Tory Shadow Minister to Introduce ITV Merger Bill

03 January 2002

In what some observers see as little more than an opportunistic political ploy, the Conservative party shadow secretary for culture, media and sport Tim Yeo will next week publish a two-clause parliamentary bill aiming to clear the decks for an immediate merger between Carlton Communications and Granada Media, the two companies dominating Britain's ITV Network.

Yeo does not expect the bill even to be debated by the House of Commons – let alone become law – given that its core issue is already provided for in the government’s comprehensive Communications Bill, due for enactment next year. This proposes to scrap the rules [limiting any one company to a fifteen per cent audience share] that stand in the way of merger between the two ITV titans.

Yeo’s motive, however, is to apply maximum pressure on the government to act sooner rather than later: “The matter is pretty urgent really,” he said. “The timetable is in danger of slipping and in the meantime independent TV is getting quite squeezed. We think that the restrictions that were valued in the past are no longer needed.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport repudiated the Conservative bill, saying it would “make no sense at all” to deal with legislative reform “piecemeal”.

Meantime, the department’s collective consciousness is focused far more intently on the hypersensitive ‘twenty/twenty’ rule, so called because it limits Murdoch-style media moguls who control over 20% of the national newspaper market from owning more than the same percentage of a national television or radio station. Rupert Murdoch, whose newspaper interests exceed this level, has made no secret of his irritation with such a pernickety hindrance to his British TV ambitions.

The media savvy Blair administration is contorting itself Kama Sutra-style to handle the issue with kid gloves. New Labour is painfully aware of its dependence (as is the opposition Conservative Party) on the political patronage of Murdoch's three key national newspapers, the influential broadsheet The Times and mass circulation tabloids The Sun and News of the World.

News source: Financial Times