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Sky 'pulled' F1 news story ahead of first Grand Prix

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Sky chief executive Jeremy Darroch ordered a news story to be temporarily taken down from the Sky News website last week after an executive producer complained that it had upset Formula One teams, it has emerged.

The Financial Times reports that Darroch decided to intervene after the story, documenting a controversial deal between F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and two teams, was posted by Sky News on the eve of the launch of Sky's first Grand Prix broadcast on the expensively assembled Sky Sports F1 channel.

Citing 'people familiar with the decision', the newspaper claims that Sky Sports F1 executive producer Martin Turner had contacted Sky's bosses from Melbourne, where his team was preparing to cover the opening Australian Grand Prix this weekend, to flag up that the article was upsetting some F1 teams.

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Darroch is then said to have ordered Sky News to take down the story, subject to a review. This went ahead on Monday by head of Sky News John Ryley, after which the article was reposted in the afternoon with few changes, except for the replacement of some sections quoting from confidential documents.

A source told the paper: "It was an oversight that the article appeared without those Sky colleagues for whom it might have caused a problem being made aware."

They said that the story's removal was a "pause for thought".

In a statement, a Sky spokesman said: "The piece was withdrawn for further review. We stand by the story and, following that review, took the decision to re-publish on Monday."

However, the situation has raised further questions about the independence of Sky News, following a wide-ranging review of the broadcaster as part of the botched bid by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to take full control of pay-TV giant Sky last year.

After media regulator Ofcom said that the merging of News Corp and Sky would reduce the plurality of media sources in the UK, News Corp offered to spin off Sky News as a separate company with guaranteed funding for ten years.

This offer was subsequently withdrawn by News Corp, and the Sky bid was ultimately scrapped following the phone hacking affair at the company's UK newspaper publisher News International. But it has still raised questions about the independence of Sky News, the loss-making broadcaster which is almost wholly dependent on Sky for finance.

Sky has spent heavily on acquiring the TV rights to all Grand Prix each season from 2012 to 2018, including the creation of a brand new presentation team and the launch of its first channel dedicated to just one sport.

However, it is understood that seven of the 12 teams in Australia this Sunday were upset at the Sky News story, which cited a leaked report showing that Ecclestone and F1 owner CVC had attempted to broker a deal with Ferrari and Red Bull ahead of the sport's public offering.

It is thought that the two teams were offered shares and voting rights on the F1 board to persuade them not to launch a breakaway league in the motorsport.

Ferrari, Goldman Sachs and CVC have all declined to comment on the Sky News report.

> Sky's David Croft: F1 rights deal is good for fans
> Formula One on Sky has raised the BBC's game, says Jake Humphrey

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