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AT&T chief pours cold water on CNN sale

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has hit out at suggestions that his company could sell CNN and poured cold water on reports that the US Department of Justice was calling for a disposal of the news channel as the price for giving a green light to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.

Randall Stephenson

Randall Stephenson

Stephenson, attending the New York Times DealBook conference in New York, said that he had never been told by the DOJ that the price for securing the US$84.5 billion deal would be the sale of CNN. He said that selling the channel would not make sense in terms of the objectives of the agreement.

Stephenson’s intervention followed reports earlier in the week that the DOJ had pushed for significant disposals to green-light the deal. According to Reuters, citing unnamed sources, the Justice Department asked AT&T at the start of the week to sell either Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN, or DirecTV, with AT&T then offering to sell to CNN. However, said Reuters, AT&T denied this version of its meeting with officials.

Stephenson issued a statement on Wednesday denying that he had offered to sell the news channel as part of any deal.

Government sources also told CNBC that the DOJ had never demanded the sale of the channel, but had suggested that AT&T sell either Turner or pay TV outfit DirecTV.

The question of approval of the combination of AT&T and Time Warner has become highly politicised since the accession of Donald Trump – a vociferous critic both of the agreement and of CNN – to the presidency in January.

The DOJ’s intervention is itself seen by many as controversial because the combination of AT&T and Time Warner is a vertical deal that does not involve a merger between direct competitors.