Secretary of state for culture, media and sport Tessa Jowell vigorously flourished her battleaxe at political talkshop the Westminster Media Forum Wednesday, telling her audience that the government’s controversial relaxation of the current rules on media ownership is in the best interests of the nation.

The dilution of these rules is a key clause in the Communications Bill, currently voyaging through the House of Lords where the clause in question ran into rough waters [WAMN: 01-May-03].

The proposed relaxation will not only allow UK TV and newspaper groups to extend their cross-media holdings, it also effectively removes the bar on ownership of British media by non-European Union corporations, such as News International and Viacom.

This, claimed Jowell, is necessary for growth, investment and innovation [although she did not elaborate on why these desirable ends could not be achieved from within the UK and EU. Nor did she comment on the curious coincidence that the bill mirrors many of the likely amendments to the US media rules sought by the Bush administration.]

Also missing from Jowell’s speech was any explanation as to why there are no reciprocal concessions planned stateside to allow UK companies to buy into US television and newspapers.

The secretary of state then addressed herself to the issue of content quality if US companies take control of British media. American media owners, she assured the meeting, would be subject to the same controls. “As culture secretary,” she said, “I object to any suggestion that I will preside over a dilution of quality TV.”

Jowell wisely refrained from defining ‘quality TV’ and continued: “We have decided that where possible we should regulate directly to achieve the broadcast outcomes we believe the public want, rather than use indirect ownership rules.

“The media environment in the US is different … it has always had fewer content controls and it has never had anything like our commitment to public service broadcasting. But US companies operating here will have to match current quality standards if they are to win an audience, and will have to accept our regulatory conditions.”

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff