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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Media ownership plans 'to go through'
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News International
New ownership laws could affect Rupert Murdoch
Plans to allow companies from outside Europe to buy UK television and radio stations will be pushed through despite objections from MPs.

Any relaxation of the rules on foreign ownership of UK media should not take place until new regulator Ofcom had reviewed the issue, said a committee examining the draft communications bill.

But the government said on Wednesday it intended to press ahead with its plans.

"Obviously we'll listen to the select committee in terms of fine tuning but the government remains committed to the principles of the bill," said the prime minister's official spokesman.


I did not see in all our deliberations any vendetta against Sky or an obsession with Mr Murdoch

Lord McNally
Committee member

The government may still face opposition in the Lords.

Committee head Lord Puttnam said it was not for the government to reject the report's recommendations.

The plans have also sparked concern in some quarters for suggesting Rupert Murdoch and other big newspaper owners could buy Channel 5.

The joint committee of MPs and peers on Wednesday said the case for that change had yet to be made.

Open in new window : UK media ownership
Click here for a guide to who owns what

It is thought Murdoch's News International and other international media organisations including Disney and AOL Time Warner might be interested in expanding their UK media stakes.

But the joint committee warned such moves could mean UK schedules would become Americanised.

There would be a sophisticated attempt to shift expectations "away from domestic content produced primarily with a British audience in mind, towards a more US or internationally focused product mix", it said.

Lord Puttnam
Puttnam: Pluarality test at centre of proposals

Some groups have argued US media companies should not be allowed to own UK broadcasters if UK companies remain barred from owning American media.

But if there was a "compelling" economic case for change, the UK should not wait for America to alter its rules, the committee said.

The committee was not against American ownership of UK media, but there had to be evidence it would work, said Lord Puttnam.

"We would want to ensure that an American purchaser understands the very particular nature and type of legislation that regulates UK TV," he told BBC News 24.

"It is a nonsense to assume we are opposed to American capital coming into the UK."

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell
The government is reported to have rejected the criticisms

Publicity over the bill has centred on how the plans could affect Mr Murdoch's media ambitions.

"I did not see in all our deliberations any vendetta against Sky or an obsession with Mr Murdoch," said committee member Lord McNally.

The proposals on ownership may have been sparked by the collapse of ITV Digital, said Labour committee member John Grogan.

"There was a feeling in the air that something had to be done and American management must be able to do it better," he said.

"I think with all the problems of AOL Time Warner in recent days people might be thinking again on that."

The CBI backed the government's objective of creating "an international free market in broadcasting" which would allow more investment in British companies and greater competitiveness.

But deputy director-general John Cridland warned that the UK market should be opened up only to those countries offering equal access to their own markets - something currently blocked by the US.

The committee welcomed plans for new regulator Ofcom to review the rules on newspaper ownership in 2006.

Lord Puttnam said Ofcom would inevitably be perceived as having a split character - "with a hard-nosed economic regulator at one end and a culturally sensitive regulator of broadcast content at the other".

But it was essential to the new regulator's success to get the economics of the media market right.

The committee also called for the draft bill to be changed so there was no doubt about Ofcom's powers over the BBC in competition law.

The government is due to publish its official response in the autumn.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Media laws
Should TV and radio ownership laws be relaxed?
See also:

31 Jul 02 | Entertainment
31 Jul 02 | Talking Point
28 Jul 02 | Politics
08 May 02 | Politics
07 May 02 | Entertainment
25 Jul 02 | Entertainment
07 May 02 | Politics
30 Jul 02 | Business
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