Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Daily Mail and General Trust plc (DMGT)

  DMGT welcomes the Communications White Paper as a necessary prerequisite to an overdue reform of communication and media law and is pleased to have been asked to give its views.


  DMGT is a UK based, international, multiple media group with a strong commitment to quality and editorial excellence worldwide.

  Our interests, all of which are developing significant electronic media dimensions, encompass the following:

    —  National and regional newspapers (UK and Europe).

    —  Teletext—public service broadcasting (UK).

    —  Radio (UK, Europe and Australia).

    —  Financial and technical information publishing (international).

    —  Exhibitions (international).

    —  Student recruitment and education (international).

  Wherever a DMGT business operates, it strives to provide high quality services tailored to the communities it serves. DMGT's management structure is decentralised, allowing maximum independence to its operating businesses. Where relevant, each business division will be submitting its own views to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.


  We summarise below the key issues of concern to the Group and attach Teletext's own submission to the Committee.

    —  Our newspaper divisions are concerned that proposals to regulate content on the Internet will be applied to newspapers' Internet activities. The proposals must not undermine existing self regulatory mechanisms. Existing law is sufficient and no new statutory controls are needed.

    —  Reforms to the law on newspaper mergers and cross-media ownership are overdue and are urgently needed to give all sectors of the communications industry an equal opportunity to develop.

    —  Changes affecting ownership controls must be made at the same time for all sectors of the media. Changes to newspaper ownership laws should not be given a different priority from broadcasting.

    —  We support the intention to ensure "must carry" status to public service broadcasters (including Teletext) and to ensure due prominence in listings publications, including electronic programme guides.

    —  We are concerned that the BBC's privileged position enables it to exercise unmatched market power with no commercial risk. Its practice of providing content and promotion free of charge distorts normal risk/reward relationships and will inhibit development of a dynamic market.

    —  We believe that public service broadcasters should be required, through self-regulation, to apply the same standards to their online as to their broadcast services. Self-regulation should be given a chance to work.

    —  We wish to see more broadcast spectrum made available for digital television to allow teletext services to offer the richness of the Internet in a more familiar, convenient and cost effective medium.


  As a multiple media owner, DMGT is particularly concerned with the cross-media ownership laws and their application. We therefore welcome the Government's consultative approach to this issue.

  We wish to be free to respond to changes in what consumers want and how they take it. We see no rationale for imposing specific cross-category restrictions between newspapers, radio and television either nationally or locally.

  We need more cross-media ownership, not less, to allow the development of multiple media groups which can better meet the needs of the consumer and improve the availability of the best creative content.

  The need to maintain plurality can be dealt with by a system which would treat all media consumption on a fair and even basis so as to:

    —  allow media owners freedom to create more valuable services for local communities;

    —  remove artificial and arbitrary restrictions between media categories which are becoming less distinct as technology brings convergence;

    —  rebalance the ownership rules system to include the BBC, satellite, cable and magazine coverage and remove the bias against terrestrial broadcasters;

    —  take into account all media consumption in assessing local plurality; and

    —  conform and harmonise our rules with the technology-neutral regulatory approach being adopted by the European Commission.


  Any system that is adopted should:

    —  be transparent, fair, objective and as non-arbitrary as possible;

    —  be directed at the total national or any local media market, not separate markets defined by a specific medium;

    —  protect the public from abuse, or potential abuse, of monopoly power;

    —  treat all media players equally regardless of the method of delivery;

    —  include the audience share of public service broadcasters at all levels;

    —  correct the imbalances between television and radio rules; and

    —  allow ownership of different types of media addressing the same markets, subject only to an overriding limit of all media within those markets (share of voice).

  Our proposed media impressions system described in a paper submitted to the Select Committee in March 1998 would meet all the criteria above and cure many of the imbalances and difficulties in the current regime by:

    —  taking proper account of all media consumption in a market, including the BBC; and

    —  deciding issues of local media ownership in the context of all media consumed in the locality.

  Sustainable diversity can best be achieved in a relaxed ownership regime through the licensing process.

  To give flexibility to the system, if a media owner reached the overriding limit of all media in a market, a public interest test should determine whether exceeding that threshold was contrary to the public policy objectives of plurality and diversity.

  The current system set out in the 1996 Act was intended by the then Government to be a "staging post". It has been rapidly overtaken by market developments. We think the time is now right to put in place a system that can evolve with the markets. A media impression based system will do just that.

February 2001

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Prepared 26 February 2001