Darling's new ITV queries drawing wrath of BSkyB

Investigation uncalled for, company says

BSkyB has reacted angrily to a call from Trade Secretary Alastair Darling for a renewed investigation into its planned acquisition of a 17.9% stake in ITV.

The satcaster said the action went against the government's own advice on media ownership, which says that it can acquire up to 20% of any commercial broadcaster in the U.K.

"The secretary of state's action today contradicts the government's published guidance, which clearly sets out the circumstances in which intervention will be considered," Sky said in a statement. "Any positive environment for investment requires that business should be able to rely with confidence on government guidance when making decisions."

Sky was prompted into making the statement Monday after the trade secretary called on media regulator Ofcom to conduct an investigation into whether Sky's stake in the commercial broadcaster affected competition in the media sector.

"Formal advice from Ofcom will enable me to make a properly informed decision on whether the transaction should be referred to (antitrust body) the Competition Commission for fuller investigation," Darling said.

Darling added that he is only asking for an initial investigation and that it is "without prejudice to any decisions I take subsequently on whether a fuller investigation ... may be necessary."

Ofcom will have until April 27 to report back to the trade secretary, after which he will decide whether the Competition Commission should be involved.

ITV shares remained un-changed on the news and the industry has been broadly in favor of the acquisition, which seems to have stabilized the sliding stock of Britain's biggest commercial television player. Sky has pledged to remain a "hands-off" investor in ITV, despite being its biggest shareholder.