

Talking about the bid, Cable said: “I have blocked it using  the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have  got,” according to the recording.

Murdoch, an Australian-born U.S. citizen, is one of the best  known media figures in Britain. He was a strong supporter of  Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and  broke the power of the unions in the print industry. News Corp, which owns British newspapers The Sun, News of  the World, Times and Sunday Times, condemned Cable’s comments.

“News Corporation is shocked and dismayed at the reports of  Mr Cable’s comments. They raise serious questions about fairness  and due process,” it said in a statement.
Cable apologised for his comments.

“I fully accept the decision of the Prime Minister and  Deputy Prime Minister. I deeply regret the comments I made and  apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the  government,” he said in a statement.

The British communications regulator Ofcom is examining the  BSkyB deal to see if it would give News Corp too much control of  the media in Britain, with the focus on content types,  audiences, media platforms, control of media enterprises and  future developments in the media landscape.

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