British Regulator Recommends Looser Media Cross-Ownership Rules

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Britain’s communications industry regulatory body recommended Tuesday that the government loosen restrictions on same-market ownership of newspapers and broadcast.

The agency known as Ofcom is recommending liberalizing the local cross media ownership rules “so that the only restriction is on owning all three of: local newspapers (with 50% plus local market share); a local radio station; and a regional Channel 3 license.”

“This liberalization will increase the flexibility of local media to respond to market pressures,” Ofcom CEO Ed Richards says in a statement. “Consumers still rely on television, radio and press for news so we are not recommending complete removal of the rules.”

The looser ownership regulations would apply only to local newspapers and not to nationally circulated papers.

Ofcom said it hopes letting local papers own local broadcast will encourage local news coverage.

“We have found that even though consumers are increasingly using the Internet as an alternative source of news, there is still strong reliance on television, newspapers and radio,” Richards said. “However, these industries are facing significant economic changes. These are most acute in local media. Some relaxation of the local ownership rules will benefit citizens and consumers by helping to ensure that local content continues to be commercially provided.”

Like its U.S. counterpart, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ofcom has a legislative mandate to periodically review its regulations. The FCC is in the midst of its own quadrennial review of cross-ownership restrictions, which were slightly modified in 2008 to allow larger-market newspapers to own a single lower-rated radio or TV station in its market.

Ofcom’s full statement is linked on E&P’s business-oriented Fitz & Jen blog.

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