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09 November, 2017, 01:56 | Author: Salvatore Jensen
  • Reuters

USA antitrust regulators want AT&T to sell either the parent company of CNN or its DirecTV satellite television unit before they will allow the wireless carrier to buy media company Time Warner, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

On last Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said "we're not going to interfere with that here".

The particular request is jarring because Trump has so routinely and aggressively criticized CNN for its coverage and reporting, often calling the channel "fake news".

"Threatening Turner is a fig leaf for threatening CNN", one of the sources said to CNN.

Selling off the cable news network is one of the demands being made by the US antitrust authority before it signs off on a deal that could reshape the landscape of both the media and telecom industries.

Being forced to sell off Turner is probably a "nonstarter" for AT&T, New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin said.

The US, which is reviewing a planned $85bn merger between Time Warner and AT&T, has proposed sale of assets such as CNN as a condition for approval.

In a statement, AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson denied that.

"Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so", he said.

"The Department is committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts". For instance, anonymous sources speaking with both Politico and the Financial Times say the DOJ has pushed for the company to sell off the Time Warner-owned CNN in order to be cleared for the proposed $84.5 billion acquisition.

"We are in active discussions with the DOJ", AT&T CFO John Stephens said at a Wednesday investor conference. Assume that Time Warner trades at 82 if the deal collapses to reflect lower media valuations in recent months and the odds are slightly above 50%. Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg declined to comment. The company has said it considers CNN, the news network that has been a lighting rod for Trump, a prize asset, according to a Bloomberg report. Of course, there was always the specter of interference from CNN-hating Big Bad Wolf Trump. If Time Warner decides to pull out of the AT&T deal and gets a better offer, it has to pay AT&T $1.73 billion. He said the company has "very good" prospects of winning in court against the Justice Department.

Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, told The New York Times that the "DOJ would have to show that a combined entity has the incentive as a vertically integrated company to foreclose rival content producers and/or rival distributors from access to content".

The new concessions suggest the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, has changed his view of AT&T's plan to buy Time Warner, since giving an interview in 2016 where he declared it not "a major antitrust problem". Without an agreement, the Justice Department would sue to block the merger - as soon as next week, one of the people said.

The demands thought to be being made of AT&T follow vocal opposition by President Donald Trump to the acquisition.



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