Britain Wants ‘Reciprocity’ Over US-UK TV Acquisitions

19 June 2002

On the verge of tearing down the battlements protecting its national media treasures, Britain's government could be pushed into performing another of its increasingly frequent U-turns before the invading US hordes sweep in to gather the booty.

Less picturesquely put, the Communications Bill Parliamentary Joint Scrutiny Committee, comprising thirteen members of the Houses of Lords and Commons across the political divide, is questioning the wisdom of lifting the present ban on ownership by non-EU nations of Britain's ITV network and Channel 5 .

The removal of such ownership barriers is one of the main – and most controversial – elements of the bill, currently in passage through parliament. It is said to have the personal backing of prime minister Tony Blair who, cynics say, sees it as a quid pro quo for the continued support of the UK press media owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But the joint committee, of which former film producer Lord David (Chariots of Fire) Puttnam is a key member, is keenly aware that similar media market freedom stateside is notable by its absence. Reliable sources report the committee is about to formally recommend that the planned removal of ownership restrictions should be “entirely dependent on reciprocity”.

This would be a neat political move as it allows the proposal to remain an integral part of the bill but activated only by changes in US legislation – which most observers believe to be highly improbable.

At a meeting of the committee on Monday, Puttnam called it a “paradox” that media ownership in the “most aggressive, market-driven country, the US, was not open.” He added: “If we make this concession without reciprocity, where on earth is the leverage? This is not trade, it is culture.”

If the recommendation goes forward, it will not be warmly received by the bill’s sponsors, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Culture Media and Sport. And Tony Blair’s trademark smile is likely to morph into rictus.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff