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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Worries over media ownership rules
Children watching television
British TV could be dumping ground for US programmes
Government proposals to relax media ownership rules that could lead to foreign media giants owning British television channels are causing concern among MPs.

An influential committee of MPs and peers has expressed fears in its report on the draft Communications Bill that British television could be swamped by cheap American programming.

The government's bill - due for publication on Wednesday - intends to relax media ownership rules surrounding commercial broadcasting in the UK and form a super regulator within the industry called Ofcom.

Changes to existing legislation would allow media giants such as Rupert Murdoch's News International to buy Channel 5, if it so wished.

It would also enable US giants such as Disney or Time Warner to take over commercial broadcasting licences.

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch would be allowed to buy British channels

Lord Currie of Marylebone has been named as the first head of the new communications and media regulator.

The Office of Communications, or Ofcom, will act as a one-stop-shop regulator, pulling together under one umbrella the current cluster of media watchdogs in the UK.

The bill will also rule on cross-media ownership.

'Light touch'

BBC Business Reporter Hywel Jones says there are indications in Whitehall which seem to suggest that some members of the committee have reservations about the plans.

The government has said it wants Ofcom to have a "light touch" that will encourage growth in commercial broadcasting as an industry in the UK.

Supporters of the proposals say commercial broadcasting would benefit from foreign investment, particularly from the United States - the centre of the world's broadcasting industry.

Dumping ground

The potential for American investment would be a welcome boost for the UK industry which is just coming out of an advertising downturn that has led to many redundancies over the last couple of years.

But Hywel Jones says some committee members are concerned that Ofcom would not be set up quickly enough.

They would prefer to see Ofcom up and running to prove itself for a couple of years before the changes are introduced.

They also fear the changes would make the UK a dumping ground for cheap American programming which would do little or nothing to encourage investment in new programming, new production or new jobs in the UK.

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The BBC's Hywel Jones
"Members are concerned that Ofcom might not be up and running soon enough to 'bare its teeth'"


Setting up Ofcom

Background
See also:

20 Jun 01 | Entertainment
20 Jun 01 | Entertainment
08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
07 May 02 | Entertainment
08 May 02 | Politics

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