Published: Thu, November 09, 2017
Economy | By Shawn Conner

Justice Department Wants AT&T to Sell CNN, Turner or DirecTV

Justice Department Wants AT&T to Sell CNN, Turner or DirecTV

US 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. Stephenson may have had in mind a tweet from Brian Stelter, a media reporter at CNN, asserting that Justice has said AT&T had privately offered to sell CNN.

Some executives at the companies are viewing the stipulation as a political barb aimed directly at CNN, which President Donald Trump has frequently demonized as "fake news".

The source said the companies were told that Time Warner would need to sell off Turner, the television division that includes CNN.

But AT&T now says the timing of the deal's closing is "uncertain".

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That's the situation now that the Justice Department has belatedly objected to the long-awaited merger of telecom giant AT&T and media giant Time Warner.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson released a statement saying, "Until now, we've never commented on our discussions with the DOJ". "Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so".

A D.O.J. spokesman said: "The Department is committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts". During the same period in the prior year, the firm earned $1.83 EPS. sell-side analysts expect that Time Warner Inc. will post 6.19 earnings per share for the current fiscal year.

At a conference in New York, AT&T chief financial officer John Stephens said "there are all kinds of benefits" to the combination and noted that the government has not blocked this kind of vertical tie-up in decades.

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Halting the deal between AT&T and Time Warner would require regulators to prove that previous mergers had resulted in worse service for consumers and that shedding assets would be better than behavioral remedies.

Free Press, like other net neutrality advocates, previously warned that the merger could enable AT&T to dominate online video distribution. Two people familiar with the matter said AT&T had volunteered the idea - and that the Justice Department's anti-trust division had flatly rejected the proposal. CNN is a major force in USA news, a very profitable company, and a favorite target of President Donald Trump. The New York Times reported in July that Trump advisers had mentioned the acquisition as "a potential point of leverage" with CNN. In that case, the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission attached several conditions to Comcast's business practices, including promises that Comcast would not withhold content from rival streaming services.

AT&T is ramping up preparations to fight the Justice Department in court if it comes to that, according to some of the people.

Perhaps complicating matters now is that the new antitrust head at the Justice Department, Makan Delrahim, has said he prefers "structural" changes to a deal, like selling off assets, rather than making a company promise it will abide by certain rules and having the government monitor a company's behavior after a merger.

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