UK regulator advises current media ownership rules should be retained | Major Businesses | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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Despite a turbulent last twelve months that has seen mega-mergers, divestments and closures, in its fifth report to the Secretary of State on UK media ownership rules, broadcast regulator Ofcom has suggested that the legislative status quo is maintained.
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These rules, set by the UK Parliament, are intended to promote media plurality and prevent undue influence by any one, or certain types of, media owner.

They include the national cross-media ownership rule, which (broadly) prevents large newspaper groups from owning a Channel 3 licence; the Channel 3 appointed news provider rule, which requires the regional Channel 3 licensees to appoint a single news provider; the Media Public Interest Test, which allows the Secretary of State to intervene in media mergers to determine whether the merger might result in harm to the public interest; and the Disqualified Persons Restrictions, which prevent certain bodies or persons from holding broadcast licences.

Ofcom has a statutory duty to review the operation of these rules and report to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at least every three years and is required periodically to review whether the rules are operating effectively such as in the protracted case of the sale of Sky to Comcast.

Looking at the framework in general, Ofcom says that the growth in online news and the consequent increase in the range of providers has the potential to strengthen plurality and reduce the influence of any one media owner. This it says raises the question as to whether the media ownership rules need to change because the public policy aim behind them - promoting plurality - might be less of a concern now.

Ofcom says that given a climate of what it calls policy and regulatory uncertainty it does believe that now is the right time to recommend significant changes to the media ownership rules so as to extend regulation to cover online news providers. It adds in its judgement that it is important that any changes recommended as a result of its reviews provide clarity and predictability for the long term, and are targeted and proportionate to the risks identified.

The regulator’s overall view is that its media ownership regime will need to be fundamentally reviewed once the shape of any Government intervention in this area is clearer. Even though it recognises the potential for an evolving online news market to bring about significant changes in the consumption and impact of different news providers, at the present time, Ofcom does not consider that the media ownership rules should be relaxed due to plurality being less of a concern.