Buoyant Mirror Group predicts overhaul of media ownership rules

David Montgomery, chief executive of Mirror Group (above), is confident that the Labour government will undertake a `major overhaul' of media ownership legislation before too long. And, as Cathy Newman reports, the company is hopeful of a better deal under the present Government than under the previous administration.
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After announcing a 12 per cent increase in profit before tax and exceptionals to pounds 43.7m for the half-year, Mr Montgomery said: "Before the turn of the century, possibly, there will be a major overhaul of media ownership rules. Some restrictions may be lifted."

In an attack on the Conservative's media policies, he added: "We don't expect any favours from the Labour administration, but we do believe there will be fairness in a way there wasn't with the Tory government."

Current media ownership legislation, enshrined in the 1996 Broadcasting Act, prevents newspaper groups such as Mirror Group that control 20 per cent or more of national newspaper circulation from owning terrestrial radio and television stations. Mirror Group could not, for example, take over Scottish Television, in which it has a 20 per cent stake, under the existing rules.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday that ministers had "no plans at present" to change the media ownership laws.

For the six months to the end of June, Mr Montgomery said profits had been helped by a "strong performance from our core newspapers". The relaunch of the group's flagship title, The Mirror, enabled the title to notch up a 0.5 per cent gain in market share against its main rival, the Sun, for the January to June period.

The Independent would enter into profit next year, Mr Montgomery said. Mirror has a 46 per cent stake in The Independent's owner, Newspaper Publishing. Operating losses at Newspaper Publishing fell by 32 per cent, compared with the same period last year.

Growth in advertising revenue also contributed to the profits improvement. Classified advertising was particularly strong, increasing by 24 per cent.

The interim dividend is 1.5p, up from 1.35p.

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