In what some observers believe to be a ploy to outfox Rupert Murdoch and other media tycoons opposed to the UK’s entry into the euro-currency system, the British government is poised to put the issue of lifting media ownership restrictions on the legislative back-burner.

Although a Communications bill had been partially drafted prior to May’s general election, the Labour administration carefully avoided any mention of media ownership to avoid alienating Murdoch and other press barons in the pre-election period. However, following Labour’s landslide victory, it was widely expected that the bill’s details on media ownership would be spelled out.

Not so, it seems. With a crowded legislative programme ahead, the media bill will now take its chances for parliamentary time alongside law and order, education and other key electoral issues.

Said an anonymous government minister: “There are a lot of things that still have to be resolved. The media ownership rules may get finalised at the end of the year, or it may be January 2002 or even later. We've got to compete with other bills for time. Communications is important, but then so is law and order."

Dependent on its content, the Communications bill could easily estrange media tycoons whose support is vital to the hoped-for ‘yes’ vote in any euro referendum. Its delay until after a referendum would be highly convenient for the government – a thought, admitted the anonymous minister, that "had crossed my mind”.

Which will not be music to the ears of mogul Murdoch who has lobbied vociferously for a looser regulatory regime.

The tycoon conferred the privilege of a personal visit earlier this week on chancellor Gordon Brown to discuss both the bill and the euro – the latter anathema to Murdoch and obediently opposed by his UK newspapers, upmarket duo The Times and Sunday Times plus the mass-circulation News of the World and The Sun.

News source: Financial Times