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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Should media ownership laws be relaxed?
Plans to pave the way for companies from outside Europe to buy UK television and radio stations have been strongly opposed by an influential committee of MPs and peers.

The proposals included in the government's draft Communications Bill, which could allow Rupert Murdoch to make a takeover bid for Channel 5, should not be considered until new regulator Ofcom had reviewed the issue, the joint committee said.

The law banning large newspaper groups from buying Channel 5 and radio licences would be scrapped under the new plans, but the joint committee warned against the move, saying it would result in the creeping "Americanisation" of schedules.

What do you think? Should existing laws on media ownership be relaxed? Or will this make the broadcasting market too accessible to private media groups?

Have your say

It's refreshing to see a preponderance of views from the anti-deregulation camp. I do not believe, in today's global free market, that there can be enough regulation. Media networks throughout the world are facing an ever growing threat of Americanisation and its attendant homogenization of culture across the planet. Yes, the broadcasting market must be flexible enough to accommodate a raft of both domestic, and foreign companies, but an unregulated market is never a level playing field allowing equal competition. It leads instead to monopolisation. If the leviathan of the Murdoch-style corporation is not tamed, our media's fate is sealed.
Alan, Birmingham, UK.

Deregulation does not mean more choice

Christine, UK
I'm a bit uneasy about this whole thing. I can't see how it will be good for the viewing public. As some people have quite rightly pointed out, deregulation does not mean more choice, it means more channels into the hands of a few big players. This will with all likelihood lead to higher subscription charges and less variety. I'm pretty sure that a couple of years from now there's going to be a new debate on this page where people lament the loss of what we have now.
Christine, UK

Buying a few American programmes is a bit different than handing over whole stations and more importantly editorial policy. Having seen "real" American tv they are welcome to it! In Europe and that includes the UK the broadcasting tradition is for the programmes to come first and adverts second. The opposite is true in the US and one wonders how long before we would be pushed down the same path by the lobbying of US offshoots. Besides what's wrong with making our own tv? As for Mr Murdoch, he already has access to over 6 million homes. If he wants to broadcast free to air, presumably he has the resources without being allowed to also take over Channel 5, which is fine as it is and better than ITV or Sky 1. You should try it sometime Helen.
Mac, UK

To those who object to "state-owned" control of the media, it should be remembered that the state is controlled by the people - not politicians. The BBC is a lot closer to a "free" press than we can ever expect under open market conditions.
Pat Holliday, Portsmouth, UK

I agree with most comments here. I want variety, and quality, in the programmes I watch. I want unbiased news and stimulating discussion programmes. As far as I am concerned, there should be a good mix of documentaries and dramas, films, soaps, etc, etc. Anything that might reduce this, or further undermines our (sadly Americanised) culture, is definitely a bad move. Personally, I rarely watch commercial TV as it is. I would estimate that at least 90% of my viewing time is spent on BBC.
Caroline , Wiltshire, UK

If British TV channels go over to US ownership then expect to see a radical increase in commercial breaks and poor television. Viewers will switch over in the millions. For every high quality TV show you will get twenty poor quality shows. I've lived in the US. ER and CSI may be good but they also come with six commercial breaks and umpteen poor rip offs. TV news will also decline in quality and will give biased reporting. Do not allow this to happen. The advertisers and the US chairmen, (and we've heard a lot about them lately) will rule and ruin.
John, UK

No one should dominate the world of media broadcasting. The situation we have is bad enough. A single overriding power would be nothing short of a tyranny!
Philip S Hall, UK

This is one case where the market isn't king!

Kevin, UK
The fact of the matter is that since the initial deregulation of TV in this country from the 1990 Broadcasting Act, TV has got worse. The 1990 Act primarily affected ITV so let's see what has happened since 1990 - World in Action, This Week and other hard-hitting programmes have been removed. There has been an increase in docu-soaps and soaps generally. ITV has gone from being 16 companies in 1990 to 5 today and there has been a noticeable drop in quality which has led to the once invincible network being beaten in the ratings by the BBC! The fact is media is a special case and needs to be regulated to ensure a plurality of voices - this is one case where the market isn't king!
Kevin, UK

We have cable television in a small Michigan town. For $35 a month, we have 56 channels of unmitigated rubbish most nights, not to mention ENDLESS reruns, with an occasional bright spark on the public broadcasting system when they show a BBC drama or mystery programme. That's the kind of television that the UK can look forward too if the Americans get their fingers into the markets. Everything is aimed at the lowest common (and I DO mean common) denominator.
Susan, USA/UK

De-regulation means less choice, not more. It allows big corporations to buy up all the channels; and corporations like safe, sanitised TV that doesn't offend the rich and powerful.
Ben Drake, York, UK

Simply allowing non-Europeans to buy into terrestrial TV doesn't mean quality will necessarily suffer

James, UK
Channel 5 is already owned by a foreign (German) media giant. Simply allowing non-Europeans to buy into terrestrial TV doesn't mean quality will necessarily suffer (after all, does anyone really believe current commercial telly's all that brilliant?). As for political bias, there are strict rules on political impartiality in broadcast news.
James, UK

We need to be very careful about letting foreign companies own our media services. Already we are becoming too 'Americanised' and are losing our national identity. The UK is NOT a subsidiary of the US (whatever Blair and Bush may think!) and should fight to retain its individuality and national traditions.
Lisa W, UK

Whoever controls the media controls the pulse of the nation. To allow one person to control everything is not only stupid, it is dangerous. Look what Putin in Russia and Berlusconi in Italy are doing with their control of the media.
V Gill, UK

We need competition to force UK TV out of its current parochial and self-satisfied condition

David, UK
Let us once and for all ditch the myth that we have the best TV in the world. Name one British programme that can compare with the excellence of the West Wing, Frasier, Sopranos, the Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle and so on. We need competition in order to force UK TV out of its current dismal, parochial and self-satisfied condition.
David, UK

If one man or a small group of people are allowed to set the agendas, democracy is gone. The ideal would be to break up the current big media groups, rather than allow consolidation. This would allow a true variety of voices to be heard.
Andrew Bartlett, UK

I think the proposals don't go far enough. The BBC should be included in the process of change too. It should be broken up, sold to commercial operators and we can all save 105 a year.
Andy, UK

We're going to have to get used to the idea of living under a system of 'Murdocracy'

Julius, UK
I think we're going to have to get used to the idea of living under a system of 'Murdocracy'. Very few people appear to be concerned about what they digest mentally through the media. This is why there are rules regarding content & why broadcasters are given a duty to make quality, informative, edifying programmes. These are not words that would describe much of what fills the airwaves across the Atlantic, or indeed on many commercial channels over here. The relaxation and removal of many rules regarding content, ownership and influence can only be a bad thing.
Julius, UK

Who cares what they do with Channel 5! Does anyone watch it anyway?
Helen, England

As long as there are safeguards to ensure editorial independence, then ownership is irrelevant

Annie, Australia
As long as there are safeguards to ensure editorial independence and diversity of opinion, then ownership is irrelevant. Having said that, there's something refreshing about media outlets in which Rupert does not have an interest in. Also, cheap US programming deals could increase the threat of Americanisation but this would be a bad move on the ratings front.
Annie, Australia

To argue that Murdoch's purchase of Channel 5 would damage media independence is narrow. There are other issues: the media's reliance on corporate advertising and the government's ability to hold the media to ransom by rationing access to official sources. Chomsky argues that the whole way the media works makes it inherently biased and unfree. I doubt he, or anyone else, would see Murdoch's possible acquisition of Channel 5 as anything more than a flea on the monster's back.
Simon, London, UK

Relax the laws straight away. And if the quality is not up to scratch then people will stop watching and the advertisers will walk away. The share value will fall or the station go bankrupt and the BBC can then take it over. The quality will improve and the advertisers will come back.
Phil, Wales, UK

We'll end up with Sun TV!

Iain, UK
The media should play by the same rules as any other business and allow multinational firms to operate in different countries. However, we have unusually high quality TV in the UK and I fear that opening up control to foreign companies will result in a drop in quality to the lowest common denominator. We'll end up with Sun TV!
Iain, UK

Let's let Mr Blair decide; I'm sure a large cash donation to the Labour Party would point him in the right direction.
Graham Randall, UK

If this proposal goes through, I will be dumping the TV in the bin and reading many, many more books.
STC, England

The media is a service as much as a private enterprise. Allowing complete deregulation will mean that in a few years the biggest companies will own everything, quite literally. That would be a disaster. Do we really want the likes of Murdoch and Turner controlling all the information we receive? We have to ensure diversity, and that means restricting the number of media outlets that are owned by any one individual or company. A free market does not always lead to diversity or benefit democracy.
Graham, UK

Certain national newspapers campaign tirelessly against the BBC - never mentioning that the company which owns those newspapers also owns rival TV and radio stations. The idea that this could happen more and more is offensive. The current regulations are good ones and should be kept.
Paul, Essex, UK

No, we should return to the regional structure for independent TV, and prevent the merging of local radio as well. Satellite broadcasters should be made to choose between subscription and advertising - and should not be allowed to have both.
Bob Harvey, Lincs, UK

US media companies are too powerful to own UK TV channels

Richard, UK
The US media companies are too big and too powerful to own UK TV channels. Although safeguards may be put in place initially to protect home grown programming, the temptation for the Disneys and Time Warners will inevitably be to undermine this in their desire to create a single set of programmes for the entire English language market. This would result in an increase in US products in our schedules. We are already exposed to US programmes. Do we really want all the filler as well?
Richard, UK

Media ownership regulations are the last gasp of state censorship of the press. If the government controls who owns the press, and limits it to those firmly within their area of legal control then they still have some influence on the freedom of the press. Get rid of these anti-competitive and dictatorial restrictions now!
Bernard, UK

Keep the British media in British hands

Brian, UK
If the media could be relied upon to be free and unbiased then the argument over who owns it and having free access would be irrelevant. However, I don't want more American bias thrust down my throat thank you very much. Keep the British media in British hands.
Brian, UK

Americanisation? I grew up on imports so that battle has already been lost. The UK alternative seems to be more soap than anyone's got time to watch, endless DIY/cookery programmes and unfunny sitcoms and WWII documentaries. It's not the nationality of the owners that matters, it's whether they can improve on what's already on our screens. We should wait for the DTT rollout and see what we get on the other 19 channels before relaxing the laws.
Kenneth Henry, England

Get government control out of the media!

David Moran, Scotland/Australia
I think there should be no laws at all regulating media ownership. These days the media is global and to try and restrict what happens in one country is just plain daft. I can watch CNN or Bloomberg just as easily as the BBC, ITV or Sky now. Overregulation is precisely what brought down ITV Digital, Vivendi, and the Kirsch media group in Europe. Get government control out of the media!
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

No, keep Murdoch and his sloppy, lowest common denominator programming off our TVs. I don't want wall-to-wall Big Brother with an ad break every five minutes!
Sarah, Reading, UK

I don't agree. The quality of TV and the media in general has declined since deregulation. Do we really want to see total commercial capitulation? In the US, TV is driven by advertising to the point that most programmes aren't worth watching. Too much media control by any one individual provides too convenient a platform for the views of that person to be publicly aired. You only have to look at The Sun newspaper, whose political slants are routinely adopted by its readers. This is not a good idea.
Steve T, England

A free market would hopefully get rid of our agenda-based programming schedules

Mark B, England
The laws should be relaxed immediately and an open market introduced for media and broadcasting. A free market would hopefully get rid of our agenda-based programming schedules which seem more intent on providing programming that the great and good think the people should watch rather than providing what people want. Let the market decide.
Mark B, England

Mark B, England: When the market decides, all that happens is the lowest common denominator rules. Commercial TV exists only to sell products. Believe it, it is true.
Paul, UK

There is no way that someone like Rupert Murdoch should be allowed to take over even more of our media. He's already ordered all his newspapers to print anti-euro rhetoric, therefore stifling debate in those papers. I don't want to see that happening on TV and radio as well.
Graham, UK

No relaxation of ownership rules should be allowed until the US does the same. Do we really want a man like Murdoch who will change his nationality in order to forward his business aims to own more than he already does? As a US citizen he already sticks his oar in where he shouldn't with his distrust of the EU.
Markham, England

A free press is essential to the functioning of a democracy. That is to say a press which is not only free from the influence of government but also free from the influence of major companies. Rules limiting the purchase of television channels should remain to reduce the proportion of the media that can be controlled by any one actor.
Richard Dobson, Switzerland

If the Americanisation of schedules means more first class drama such as 24 and The West Wing and less home-grown inanity like Big Brother then this proud Brit says "bring it on"!
Susan, UK

Susan, UK: Two programmes are not enough to form a view of US programming. I think that deregulation would allow those with too political an outlook an easy way to pass on their biased messages. Ironically, the more deregulation there is, the less fair things seem to become.
Stephen, NI

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See also:

31 Jul 02 | TV and Radio
28 Jul 02 | UK Politics
07 May 02 | UK Politics
20 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
07 May 02 | TV and Radio
11 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
22 Mar 02 | TV and Radio
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