The Communications Bill continues its stormy passage through the UK’s unelected second parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords. The tempest swirls round the reef of ownership of British terrestrial TV and radio broadcasters – currently restricted to companies headquartered in the UK and European Union.
The Blair administration – eager to win favour with US-based media groups such as News Corporation, the support of whose four national newspapers is electorally critical – is determined to lift this restriction despite a recommendation to the contrary by the Joint Parliamentary Committee appointed to scrutinize the bill.
But the House of Lords, a Tolkien-style amalgam of hereditary peers and politically appointed placemen (and women), is notoriously opposed to change, although this time the opposition is led by a number of noble Lords from a media background – most notably former film producer Lord David Puttnam.
In a debate Tuesday evening, Puttnam marshalled his patrician posse to amend the bill on two counts. Firstly that the new office of media supra-regulator Ofcom be required to take into account the interests of British citizens when considering media ownership by non-EU nationals; and secondly that Ofcom be required to promote the uptake of broadband internet access.
Both amendments serve notice on the bill’s pilot (culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell) that next week’s Lords vote on the bill in totality will be crucial to its successful passage through both houses of parliament. Defeat would almost certainly mean its shelving until after the next election in 2006.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff