UK Comms Bill: ‘Never Mind the Ownership, Feel the Quality’

04 June 2003

The Blair administration, whose reputation for verity has recently slumped from rock-bottom to sub-stratum, on Monday sought to reassure opponents of its controversial Communications Bill that their fears of impending US domination of UK media are – if not groundless – likely to purvey the very highest quality.

Culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell, astonished the House of Commons with an ardent defence of US media organizations, insisting they are already doing a fine job in producing quality products for British consumption.

US-replicant TV channels such as MTV and Nickelodeon already flourish in the UK, as do publishing groups like [the formerly British] IPC Media and National Magazine Company, among whose portfolio is the title Good Housekeeping.

“What is more quintessentially British than Good Housekeeping?” gushed Jowell, whose expertise in global media matters was nurtured in her former career as a psychiatric social worker.

Jowell, loyal Walkman that she is, warmed to her theme. “We live in a world where American dollars are already funding media that people like. Why do they like it? Because it’s sympathetic with their values, their expectations, what they want to buy when they turn on their televisions or when they go to the newsagents.

In evidence of this empathy she cited such “high quality stuff” as The Sopranos, West Wing and ER – respectively reflecting the values of mafia family life, White House politics and medical melodrama – with which all Britons constantly identify and sympathize. And want to buy.

“It's popular, people watch it,” Jowell enthused, while omitting to explain to Parliament that its appeal to Brit broadcasters lies mainly in its relative cheapness compared with original programming.

She then addressed concerns about the planet’s most popular media bogyman, Rupert K Murdoch whose US-headquartered News Corporation not only owns four British national newspapers (The Sun, The Times, News of the World and The Sunday Times) but also a controlling stake in satellite TV giant BSkyB whose programme content is predominantly American.

Should NewsCorp make a bid for Five, which Jowell described as “a minority channel with a small viewing audience” - and in which Murdoch has denied interest - she would get muscular if and when the need arose.

As to a possible US takeover of the nation’s largest commercial broadcaster ITV [an option the Blair administration likes to play down following last year’s significant visit to Downing Street by Viacom chairman Sumner M Redstone], Jowell reluctantly conceded this might be a possibility.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff