The British government is reportedly ready to cave in to demands from the House of Lords on how media ownership law should be relaxed.
Government officials are said to be working with Lord David Puttnam to amend the Communications Bill along the lines he suggested earlier this month [WAMN: 05-Jun-03].
Puttnam – one of several vociferous peers resisting government attempts to speed the legislation through the Lords without alteration – is concerned about a section of the Bill that would allow newspaper firms to take over Britain’s smallest terrestrial TV channel Five. The prospect of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation subsequently being able to buy the station has attracted widespread criticism.
The former film producer proposed a compromise: that the relaxation of ownership rules governing Five should proceed on condition that regulators can assess whether a takeover – if it happens – is in the public interest.
Under Puttnam’s plan, the culture secretary would have the power to refer a controversial bid to new communications regulator Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading. These could review the market conditions at the time and judge whether the takeover is acceptable.
Ministers initially rejected this idea, but now face the prospect of the Bill suffering an embarrassing and time-consuming defeat in the Lords. Said one source: “The government knows the writing is on the wall.”
Puttnam’s amendment could go to a vote in the Bill’s report stage as soon as next week.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff