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Murdoch in ITV takeover spoiler

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It emerged over the weekend that media bounder Rupert Murdoch had bought up a slice of ITV, putting the kybosh on Richard Branson's dreams of moguldom.

Murdoch's son James, who runs BSkyB, told the City on Friday he had bought out US investment groups Fidelity and Brandes, bagging a 17.9 per cent stake in the commercial broadcaster.

Regulations prevent BSkyB from owning more than 20 per cent of ITV, so a full takeover is not on the cards. The covert swoop does cast doubt on ITV talks with cable operator NTL over a £9bn merger, however.

NTL's biggest shareholder Branson had given public blessing to a tie-up with ITV. He netted 11 per cent of NTL in the Virgin Mobile deal.

The move is being interpreted as BSkyB attempting to head off NTL's expansion into its content creation territory. The two firms already compete on broadband and TV service provision.

German broadcaster RTL, the third wheel in the ITV carve-up, already owns Channel 5, itself thought to be a Murdoch target. ITV shares grab the high ground for BSkyB in that tussle too.

In other news, Melbourne's Great Satan is in hot water stateside over one of his subs' publishing of outrageous O J Simpson opus If I Did It. The Guardian reports American media - including Murdoch's own Fox News - and bookstores have reacted with revulsion to Simpson's hypothetical graphic descriptions of his wife's not so hypothetical bloody murder. Wot he never done.

Poor taste doubtless, but the prospect of a Murdoch-influenced ITV throwing O J into the I'm a Celebrity... mixer gets our backing. ®

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