U.K. Media Regulator Opposes Absolute Ownership Limits

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Ofcom suggests a review of media plurality, including the BBC and online news operations, "every four or five years."

U.K. media regulator Ofcom on Tuesday said it sees no benefit in setting absolute media ownership limits, but suggested a framework for reviewing whether any single company has gained too much influence.

"Setting absolute limits leaves no room to take account of the broader context, and this creates a risk that it is not possible to address issues of commercial sustainability and innovation in an appropriate manner," it said in a report. But it did emphasize that no single group should hold “too large” a market share.

It suggested that the country go through a review of media plurality, including the BBC and online news operations, "every four or five years" in the absence of any major merger reviews. Industry folks have been divided on whether to include the public broadcaster and web outlets.

Ofcom emphasized that the scope of any plurality review should be limited to news and current affairs.

Media plurality questions have resurfaced in the U.K. during the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics recently. Some politicians, particularly from the opposition Labor Party, have called for rules that would force Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to give up one of its daily papers in the U.K.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned the Ofcom report in the wake of last year's regulatory review of News Corp.'s proposed acquisition of full control of pay TV giant BSkyB, which it later dropped amid the phone hacking scandal.

"We have considered the merits of different potential triggers for a plurality review, in the absence of a merger," Ofcom said Tuesday. "On balance, we believe a periodic review every four or five years provides the best approach. We do not believe reviews should be triggered by metrics or complaints, nor do we believe there should be scope for discretion to trigger a review between the fixed periodic reviews."

The Ofcom report also said: "Media plurality helps to support a democratic society by ensuring citizens are informed by a diverse range of views and by preventing too much influence over political processes by one media owner or outlet."

It added: "There are three categories of metrics relevant to measuring media plurality: availability, consumption and impact. All should be included in a review of plurality, but the consumption metrics, especially reach, share and multi-sourcing, are the most important."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai