Sunday, 19 November, 2017

Won't sell CNN to win Time Warner deal approval: AT&T

Morning Joe Host Trump Shut Up Morning Joe’ host doesn’t hold back against Trump. THOMAS PETER AFP Getty Images
Garry Little | 10 November, 2017, 00:39

Antitrust regulators in the USA and AT&T held tense discussions on Wednesday over whether the second largest wireless carrier in the US would have to sell CNN a Timer Warner cable network as one of the conditions of receiving approval of its takeover bid for the media company.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company is prepared to go to court to fight demands from the Justice Department that it sell assets as a condition for acquiring Time Warner.

The head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, said in a statement late on Thursday that he has "never been instructed by the White House" on the AT&T deal. Since he took office during January, Trump has not made any further comment about the deal. In a statement, White House spokesman Raj Shah said: "The president did not speak with the attorney general about this matter, and no White House official was authorized to speak with the Department of Justice on this matter".

AT&T announced in 2016 that it had reached an accord to purchase Time Warner, whose other properties include HBO and Warner Bros. studios. Both companies have struggled to keep younger viewers from flocking to online services like Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc's Prime Video.

Earlier this year, lawmakers, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said the deal raises antitrust questions.

For AT&T (T, Tech30), those asset sales are "non-starters", as one source put it. "But ... I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain". It had previously said the acquisition would close by the end of this year.

But Trump's strongly voiced disdain for CNN has raised the spectre of political influence behind the scenes. Trump has repeatedly tangled with CNN, calling the network's coverage "fake news". It also quoted a third source, who said the DOJ had requested the sale of CNN. Another way to resolve the concerns, the Department of Justice told AT&T, is to sell off DirecTV, according to the source.

While critics of the merger have described it as a sign that there is too much consolidation in the media and telecommunications industries, analysts have said that there were few legal grounds on which to block the transaction. The new concessions suggest the Justice Department's antitrust chief 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". The U.S. President, Donald Trump was one of the merger's fiercest objectors.

Another sticking point in discussions is the length of time that the US government wants to impose conditions on what AT&T can and cannot do after a deal.

Reports the DOJ is pushing for substantial liquidation of assets and conflicting in its talks with AT&T have cast more doubt on the deal being completed.

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