Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Tories urge overhaul of UK media

Vendor handing out a free copy of the Evening Standard
Newspapers, in particular, are suffering from falling advertising revenue

The Conservatives are to call for "massive reform" of the UK's media industry to boost local news and help struggling commercial broadcasters.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will give a speech later criticising "outdated" rules which stop firms owning different media in one area.

The government says its newly launched Digital Economy Bill contains "plans to sustain our creative industries".

But Mr Hunt calls the bill a "colossal disappointment" with no new solutions.

He will use a speech to the Manchester Media Festival on Thursday to tell the industry it must "embrace the new business models of the future".

"And you need a government with the courage to make the reforms necessary to allow you to get on with the job," he will say.

'More flexibility'

Mr Hunt will argue that media regulations designed in the pre-internet era should be replaced with a new "light-touch" approach.

At present, rules prevent any single media group from owning newspapers, radio stations and television channels in the same geographical area.

But Mr Hunt will say that, far from encouraging competition, these rules may actually destroy local news altogether by denying commercial companies the ability to operate profitably.

We have left our media industries exposed and vulnerable to huge market shocks
Jeremy Hunt
Shadow culture secretary

"We need massive reform of our outdated regulatory framework," he will say.

"We need to allow media operators more flexibility to own businesses operating on both the same and different platforms."

Mr Hunt will point out that 900 local newspaper journalists' jobs have been lost since 2008 and warn that nearly all commercial local radio stations are likely to be loss-making by the end of the year.

He will also say that media companies have been prevented from taking full advantage of new opportunities online.

"Because our regulation is stuck in the pre-internet dark ages, we have left our media industries exposed and vulnerable to huge market shocks.

"Media businesses desperately need to be able to adapt and find new business models. If they are allowed to. But because they are not, all our major advertiser-funded broadcasters are in serious difficulty."

'Failed model'

He will also suggest that under the Tories big cities could get their own local news channels - either on a dedicated station or as an opt-out from an existing broadcasting "multiplex" like ITV, Channel 4 or Five.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the government would soon be piloting three regional news partnerships designed to help local providers cut costs.

They will see previously competing television and radio channels, as well as websites and newspapers, come together to share resources.

But Mr Hunt accused the government of applying "old economy solutions to new economy problems".

Its proposed plan to top-slice the BBC's licence fee to fund commercial regional news would simply "set in stone the current failed model" and encourage broadcasters to compete for subsidy rather than to innovate, he said.

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