Embargo: 00:01 Friday 27 June 2008
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


The increase of news platforms and new high tech ways of accessing the news have not been matched by an increase in resources for news gathering or investigative journalism and do not justify any attempts to reduce media ownership regulation, the House of Lords Communications Committee say in their report The Ownership of the News published today.

The Lords Committee say that successive governments have warned against "one voice" in the news having too much influence and for that reason have supported special rules governing media ownership. With the proliferation of new ways to access the news it has been argued that such special regulations are no longer necessary. The committee reject this argument. They say that there has been no corresponding expansion in news gathering and investigative journalism and express concern about a lack of investment in specialist journalism. Much of the news available on the internet is repackaged from elsewhere and supplied by existing news providers.

The consolidation of ownership in the media that has taken place over the last years has added to the risk of disproportionate influence being exercised by a small number of companies and owners. In the UK the national newspaper industry is dominated by eight companies - with one company responsible for 35% of all national newspaper circulation. Four companies now control 70% of regional and local newspaper circulation. National television news is produced by only three companies; and in radio the BBC face competition from only two commercial news organisations that produce national news.

In order to ensure diversity of news provision the Committee propose strengthening the Public Interest Test for media mergers. Their recommendations include:

  • The impact of a merger on news gathering should be explicitly considered as part of the public interest test (para 243)
  • Ofcom should be given the power to initiate the public interest test so that it is not only ministers who can decide whether a media merger warrants a public interest investigation (para 261)
  • 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 (para 271).

The Committee also recommend that local cross-media mergers between radio and newspaper companies should be subject to the public interest test and so there would be no need for specific restrictions on cross-media mergers at a local level (para 289).

The committee say that they do not consider that ownership regulation and competition law alone is enough to ensure a range of voices and high quality news. The UK has the advantage of a system of public service broadcasting which must be preserved. The public service broadcasters have a world wide reputation for news gathering and provide a wide range of home and overseas news. The BBC occupies a pivotal position and it is vital that nothing should be done to diminish that role.

However the Committee believe that public service broadcasting should not be left to the BBC alone. The commercial public service broadcasters face particular problems as analogue switch-off approaches and the value of their analogue spectrum 'subsidy' diminishes. The Committee are concerned that commercial PSB may choose to abandon that role and instead compete directly with non-PSB. They propose both short term and longer term ways in which PSBs could be supported:

  • Any residual funds left over from the BBC's targeted help scheme should be used to support the commercial PSBs in the medium term (para 321).
  • The Government should encourage the BBC to share facilities with other public service broadcasters (para 324).
  • Ofcom should work to define more systematically "high-quality" news and should produce an annual report monitoring the quality and quantity of PSB news. A mechanism should be developed for holding companies responsible if their news falls short of quality thresholds (para 337).
  • 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. It should also develop a series of indicators against which to measure the resourcing of a news organisation and should report on this annually (para 341).

However the committee add that they are sceptical that top slicing the licence fee would be a sensible way forward. "The commercial public service broadcasters should not be supported at the expense of the ability of the BBC to do what it does best".

Lord Fowler, the chairman of the committee, commented:

"The news media is experiencing a period of unprecedented change. There is considerable uncertainty about the future. The newspaper industry is facing severe problems as readership levels fall; young people turn to other sources of news; and advertising moves to the internet. Even when newspapers run successful internet sites the value of the advertising they sell on these sites does not make up for the value lost. In television news the same trends are evident and audiences for news programmes have reduced.

"The result is that there has been consolidation of ownership and pressure on costs. Companies are having to make savings and this is having a particular impact on investment in news gathering and investigative and specialist journalism - including a reduction in foreign correspondents.

"Against this background it is important that every effort is made to ensure high quality news provision and a diversity of voices in the news. Media ownership controls remain in place to ensure that consolidation in the industry does not have an adverse impact on the public interest. But not everything can be achieved by media ownership controls. It is vital that the British system of public service broadcasting is protected and maintained."

On the relationship of the media with Parliament the Committee say that they had difficulty persuading some senior newspaper figures to give evidence to the committee and in one case met with outright refusal. The report states that "Newspapers themselves call for maximum openness and condemn secrecy and attempts at 'cover ups'. We do not believe that newspaper owners or editors should be able to hide behind a shield of privacy that their newspapers would not accept when dealing with members of the public".

Other proposals include:

  • The current situation whereby foreign companies can own UK broadcast licences but UK companies do not always have reciprocal rights abroad, 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. The Committee 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).
  • The Committee want to see greater parliamentary scrutiny of decisions about the BBC licence fee and call for the corporation to be placed on a statutory basis (para 363).
  • 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).

Notes to Editors

  1. The report, The Ownership of the News, is available from The Stationery Office, House of Lords Communications Committee, 1st Report of 2007/08, HL Paper 122.
  2. The report will be available online shortly after publication at
  3. The members of the House of Lords Communications Committee are:

Lord Fowler (Chairman)

Lord Inglewood

Baroness Bonham Carter of Yarnbury

Lord King of Bridgewater

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

Baroness Eccles of Moulton

Bishop of Manchester

Lord Grocott

Lord Maxton

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

Baroness Howe of Idlecote

For copies of the report, or to request an interview with Lord Fowler, please contact Owen Williams, Head of Press and Media, House of Lords, on 020 7219 8659.