Stop Murdoch Seizing Five, UK Academics Demand

26 February 2003

Five top UK academics are calling on ministers to drop controversial legislation that would allow Rupert Murdoch to gain control of Five, Britain’s smallest terrestrial TV broadcaster.

Under the proposed relaxation of media regulation currently passing through parliament, restrictions on the ownership of terrestrial stations by firms from outside the European Union will be lifted, as will certain cross-media regulations.

The upshot would be that US-based News Corporation could, should the fancy take it, buy Five and add it to its News International stable of four UK-wide newspapers and its controlling stake in the nation’s biggest pay-TV firm BSkyB.

The professorial quintet – Stephen Barnett and Jean Seaton from the University of Westminster, Patrick Barwise from the London Business School, James Curran from Goldsmiths and Roger Silverstone from the London School of Economics – denounced the proposals in a letter to the Financial Times, calling for Five to be subject to the same cross-media restrictions as larger rival ITV.

“Through cross promotion in its newspapers and Sky TV channels, through negative coverage of competitor channels, and by exploiting its heavy investment in sports and film rights, a News International-owned [Five] could potentially double or triple its current 7% audience share,” they wrote.

"It is therefore possible that within five years, one corporation – and ultimately a single individual – will control 37% of our national press, a leading free-to-air television channel and the dominant means of access to digital television.”

The academics’ anxiety joins growing unease over the proposals, which have been criticised by the parliamentary joint scrutiny committee investigating the legislation. So far culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell has refused to budge, but opposition from MPs and peers could delay passage of the bill.

However, the discussion may be academic (in more than one respect) – NewsCorp says it has no intention of buying Five anyway.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff