Virgin Media vows legal action in BSkyB row

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LONDON - Virgin Media said Monday it would pursue legal action against British pay-TV firm BSkyB if a programming carriage row is not resolved in 30 days.

Legal remedies sought will include supply of Sky's basic channels at a reasonable commercial rate and fair payment for BSkyB's carriage of Virgin Media TV channels, such as Living and Bravo, the company said in a statement.

Virgin Media said it would seek damages if the dispute was not resolved.

"We are not interested in prolonging this dispute any longer than necessary, but we will not allow Virgin Media or our customers to be the victim of Sky's market power," said Virgin Media Chief Executive Steve Burch. "In the interest of the consumer, we want these issues resolved quickly," he added.

BSkyB said the accusations were without foundation and that it would defend itself vigourously if the matter went to court.

Virgin's move came on the same day that the boss of BSkyB accused its rival of seeking to play the "victim" to win public sympathy.

"I think their PR offensive was always part of the plan. They wanted to have a big dispute," James Murdoch told The Daily Telegraph.

"They want to try and turn Virgin Media from what is a pretty big business in residential telephony and the biggest business -- or it was until the last quarter -- in residential broadband into a victim to try and get public support."

Murdoch also said he was stunned by a decision by the British government to ask media regulator Ofcom to examine whether BSkyB's purchase of a stake in ITV Plc. raised concerns over media ownership.

Last week the new Virgin Media U.K. cable TV platform lost BSkyB's basic channels after the two sides failed to agree a new carriage deal. Attempts to negotiate a new agreement have turned into a public slanging match.

Murdoch also said he had little time for Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alistair Darling's decision to ask Ofcom to look at whether BSkyB's stake in ITV raised public interest concerns about the number of different media owners. Virgin Media has complained the move was anti-competitive.

"It means we, plus the other players in the market place, plus the government are going to have to spend a number of months spending money and enterprise dealing with an initial investigation. The sum total of squandered human enterprise from this sort of nonsense is astonishing," Murdoch said.

BSkyB is 39-percent owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns The Sun and The Times newspapers.
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