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Media Ownership (Regulation)

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

If News Corp is successful in buying the remaining 61% shares of BSkyB, the control that it exercises over UK mass media will be greater than that of any individual in any other advanced industrial country, including Berlusconi’s Italy. The law in the US and Australia would prohibit such a takeover. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of plurality of ownership in the UK media? What is the estimated tax loss if the merger takes place?

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the estimated tax loss will be—I do not know whether there will be a tax loss. There are big tax gains from having a plurality of players in the British media market. The particular decision that he mentioned is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is responsible for determining whether to invoke the public interest clause about the merger. He will make a decision in due course.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the relatively low price for which Richard Desmond has acquired Channel Five is a further indication of the continuing difficulties affecting all traditional television companies, and that it also shows that successful companies are likely to have to operate across several different media in future? Given that, does he have any plans to look again at the current rules that govern cross-media ownership and cross-promotion?

I thank my hon. Friend for a thoughtful question, as ever, on the topic. He is absolutely right that media companies of the future will have to operate on different platforms. That is why one of my first decisions was to accept a recommendation by Ofcom to remove the regulations on cross-media ownership locally to allow local media operators to develop new business models that let them take product from newspapers to radio to TV to iPods to iPads and so on.

We do not currently have any plans to relax the rules on cross-promotion. Indeed, the regulations on taste, decency and political impartiality on Five remain extremely tight, but we are aware of the need to lighten regulations in general because, if we are to have a competitive broadcasting sector, we must have one in which independent players can also make a profit.

The Secretary of State knows that Richard Desmond and Rupert Murdoch have huge pornography empires. Does he share my concern that children have increasing access to pornography on television? What can he do about it? It is a curse, and I hope that he shares my desire to do something about it.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Our real concern on this side of the House is about the sexualisation of young people in particular; we take a liberal view of adults’ ability to make decisions about what they see on television. I do not want to pretend that there is an easy answer, because traditional linear viewing, which allowed the watershed, made it possible to be much more definite about what would be seen by children and what would be seen by adults. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, we have no plans to relax any of the taste and decency regulations for terrestrial broadcasts.