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Jeremy Hunt asks Ofcom to review UK cross-media ownership rules

By
Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture

© Rex Features

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is reportedly to ask Ofcom to establish an agreed way to measure cross-media ownership in the UK, including whether there should be a limit on the influence of Rupert Murdoch and the BBC over the British media.

Following a row over Murdoch's power in the wake of his aborted bid to take full control of Sky, Hunt wants to create a common approach to measuring media ownership across TV, newspapers, radio and other media.

The minister hopes that this framework will help underpin a new set of cross-media ownership rules that could ensure no organisation becomes too powerful in the future.

Currently, the only cross-media restriction in place prevents newspaper owners who hold more than 20% of circulation, such as Murdoch's News Corporation, from owning more than 20% of ITV.

Hunt is expected to ask Ofcom to analyse whether it would be "practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share", a move that could also impact the BBC, reports The Guardian.

At the Royal Television Society festival in Cambridge this Wednesday, the culture secretary is expected to say that the UK needs "a new framework for media plurality in a cross-media world".

He is expected to add: "We first need to better understand how we should measure plurality across platforms. I intend to ask Ofcom to examine what the options are for measuring media plurality in our digital age, and recommend the best approach."

This situation has occurred after Ofcom was asked to review News Corp's attempt to acquire the 60.9% of pay-TV giant Sky that it does not already own on grounds of its potential impact on "media plurality".

News Corp's newspapers had a 37% market share at the time, and there were concerns that combining this with Sky's multi-billion pound revenues could create too powerful a media player.

Ofcom found that the privately owned News Corp, when combined with Sky, would have a 22% "share of reference" for British news, reaching 51% of people in Britain each week.

That would have made News Corp the largest commercial news provider in the UK, with only the BBC having a larger reach and influence, at a 37% share and reaching 81% of the population each week.

Ultimately, News Corp opted to withdraw its bid in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, but Ofcom warned that the current ways of measuring media dominance were outdated.

In July, business secretary Vince Cable also said that no other media company should be allowed to have the same influence in the UK as Murdoch's News Corp, and there should be a "presumption against" groups owning both newspapers and TV stations.

Ofcom is expected to take several months to complete the review, and the results will be shared with Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into future regulation of the media after the phone hacking controversy.

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