Ofcom calls for easing of local press ownership rules

Regional media ownership rules should be relaxed to ensure the survival of local press, radio and television news, the Government was told today.

Communications regulator Ofcom joined the growing chorus for liberalisation to boost regional outlets battling a slump in advertising.

It said in its report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport:

“We have found that even though consumers are increasingly using the internet as an alternative source of news, there is still strong reliance on television, newspapers and radio. However, these industries are facing significant economic changes.

“These are most acute in local media. Some relaxation of the local ownership rules will benefit citizens and consumers by helping to ensure that local content continues to be commercially provided.”

Ofcom recommended liberalising local cross-media ownership rules so that the only restrictions were in owning all three of: local newspapers with more than a 50 per cent market share, a local radio station and the ITV licence for the area.

It also called for the removal of the rules governing ownership of local radio services and digital audio broadcasting (DAB) multiplexes.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “These proposals would allow local media companies more flexibility to respond to the challenges that they are facing while at the same time protecting plurality for listeners and viewers; it is for Government and Parliament to take any decisions in this area.”

The Ofcom report said its recommendations could help “maintain local content, by increasing flexibility for media companies”.

It added: “They would reduce the regulatory burden on the local media sector and the radio industry in particular. Consumers still rely on television, radio and press for news, so complete removal of the local cross media ownership rules could reduce protection for plurality.”

Ofcom’s report was released after the Tories revealed plans for a “big bang” deregulation of local media ownership to revive regional newspapers and television.

Ofcom’s recommendations were based on its analyses of the local media sector published in September.

Ofcom reviews media ownership rules to report to the Government every three years. Its last report was in November 2006.

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