Aristocracy Raises Albion’s Drawbridge in Defence of Five

11 March 2003

Quaint anachronism though it may be, members of the House of Lords, Britain’s second parliamentary legislative body, are honing their halberds in defence of terrestrial TV channel Five.

The channel, which commands 6.2% of total UK viewing according to the latest BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) report, is perceived to be threatened by US takeover under new rules proposed in the draft Communications Bill, currently in passage through the House of Commons.

The bill removes existing barriers that would prevent Five from acquisition by dominant newspaper groups or companies based outside the European Union [most notably News Corporation – or possibly Viacom] – an option vigorously opposed by the joint parliamentary committee set up by the government to scrutinize the bill and whose recommendation to scrap the proposal has been overturned by the Blair administration.

Labour peer Lord David Puttnam, a former film producer who chaired the joint committee and is a government spokesman in the House of Lords, warned the administration this weekend that up to sixty Labour peers will likely rebel against the Five proposal.

Their primary concern is that Murdoch-owned media (The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World) already control more than 20% of all UK newspaper readership – to say nothing of the group’s 36.3% controlling stake in satellite broadcaster BSkyB – and that the addition of Five to such a dominant portfolio is an untenable option.

Puttnam argues for an alternative: “My preference is for a compromise based on the notion of what I call the ratchet: a situation whereby Five, once it reaches, say, 10% of the analogue audience share commits to a number of serious public service obligations."

[Which Puttnam ploy is worthy of Br'er Fox in that (a) the only reason Murdoch would want Five is the potential to expand its market reach; and (b) the concept of public service obligations would be anathema to the media mogul.]

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff