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Sky/ITV: Branson statement in full

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NTL shareholder Richard Branson has accused BSkyB of attempting to weaken ITV's position as the UK's leading commercial broadcaster with its surprise move to pick up 17.9% of the company.

His statement in full:

"For the last week, BSkyB has been dismissive about the logic of NTL merging with ITV, whilst at the same time they have spent £1bn buying up shares to thwart just such a move. BSkyB knows an NTL-ITV merger would enable the two companies together to compete on a more level playing field with their own business.

"Any merger of ITV’s content with a distribution platform such as NTL’s, would reinvigorate ITV as the leading commercial broadcaster in the UK and give it the strength to compete for premium programming and make the investment in quality programming, necessary to win back its audiences. BSkyB’s move is a blatant attempt to distort competition even further by blocking any attempt to create a strong and meaningful competitor.

"BSkyB is positioned to strongly influence ITV’s operations in a manner that favours BSkyB’s long term plans rather than the interests of the other 82% of ITV shareholders who weren’t offered a sweetheart deal on Friday.

"Among a very large number of potential breaches of competition legislation and the Communications Act, at the very least we believe the OFT must intervene on the grounds that this is a breach of the 'general merger provision' of the Enterprise Act (2002), which is designed to protect against any shareholder with more than 15pc having 'material influence' over the commercial decisions of another enterprise.

"This move is seriously damaging to the interests of viewers, programme makers, artists and shareholders and the time has come for regulators, politicians and consumers to finally show that they’re willing to stand up to reckless and cynical attempts to stifle competition and secure creeping control of the British media."

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