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Hunt approves News Corp's Sky News plan

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Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has approved a plan from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to sell off Sky News, paving the way for the company's proposed bid to take full control of Sky to be approved.

Under the deal, the loss-making rolling news broadcaster will be "spun off" as a new publicly-listed company called Newco, with independent funding for the next ten years.

News Corp will licence the Sky News brand to the operation for seven years, offering an incentive for the company to pitch for a second funding deal. Murdoch will retain a 39.1% stake in the company, with the remaining shares held by existing shareholders in Sky.

To ensure editorial independence and integrity for Sky News, the company would have a board made up of independent directors, including an independent chair, as well as a corporate governance and editorial committee.

News Corp would also be prevented from increasing its shareholding in the company without first getting permission from the Secretary of State for the next ten years. Hunt's decision will now go out to a 15-day consultation, expiring on March 21.

"Informed by advice from the regulators, I believe that these will address concerns about media plurality should the proposed News Corporation/Sky merger go ahead," said Hunt.

"The undertakings offered would ensure that shareholdings in Sky News would remain unchanged, and indeed offer it more independence from News Corporation than it currently has."

The move paves the way for News Corp to complete its £8 billion purchase of the 60.9% of Sky that it does not already own, bringing together the UK's biggest newspaper group with its largest pay-TV broadcaster.

However, opponents of the takeover, including the owners of the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, have vigorously opposed the deal on grounds that it would reduce the plurality of voices in the British media.

Hunt said that he is "very aware" of the controversy around the proposed merger, but feels that his handling of the approval process has reflected that.

"Throughout this process I have been very aware of the potential controversy surrounding this merger. Nothing is more precious to me than the free and independent press for which this country is famous the world over," he said.

"In order to reassure the public about the way this decision has been taken I have sought and published independent advice at every step of the way, even when not required to do so by law. And I have followed that independent advice."

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