A unified ITV and Rupert Murdoch owning a broadcast television station – just two scenarios which become possible should the British government’s long-awaited draft communications bill, unveiled Tuesday afternoon, become law.
Industry onlookers have been eagerly awaiting the government’s plans to handle Murdoch’s terrestrial TV ambitions. In the draft bill, the current restriction on media owners who control more than 20% of the newspaper market (as does Murdoch) from holding a broadcast licence will be lifted – but solely for Channel 5, by far the smallest of the terrestrial stations.
In addition, the block on newspaper firms owning radio stations will be removed, as will the ban on non-EU companies owning television or radio licences.
Published jointly by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt and culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell, the bill will also scrap the two rules that prevent the merger of dominant ITV duo Carlton Communications and Granada Media – one blocking any single ITV licence holder reaching over 15% of the total terrestrial TV audience; the other banning ownership by the same company of both the London weekday and weekend licences.
Other rules destined for the scrapheap include those preventing joint ownership of TV and radio stations, plus the ban on holding more than one national commercial radio licence.
However, three rules remain to protect “vibrancy of debate at every level of society – national, regional and local”:
• The block on any newspaper group controlling over 20% of the market from holding “a significant stake” (defined as 20%) in an ITV company.
• A ban on ownership of both a regional ITV licence and all the newspapers in the same region.
• Insistence that there must be at least three commercial local or regional media voices (newspapers/TV/radio) in nearly all local communities.
Provision was also made for the establishment of a single communications watchdog – Ofcom – to replace the existing five regulators governing the sector.
The draft bill will be subject to a three-month consultation period, as well as scrutiny from a joint committee of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Full details can be viewed at www.communicationsbill.gov.uk.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff