Puttnam to Pursue Media Ownership Fight in House of Lords

05 December 2002

Lord David Puttnam, the film-producer-turned-politico, threatened this week to pursue his criticism of the government’s Communications Bill in the House of Lords – in whose hallowed chamber he is an official government spokesman.

Puttnam, who chaired the bill’s parliamentary joint scrutiny committee, is concerned that national newspaper owners (for which read Rupert Murdoch) should not be allowed to acquire a national terrestrial TV channel – specifically Channel 4 or Five.

Puttnam’s committee unanimously recommended to the government that the ban remain in place, an exhortation the Blair administration has chosen to ignore despite an increasing wave of disquiet.

Writing in Tuesday’s Financial Times, Puttnam complains: “Without setting out its reasons, the government has chosen to reject the joint committee's recommendation that the ‘prohibition on common ownership of a major newspaper group and Five should be retained’.

He continued: “[The government’s] thinking may be immaculate, but it will need to be far better explained, far more evidential and extremely convincing before I and many of my colleagues in the Lords are persuaded by it.”

The producer-peer also renewed his advocacy for Ofcom, the newly formed broadcast regulator, to have funding sufficient to ensure the best available legal brains to counter “the world’s most aggressive lobbyists” [WAMN: 02-Dec-02].

But he voiced approval of the bill’s “insurance policy” which allows Ofcom to set programming targets for UK-originated content.

• Another element of the bill came under fire from Conservative shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport John Whittingdale, who warned that press freedom is potentially at risk if the government hands Ofcom power over the national press in matters related to that useful catch-all phrase ‘the public interest’.

Speaking Wednesday evening in the House of Commons, Whittingdale said: “There is a real concern that that this bill, far from protecting press freedom, does quite the opposite. Giving an additional responsibility to Ofcom is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

“These are issues on which Ofcom lacks expertise, where its role is already carried out by the OFT [Office of Fair Trading] and which may have the consequence of introducing statutory regulation on newspapers through the back door. Unforeseen consequence or not, it must not be allowed to occur.”

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