Ofcom asks for submissions in media plurality review

Published Oct 21 2011, 13:15 BST  |  By

Sky logo

© PA Images

Ofcom has today invited comments on the process of measuring media plurality in Britain, following the controversy that surrounded Rupert Murdoch's botched bid to acquire Sky.

The media regulator was involved in a public interest test of the bid by Murdoch's News Corporation to acquire the 60.9% of Sky that it does not already own, in response to concerns over how the deal would impact the plurality of media sources in the UK.

News Corp ultimately withdrew the bid following cross-party political pressure in the wake of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.

But in its report to the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt on the Sky bid last December, Ofcom said that the current framework around media plurality should be subject to reform.

In May this year, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said that it may be necessary to introduce a dynamic new system for assessing media plurality cases, in which a review is triggered in response to a "change in audience levels or viewing share".

If adopted, the system would allow Ofcom to launch an inquiry into News Corp, or any other group, should they be deemed to have gained too large a share of the media audience.

UK legislation currently only allows plurality reviews to be instigated when merger situations arise, meaning there is no way to tackle companies that have become dominant through organic growth.

Hunt has asked Ofcom to review how practical it would be to set limits on media ownership to protect quality, as well as recommend a framework for measuring plurality across different media.

"Parliament has seen it as important to safeguard plurality because of an organisation's ability to influence opinions and set the political agenda if it has too much control of the media," said Ofcom, in a clear reference to Murdoch.

> Vince Cable: 'No-one should dominate media again like Rupert Murdoch'
> Rupert Murdoch to face investors at News Corporation meeting

Ofcom's findings will be presented to the culture secretary by June 2012, and also submitted as evidence in Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into phone hacking.

Stakeholders and the public are being invited to comment on the questions around media plurality, including whether it is "practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share".

Ofcom also wants feedback on whether a media plurality review should cover the BBC's dominant share of the news supply in the UK.

The regulator will accept written submissions until November 17.