The West

Watchdog defends its Seven stance
Watchdog defends its Seven stance

The competition watchdog has dismissed criticism it is dragging its heels on Seven Group Holdings' potential acquisition of pay-TV investor Consolidated Media, saying analysts misunderstand its authorisation process.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims was in Perth yesterday when the ACCC released a statement saying it had competition concerns about television sporting rights under the plan, but would defer a decision until October 11.

The Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven Group has not made a counter bid to News Ltd's $2 billion takeover offer for James Packer's majority stake in ConsMedia.

But in June Seven Group asked the ACCC to look into regulatory concerns that could be sparked if it increased its 24.4 per cent stake.

ConsMedia - majority owned by Mr Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings - holds 50 per cent of pay-TV channel producer Fox Sports and 25 per cent of Foxtel.

Mr Sims told _WestBusiness _ that analysts who said the watchdog should have made a "no" decision yesterday after studying the matter for months were ignoring the ACCC's process.

"We have a process we go through to get public comment and get people to provide a view on the merger," he said.

"Once we have digested that we go back to them (the interested parties) and say 'here's our view', and go out with our statement (before another round of consultations).

"We could have said no today and not given Seven any more chances to comment but Seven could have said, why has your normal process changed?

"(Seven Group) can already see we have concerns, but if they have more to say they can now do it."

Seven Group spokesman Simon Francis said it would "continue working through the issues with ACCC in an effort to resolve their concerns".

Fat Prophets senior analyst Greg Fraser said the ACCC's statement suggested it would be difficult for the watchdog to approve a takeover, given its concerns about Seven Group owning a large interest in both pay and free-to-air TV.

The ACCC statement said owning 50 per cent and sitting on the board at Fox Sports would give Seven Group "significant influence" over the pay-TV channel and was likely to result in Fox Sports favouring Channel 7 over rival free-to-air networks.

Last week, ConsMedia said it had accepted a revised takeover offer from News Ltd.

We could have said no today . . . "ACCC chairman Rod Sims <div class="endnote">

With Australian Associated Press </div>

The West Australian

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