Culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell can expect a good press in The Times and its Murdoch tabloid sibling, The Sun.

Speaking Monday evening to the Society of Editors in Belfast, Jowell gave the clearest signal yet that newspaper proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch will be permitted to own terrestrial TV licences. “We will try to be as deregulatory as possible and intend to allow what market consolidation we can,” Jowell said after announcing a consultation paper to precede the introduction of the government’s Communications Bill early in 2002.

Under present law, no owner of a national newspaper can hold more than 20% of a terrestrial TV channel; nor may TV companies such as Carlton Communications and Granada Media own more than 20% each of Independent Television News.

The move to liberalisation was necessitated, said Jowell, by technological progress: “People are reading newspapers on the internet; before long they will be watching TV on their mobile phones. There will be new and exciting opportunities for competition and we are determined British companies should be able to take advantage.”

This, she continued, might “require a different approach to regulation in new markets”. The government aimed to ensure the public received its news from multiple sources, although it would apply as light a legislative touch as possible.

“We have two aims. We need to uphold the interests of our citizens ... but we also want to encourage competition and to make Britain home to the most dynamic and competitive media market in the world. So we will try to be as deregulatory as possible and intend to allow what market consolidation we can.”

The consultation paper, to be published jointly in November by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry, will involve industry bodies as well as private individuals, with especial emphasis on the balance of power between the new independent media watchdog, Ofcom, and the government.

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