Regulator Recommends Relaxation of Media Ownership Rules

The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, is recommending to government that it would be happy to see one person or company own any two from three media operations in Scotland – press, TV and radio – but not all three.

In what is an exercise conducted every three or four years, the regulator is telling the UK government that it would be against one person or company dominating the news agenda across all three platforms of a commercial radio station, 'local' newspapers (with a 50 per cent or more market share) and Channel 3 television licence. But as part of an overall recommendation to relax media ownership rules, it would be happy for one person or company to own any two.

Says Ofcom: “If the local, cross-media ownership rules are liberalised as we propose, then they will permit a greater level of consolidation among television, radio and newspapers providers in Scotland, as in all the nations. However, there would still be a number of protections for plurality.

“We are proposing that a restriction be retained that prevents one person from potentially dominating the news agenda across all three platforms of radio, 'local' newspapers (with a 50% or more market share) and Channel 3 television. This would mean that, as in all the nations of the UK, there would still be a restriction on one person owning in each local radio coverage area in Scotland:

* a commercial local radio licence; AND

* the regional Channel 3 licence the potential audience of which includes at least 50 per cent of the potential audience of that radio service; AND

* one or more 'local' newspapers with 50 per cent or more of the local newspaper market share in that radio coverage area.”

Meanwhile, on page 6 of today's Herald newspaper, shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is reported proposing even wider liberalisation of media ownership rules; likening it to the 'Big Bang' that “revolutionised the City”.

Says Hunt, a Tory government would sweep away cross-media ownership rules which prevent local groups owning more than one newspaper or radio station to provide tougher competition for the BBC and give commercial operators more chance of survival.

The report also appears in the Daily Telegraph.

On Sunday, Mr Hunt also confirmed that he was ready to freeze or cut the TV licence fee in a new settlement with the BBC for the period from 2012.

While insisting he would not dictate how the Corporation should tighten its belt, he indicated that little-watched channels such as BBC3 and BBC4 could be candidates for the chop, while the BBC would be expected to rein in executive pay.

Speaking about his plans to shake up the regional media, Mr Hunt told the Telegraph: “There is a massive crisis in the media industry. We will strip away the regulations in the same way that Big Bang revolutionised the City to make it a major financial centre of the world.”

In a speech in Manchester on Thursday, Mr Hunt is expected to say that “micro-regulation” of the media has stifled innovation.

The Tories have already indicated that they plan to cut back the policy-making powers of Ofcom.