Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Newspaper Society

  1.  The Newspaper Society submitted evidence to the DTI and DCMS in July 2000 on the Communications White Paper in the form of a memorandum and a report commissioned by NERA entitled "Report on Media Ownership Regulation and its impact on Local and Regional Newspapers".

  2.  The White Paper was published in December 2000. The Newspaper Society responded immediately to it seeking clarification of the Government's proposals on media ownership and content regulation and emphasising that any changes "are synchronised so as to ensure that changes to television and radio ownership rules happen at the same time as reforms to the newspaper ownership and cross-media ownership rules".

  3.  The Society's comments on the White Paper recommendations are set out below. The paragraphs and pages quoted in bold refer to the White Paper.


4.11  The Government will consider a lighter touch for newspaper mergers (see page 45)

  Newspaper Society response:

    —  The Government must reform the newspaper ownership regime. The Newspaper Society has already made detailed submissions, including the NERA Report. The regional newspaper industry advocates the abolition of the special newspaper regime and its replacement by general competition law.

    —  No new regime should have the effect of imposing greater controls over regional newspaper companies because of their regional basis and generic nature.

    —  Concurrent and coherent regulatory reform of the communications sector is necessary to prevent detriment to the newspaper industry. Legislative overhaul of newspaper ownership controls must be executed at the same time as the White Paper's proposed reform of the broadcasting regime. Abolition of the special newspaper transfers provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973 must be addressed as soon as possible. It must not be delayed until the Government finds legislative time to decide and address the reforms of the 1973 Act's general merger regime, which are currently under consideration.


4.8  The Government invites comment on the reform of cross-media ownership (see pages 41-43)

  Newspaper Society response:

    —  Cross-media ownership controls must be liberalised, so that all sectors of the communications industry have equal opportunity to develop.

    —  As proposed above, the regulatory regime must be concurrent and coherent. Changes to the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 cross-media ownership controls which affect newspapers must be made at the same time as the Government addresses the other regulatory issues proposed in the White Paper.

    —  In particular, the Government must relax the controls over regional newspaper companies' ownership of other media within their newspaper titles' core circulation area. The Society has previously submitted representations, supported by the conclusions of the independent NERA report and considerations of the Competition Commission, and Radio Authority. It welcomes the Radio Authority's decision to recommend to Government a relaxation of the cross-media ownership rules which apply to local newspapers' ownership of radio stations in their circulation areas.

    —  Past proposals by the European Commission would have resulted in more restrictive controls than the current UK provisions, which would have stifled regional newspaper companies.

    —  The White Paper continues to enable and encourage the development of the public service broadcasters' commercial and public service media activities across all media. The BBC will continue to enjoy advantages denied to its commercial competitors, including regional newspapers. This creates a fundamental imbalance, which needs to be remedied. The White Paper also emphasises the importance of fostering new and traditional media regional services, including those provided by both public service and commercial broadcasters and expanding the categories of potential service providers (for example, local authorities). It is important that regional newspaper companies should not be excluded or handicapped from regional media opportunities which their competitors are being encouraged to pursue.

Content regulation and freedom of expression

  The Government's proposals are mainly set out in section six of The White Paper (see pages 58-69): OFCOM to regulate content standards in electronic media; develop statutory, co-regulatory and self regulatory controls and mechanisms for tackling illegal material on the Internet; regulate broadcast advertising; and promote rating and filtering systems that help Internet users control the content they and their children will see. The Government will work with the Data Protection Commissioner to produce guidance on collection of data and data subjects' rights.

  Newspaper Society response:

  The newspaper industry is concerned that the White Paper proposals will lead to the introduction of statutory controls over content published on the Internet, including newspapers' web sites. The proposals must not undermine the industry's existing self-regulatory mechanisms under CAP/ASA for advertising and through the Press Complaints Commission for editorial. The PCC's and ASA's independence from Government must be maintained.

  No new statutory controls are required and existing law is sufficient to regulate the Internet.

February 2001

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