Page last updated at 08:08 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 09:08 UK

Call over rules on media mergers

By Torin Douglas
BBC News media correspondent

Sky News channel
Peers say news is being consumed in a number of new ways

The rules governing mergers between media companies should be tightened to ensure a diverse supply of news, a House of Lords committee has said.

Peers found new ways to receive news have proliferated - 24-hour channels, the internet, and mobile phones.

But it has rejected suggestions that the government should therefore relax regulations governing media ownership.

Peers say there should be a stronger public interest test before mergers are approved.

The Ownership of News report says: "Successive governments have warned against 'one voice' in the news having too much influence and, for that reason, have supported special rules governing media ownership."

The committee rejects the argument that such special regulations are no longer necessary.

Public test

The peers say the new ways of receiving news have not been matched by greater resources for newsgathering or investigative journalism,

And they say much of the 'new' news - found on the internet or mobile phones, for example - is repackaged from elsewhere.

Peers say there has also been greater pressure to cut costs, as readers forsake newspapers, and advertising moves onto the internet.


The newspaper industry is facing severe problems and, even when newspapers run successful internet sites, the value of the advertising they sell does not make up for the value lost
Report
They say there should be a tighter "public service" test when media companies want to merge, to examine the impact any merger would have on the diversity of news sources.

They also recommend that the media regulator Ofcom should be given the power to initiate the public interest test - so it is not only ministers who can decide whether a media merger warrants a public interest investigation.

The committee's chairman Lord Fowler said: "The news media is experiencing a period of unprecedented change and there is considerable uncertainty about the future.

"The newspaper industry is facing severe problems and, even when newspapers run successful internet sites, the value of the advertising they sell does not make up for the value lost.

"In television news the same trends are evident.

"The result is consolidation of ownership and pressure on costs."

Industry dominance

The committee says this consolidation has added to the risk of disproportionate influence being exercised by a small number of companies and owners.

National television news is produced by only three companies; and, in radio, the BBC face competition from only two commercial news organisations that produce national news
Report

It says the UK's national newspaper industry is dominated by eight companies - with one company responsible for 35% of all national newspaper circulation.

"Four companies now control 70% of regional and local newspaper circulation," the report says.

"National television news is produced by only three companies; and in radio the BBC face competition from only two commercial news organisations that produce national news."

The peers say public service broadcasting should not be left to the BBC alone, but they do not favour "top-slicing" the licence fee to help commercial broadcasters.

We do not believe that newspaper owners or editors should be able to hide behind a shield of privacy that their newspapers would not accept
Report

They heard evidence from media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, and leading editors.

But they say they had difficulty persuading some senior newspaper figures to give evidence to the committee and, in one case, met with outright refusal.

The report adds: "Newspapers themselves call for maximum openness and condemn secrecy and attempts at 'cover-ups'.

"We do not believe that newspaper owners or editors should be able to hide behind a shield of privacy that their newspapers would not accept when dealing with members of the public."


SEE ALSO
UK publishers scrap merger talks
18 Jun 08 |  Business
Media mergers face quality test
05 Jan 04 |  Entertainment

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