British Government to Review Media Dominance

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Jeremy Hunt

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to re-examine media share and exclude politicians from media takeovers altogether.

CAMBRIDGE, England -- Jeremy Hunt, the British government minister who came within days of greenlighting News Corp's $12 billion takeover of BSkyB -- wants to change the way that media ownership is regulated.

The Culture Secretary told executives at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention that Britain needed to find a new way to measure cross-platform media presence and find a new way to evaluate which companies were dominant.

He has asked media regulator Ofcom to look at finding a way of measuring "absolute limits on news media share" and would evaluate whether organisations like News Corporation or even the publicly funded BBC have too great a share in news provision and influence.

"Ofcom's research into this during the BSkyB/News Corp merger process was a start, but further work is needed so I have today asked Ofcom to examine what the options are for measuring media plurality across [different] media platforms," Hunt told the conference.

Hunt said he may even look at finding ways to exempt politicians from approving media takeovers altogether, on the grounds that such decisions should not appear to be sanctioned or vetoed by governments.

"I was very conscious in the recent BSkyB bid that however fairly I ran the process, people were always going to question my motives," he said.

"in competition law we deal with this more robustly by removing politicians from the process altogether. This ensures that justice is seen to be done as well as actually being done."

News Corp. called off its takeover plan for the British pay TV giant BSkyB in July after Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group became engulfed in a firestorm over phone-hacking. However, although mounting opposition to the bid had led to a public clamor to prevent Rupert Murdoch becoming the most powerful media force in the UK, at the time, the regulatory process seemed unable to bend to mounting political an social opposition to the bid.

Hunt's comments are the first phase in the process of building a new Communications Act which will be on the statute books within two years.

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