81. The Government sets out a very comprehensive
range of options on cross-media ownership, from retention of existing
rules to a reliance on individual media rules and competition
law. The proposal of SMG which we heard in evidence, where limits
on ownership would be based on as assessment of media revenue,
was rejected on the basis that revenue was not a good proxy for
influence in public debate.
To augment its proposals in the face of this criticism, SMG has
since added a list of "prime media assets" (to be determined
by Government) to its scheme. Ownership of these assets would
also be limited to a certain number.
82. News International and Scottish Media Group (SMG)
argued that limits on media ownership on the grounds of quantity
or nationality were unnecessary because it was the local market
that determined the content of local individual media outlets.
Any attempt to "foist" an agenda on consumers would
be countered by the purchase of an alternative product. SMG's
proposal, outlined above, was developed in response to the Government's
position. News International
also questioned the legality of the restrictions under the Human
Rights Act and suggested that attempts to peg ownership levels
or limit cross-media ownership prevented the free flow of investment
and talent that a competitive media sector needed to flourish.
83. Dr Irwin Stelzer, News Corporation, told us that
he was concerned about the vertical integration especially where
there was a horizontal monopoly at some level. He referred to
BT and to the Office of Fair Trading's current investigation of
Sky's pricing policy with respect to ITV Digital and ITV Sport's
carriage on digital satellite. Dr Stelzer commented that: "I
am not discouraged by the fact that the Office of Fair Trading
is doing rather a comprehensive review of Sky's practices ...
That is what competition policy does, that is why it is a good
84. We believe that the case for particular restrictions
on media, or cross-media, ownership in any sector is now out-dated.
These restrictions should therefore be removed.