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Thumbs up New Tories plan 'big bang' media revolution - 16-November-2009, 15:20

Tories plan 'big bang' media revolution

We have been waiting for a while for the Tories to reveal their media policy. Now, it would appear, we have more than a glimpse of what they propose should they win next year's election.

The three major changes of its so-called "big bang" revolution would involve the deregulation of local media ownership, a freeze, or cut, to the TV licence fee from 2012 onwards, and radical reform of the regulator, Ofcom.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Daily Telegraph that the abolition of cross-media ownership would revive local media.

It would also create more competition for the BBC both nationally and in the regions, where newspaper publishers and TV companies are battling for survival.

"There is a massive crisis in the media industry," Hunt is quoted as saying. "We will strip away the regulations in the same way that big bang revolutionised the City to make it a major financial centre of the world."

He believes that "heavy-handed regulation", "over-paternalist" and/or "micro-regulation" has not only stifled internal media innovation but is the reason why major international media companies have failed to invest in Britain.

So Ofcom will be stripped of its policy-making functions and be limited to making judgments in areas such as "decency, impartiality and taste".

In a speech in Manchester on Thursday Hunt will put more flesh on the bones of this argument, though it does not come as much of a surprise.

Clearly, lobbying by the Newspaper Society - the publishers' trade body - has been successful. It has been pressing for years for ownership rules to be relaxed because owners believe more consolidation is essential to save their industry.

They also believe that survival depends on their being able to control several platforms within the same circulation area.

According to the Telegraph, Hunt will say: "Because our regulation is stuck in the pre-internet dark ages, we have left our media industries exposed and vulnerable to huge market shocks.

"It has taken the combination of a bitter advertising recession and the structural changes wrought by the internet for this to sink home...

We need to allow media operators more flexibility to own businesses operating on both the same and different platforms."

What is more surprising is Hunt's apparent belief that "major investors in Silicon Valley who [are] looking for the next big idea" might be interested in coming to Britain if we replaced the current rules with "nimble and light touch regulation."

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