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31/07/2002

Parliamentary Committee slams Communications Bill

An influential committee is expected to urge the government to rethink plans that would allow companies from outside Europe to buy UK television and radio stations.
Proposals that could allow Rupert Murdoch to buy Channel 5 are included in plans for new communications laws, and have caused concern in some quarters.
The joint committee of MPs and peers, led by former film producer Lord Puttnam, is expected to criticise the plans in its report, published on Wednesday July 31. Current proposals in the draft Communications Bill would relax current cross-media ownership laws, allowing newspaper groups and associated TV companies to buy into Channel 5 or parts of ITV. The plans would also make it possible for non-EU companies to buy UK radio and TV licences. It is thought that Murdoch's News International and other international media organisations including Disney and AOL Time Warner may be interested in expanding their UK media stakes. But the joint committee is expected to warn that moves allowing such giants to own parts of the UK media would result in the creeping "Americanisation" of schedules. The government is reported to have rejected the criticisms.
Its report is also expected to warn against letting US media companies own UK broadcasters if UK companies remain barred from owning media in the US. The joint committee is due to give details of its findings during a press conference at Westminster at 1100 BST. The committee also includes former BBC chairman Lord Hussey, ex-head of the Broadcasting Standards Committee Lord Pilkington, former ITV boss Lord Crickhowell and former BBC governor Lady Cohen.
A policy paper written by the Liberal Democrats also warned against relaxing media ownership laws too far. It said UK broadcasting could be "overwhelmed" by global conglomerates and that market forces alone could not be relied upon to shape the sector. The government is due to publish its official response in the autumn, although officials are already reported to have dismissed the criticisms.
(GB)
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