In a landmark ruling that will bring scant comfort to those who hope the recently enacted Communications Act will herald a media cross-ownership free for all, the Radio Authority has barred a local newspaper group from acquiring a radio station in one of its circulation areas.
Although the new act doesn't take effect until December 29 -- the same date the Radio Authority cedes its power to new supra-regulator Ofcom -- the former is not departing quietly.
Citing 'public interest', the RA ruled Friday that Midland News Association, owner of the Shropshire Star and several other papers in the area, cannot buy local broadcaster Telford FM.
The decision, unlikely to have been reached without consulting Ofcom, sends an unambiguous message to large media groups both within and outside the UK -- that public interest and local diversity will be a major factor when considering local cross-media takeovers.
Ruled the authority: " Taking into account the market shares obtained both by MNA and Telford FM, and the coherent and credible objections raised by respondents to the authority, [we] determined that the arrangement could be expected to operate against the public interest."
Ironically, the 'public interest' factor only made it into the Communications Act by the skin of its teeth, at the behest of rebel Labour peer Lord David Puttnam, in a last-minute tradeoff with the government [WAMN: 03-Jul-03].
MNA, however, is a relatively small entity with just 22 titles. It remains to be seen whether Ofcom will take a line as robust as that of its predecessor when confronted by the likes of Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe and US giant Gannett, all now eyeing expansion into UK local radio markets.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff