Lords Vote on Amendment to Freeze Out Murdoch

09 July 2003

Following the media ownership ‘plurality test’ compromise between the UK government and Lord David Puttnam [WAMN: 03-Jul-03], the Communications Bill is set to become law within the next two weeks – unless parliament’s increasingly rebellious second chamber upsets the applecart with a new amendment to the bill on which a vote is imminent.

Few (bar his shareholders) love Rupert Murdoch or his business methods. The House of Lords is no exception and may well vote in favour of the amendment, specifically designed to prevent Murdoch from laying hands on terrestrial channel Five.

The amendment is sponsored by Liberal-Democrat culture, media and sport spokesman Lord Tom McNally. It would prevent any national newspaper group with 20% or greater market share from acquiring Five.

News International, Murdoch’s UK arm, already controls 37% of British newspaper readership (The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World ) – to say nothing of the group’s 36.3% controlling stake in satellite TV broadcaster BSkyB.

McNally’s Liberal Democrats and others, among them many Labour and Conservative peers, are sceptical that the public interest element of the plurality test would be sufficient to prevent a successful Murdoch move on Five – a scenario in which the media mogul has consistently denied interest.

“There’s still a huge amount of unease about this on both Conservative and Labour backbenches,” said McNally. “The government still refuses the invitation to rule out the ownership of Five by someone in a dominant position in the print and satellite media. My amendment will present ministers with a further opportunity to close that loophole and specifically rule out such a concentration of power.”

• News Flash
The proposed amendment was defeated by a relatively narrow majority of 30, with 137 voting for and 167 against. Government minister Lord McIntosh sought to reassure Liberal Democrats and Labour rebels as to whether the government would follow the advice of new supra-regulator Ofcom on media takeovers - or would overrule it. "It is for these independent regulators to make recommendations. Having agreed to the plurality test, does anybody think anyone that flouted the advice of the regulators would get away with it?" he said.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff