British PM slaps down business minister over Murdoch remarks

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British Prime Minister David Cameron stripped his business secretary of key powers Tuesday over what he termed "totally unacceptable and inappropriate" remarks about media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Cameron's spokesman said that Vince Cable, a senior Liberal Democrat member of the Conservative-led coalition, would no longer have a say in Murdoch's bid to take full control of pay TV giant BSkyB, and his department would lose other powers.

The prime minister acted after Cable told undercover newspaper reporters that he had "declared war" on Murdoch and planned to block his New Corporation's 12.0-billion-dollar (9.1-billion-euro) bid for BSkyB.

"You may wonder what is happening with the Murdoch press," Cable told the Daily Telegraph reporters, who were posing as constituents. "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we're going to win."

EU regulators on Tuesday cleared News Corporation's attempt to buy a majority stake in BSkyB but the deal remains subject to a British regulatory review, which is due to report next week.

Cameron's spokesman said Cable's remarks "were totally unacceptable and inappropriate" and the prime minister took swift action.

"Following comments made by Vince Cable to the Daily Telegraph, the prime minister has decided that he will play no further part in the decision over News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB," the spokesman said.

"In addition, all responsibility for competition and policy issues relating to media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors will be transferred immediately to the secretary of state for culture, media and sport."

This includes responsibility for the communications watchdog, Ofcom, in those areas.

In a statement, Cable said he fully accepted Cameron's decision, adding: "I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the government."

Discussing News Corporation's bid, Cable told the undercover reporters: "I have blocked it, using the powers that I have got. And they are legal powers that I have got.

"I can't politicise it, but for the people who know what is happening, this is a big thing. His whole empire is now under attack. So there are things like that, that being in government... All we can do in opposition is protest."

Murdoch owns Britain's top-selling daily newspaper, The Sun, which backed Cameron's Conservatives in the elections in May.

The mogul was also reportedly one of the prime minister's first visitors when he took office after the vote.

A spokesperson for News Corporation had earlier said that it was "shocked and dismayed" by Cable's remarks, adding: "They raise serious questions about fairness and due process."

The Daily Telegraph first published remarks Tuesday by Cable indicating he could quit and "bring the government down" if the centre-left Liberal Democrats is pushed too far in compromising with the centre-right Conservatives.

The comments about Murdoch were only revealed later in the day when they were leaked to the BBC.

Telegraph Media Group, the owner of the newspaper, is one of several media organisations which have opposed the BSkyB deal.

© 2010 AFP

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