Newspapers press Brooke for free hand in ITV bids

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The Independent Online
THE plans by Peter Brooke, the Heritage Secretary, to ease takeovers among ITV companies have been thrown into confusion after lobbying by national newspaper owners.

The newspaper companies, including Mirror Group, Daily Mail & General Trust and The Telegraph, are pressing Mr Brooke to lift the restriction that prevents national newspapers from owning more than 20 per cent of a commercial TV company.

Mr Brooke's plans to reform the ownership rules governing ITV companies have already run into opposition from three of the big nine - Anglia, HTV and Meridian. At a meeting tomorrow with the chairmen of the 15 ITV companies to discuss changes in the ownership rules, he is expected to propose simply lifting the rule that prevents any of the nine largest companies taking each other over.

The intervention of the newspaper owners, however, brings added complications to the negotiations. Mr Brooke had hoped to complete the change of rules before the moratorium on takeovers of ITV companies ends in January, but the growing disagreements over his plans have hit the chances of meeting this deadline.

David Montgomery, chief executive of Mirror Group, has made no secret of his desire to become involved in television, and he wants the rule lifted before new technologies such as digital compression allow a multitude of stations to become available. 'Newspaper publishers and all media companies should be unrestricted in getting involved in the next stage of the development of TV,' Mr Montgomery said. 'Terrestrial TV is restricted to a cosy old boys' club of the BBC and the ITV companies and this restricts creativity.'

Lifting the rules could change the face of British television. The big newspaper groups dwarf most of the ITV firms and might have little financial difficulty in taking them over.