Select Committee on Communications First Report


374.  The relationship between policy makers and the media is a legitimate area of public interest. We therefore propose that politicians in all parties are open and candid about their meetings with media owners and editors. [para 197]

375.  We do not accept that the increase of news sources invalidates the case for special treatment of the media through ownership regulation. There is still a danger that if media ownership becomes too concentrated the diversity of voices available could be diminished. [para 210]

376.  An internal company structure cannot be an adequate substitute for competition law and statutory regulation in ensuring that no single voice becomes too powerful. Regulation to ensure a plurality of media ownership is still relevant and necessary. [para 220]

377.  The public interest considerations for newspaper mergers and broadcasting and cross-media mergers should be amended to refer specifically to a need to establish whether a merger will impact adversely on news gathering. [para 243]

378.  The considerations set out in the Public Interest Test for newspaper mergers should be reviewed by Ofcom. This exercise should consider the rigour of the criteria and how they can be assessed. Conducting such a review will give Ofcom the opportunity to start building an expertise in advance of actually having to look at a newspaper merger. [para 249]

379.  The Government should be more flexible and adopt a case-by-case approach when considering which media mergers the Public Interest Test should apply to. We believe that it would be essential to apply the test if a major international internet company bought a stake in a UK news provider. [para 253]

380.  Ofcom should be given the power to initiate the Public Interest Test. This would sit more comfortably with Ofcom's duty to promote the interests of the citizen. The power to trigger a Public Interest Test should not be taken away from Ministers. Along with Ofcom, Ministers should retain the power in the event that they consider there is a risk to the public interest that Ofcom has not fully recognised. Therefore, the power to issue an Intervention Notice should be held by both Ofcom and the Secretary of State. [para 261]

381.  We recommend that legislation should be amended so that Ofcom investigates media mergers only on the basis of the public interest criteria, and the Competition Commission considers only the competition aspects of a merger. They should make their recommendations separately to the Secretary of State on whether the merger should be blocked or go ahead (with or without remedies). The Secretary of State would then have the final responsibility for accepting or rejecting Ofcom's recommendations and remedies, as they relate to the public interest criteria. As is the case now, the Secretary of State would continue to be bound by the Competition Commission's findings on the competition issues. [para 271]

382.  When Ofcom considers the public interest considerations of a media merger it should be required to put the needs of the citizen ahead of the needs of the consumer. [para 275]

383.  We are concerned that Ofcom is inadequately implementing Section 13(3) of the Communications Act and believe that it should review whether the Content Board has a significant influence on Management Board decisions in respect of Ofcom's duty to promote the purposes of public service television as laid down by Section 3(4)(a) of the Communications Act. Ofcom should publish the findings of this review so that they can be acted on by Parliament if necessary. [para 279]

384.  The analogue and digital local radio ownership rules should be amalgamated. [para 283]

385.  The local cross-media ownership restrictions relating to local radio and local newspaper companies should be lifted. Ofcom must carefully monitor any local cross-media mergers and apply the Public Interest Test if any are likely to raise public interest considerations. [para 289]

386.  The current inequitable situation facing UK companies is preventing their legitimate expansion into new markets. The Government must continue its efforts to achieve reciprocal rights for UK companies. Without further information it is difficult to measure progress on this matter. We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport publish an annual report on progress towards securing reciprocal ownership rights. This should detail the extent of ongoing negotiations with countries where the Government is seeking to achieve reciprocal rights, and explain the reasons why ownership limits remain in place. [para 295]

387.  The strength of BBC news is its reporters and those that support them. Between them they provide a depth and range of news which is among the best in the world. We believe that nothing should be allowed to reduce the BBC's ability to sustain this high quality news operation. [para 301]

388.  The BBC's spending on the salaries of its presenters and personalities represents a considerable proportion of the BBC's licence-fee funded budget. The BBC Trust should monitor closely spending growth in this area to ensure that the Corporation can adequately fulfil and fund all its public purposes and particularly news and current affairs. [para 306]

389.  We emphatically believe that Public Service Broadcasting cannot be left to the BBC alone. We are very struck by Ofcom's prediction that by 2012/13 the BBC will receive 91% of all PSB funding. A continuing plurality of public service broadcasters should be an aim of public policy. This is particularly crucial for news and current affairs. Ofcom's research shows that the public values this plurality, especially in news. It also serves the valuable purpose of providing competition for the BBC. We urge Ofcom to make news provision a priority on the PSBs when it comes to negotiating future service obligations. [para 318]

390.  Any residual funds left over from the BBC's targeted help scheme should be used to support the commercial PSBs in the medium term[129]. [para 321]

391.  ITV's proposal for the abolition of the Contracts Rights Renewal system merits further consideration. [para 322]

392.  We are sceptical of the various proposals that have been put forward for top slicing the BBC licence fee. [para 323]

393.  We believe there is scope in the idea of sharing BBC facilities with other public service broadcasters and that this proposal should be further examined. The Government should take forward this work. [para 324]

394.  We remain to be convinced that the new BBC corporate governance arrangements are more effective than those they replaced. [para 325]

395.  We are concerned about ITV's proposals to scale back its regional news structure. Ofcom should carefully examine whether ITV's policy will have an impact on local newsrooms and their ability to quickly and accurately cover stories of national importance. Ofcom should also consider the implications that a cut in ITV regional news commitments will have on the news gathering capabilities of ITN and in turn the overall quality of ITV and Channel 4 news. Plurality of regional television news is important and if ITV reduce their commitments in this area the BBC will have very little effective competition. [para 332]

396.  Ofcom should work to define more systematically "high-quality" news and to agree a number of indicators for assessing it. Ofcom should produce an annual report monitoring the quality and quantity of PSB news and Ofcom should also develop a mechanism for holding companies responsible if their news falls short of quality thresholds. [para 337]

397.  Ofcom should be given powers to check the resourcing of all the commercial PSB news providers, rather than just Channel 3's appointed news provider. Ofcom should also develop a series of indicators against which to measure the resourcing of a news organisation and should publish an annual report on the resourcing of all the PSB news services (this could be published as part of the annual report on quality recommended in para 337). [para 341]

398.  Ofcom should start monitoring the resourcing, quality and quantity of news on the commercial PSB channels as soon as possible and should also start publishing an annual report as set out above. However, in the future we believe there should be a statutory duty on Ofcom to undertake these new duties. [para 342]

399.  The impartiality requirements of PSBs are an important safeguard of the plurality of voices heard on broadcast news. They will continue to be necessary post-digital switchover. [para 349]

400.  Any weakening of the impartiality requirements as they apply to UK broadcasters would have a negative impact in the quality and trustworthiness of the country's news. Such a move would not benefit the public or journalists and could run the risk of undermining the most important medium for news. [para 353]

401.  When considering how to apply the impartiality requirements to non-UK based news broadcasters licensed in the UK, Ofcom should takes into account the size of their UK audience. It should monitor the UK audience share of these channels and set a viewing threshold that would guide its regulatory approach. [para 358]

402.  The public interest would be better served by placing the BBC on a statutory footing by an Act of Parliament. Parliament should have a greater involvement in the setting of the licence fee. [para 363]

403.  The procedure for compelling the attendance of witnesses before Committees of the House of Lords is palpably not fit for purpose at the beginning of the 21st century, and should now be reviewed. If parliamentary inquiries are to serve a useful function in guarding the public interest then a less cumbersome procedure is necessary. We invite the Procedure Committee to consider the options for streamlining the procedure whereby select committees may compel the attendance of witnesses. [para 373]

129   Any such transfer of funds would need to conform with European Union rules on State Aid in relation to public service broadcasting. Back

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