Wed, 17 Oct 2018

AT&T CEO refuses to sell CNN, never proposed such a deal

By Sheetal Sukhija, Cincinnati News
10 Nov 2017, 04:04 GMT+10

NEW YORK, U.S - Engaged in a battle with antitrust officials over the $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc., AT&T CEO has now said that he won’t sell CNN.

As antitrust tension rises, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson clarified that he was ready to fight the Justice Department, if it comes to that, but that it never proposed such a deal.

The fight is exploding over CNN, which has been a regular target of President Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks against what he has titled “fake news.” 

The Justice Department under Trump has chalked out a different way to deal with anti-competitive issues surrounding the deal than its predecessors under former President Barack Obama did with similar agreements. 

According to people familiar with the matter, discussions of individual assets, including the division that includes CNN, have come up in talks between the companies and Justice Department officials. 

A source said that government officials brought up the idea of divesting either DirecTV, the satellite provider, or Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, TNT and TBS. 

Meanwhile, another source claimed that AT&T floated the idea of selling CNN and was rejected.

Stephenson is said to have noted, “Throughout this process, I have never offered to sell CNN and have no intention of doing so.”

Makan Delrahim, who is currently heading the reins at the anti-trust division since September, has indicated that he doesn’t believe in settlements that force the Justice Department into ongoing monitoring of companies’ behavior.

In the lack of an agreement, the Justice Department would sue to block the merger.

According to sources, a lawsuit is possible as soon as next week. 

In its statement, the Justice Department said it’s “committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts.”

It added, “Beyond that, the Department does not comment on any pending investigation.”

Meanwhile, AT&T is said to be working to fight the Justice Department in court and has instructed its legal team to prepare for battle. 

On Wednesday, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said that the deal, which was originally expected to close by the end of the year, is now uncertain.

The company said that it considers CNN a prize asset, and that it is also considering properties such as the Warner Bros. studio, HBO, TNT and TBS essential.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii said on Twitter that the burden is on the Justice Department to show there has been no political interference in the anti-trust division and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should be open about any communications with the White House on the deal.

Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal meanwhile praised the Justice Department for working to uphold competition and protecting CNN’s independence. 

He said in a statement, “The Justice Department appears to be doing its job.”

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