View from City Road: Fresh vision needed on media regulation

Peter Brooke, the National Heritage Secretary, ought to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and ask himself how he would regulate the media industry if he were starting from scratch.

And he could do worse than considering the problem in the round - cross-media ownership, ITV ownership, local radio regulation, and the BBC's charter, which expires in 1996. At present, each issue is being looked at in isolation, which makes little sense in an era when Rupert Murdoch is busy building a digital highway in the sky and BT is plotting to offer quasi-television services on the telephone line.

The simplest answer would be a minimalist approach. It is ironic that after 14 years of Conservative government, the media industry in the UK labours under more complex and nonsensical regulation than any of the former national monopolies.

The great ITV debate ought to be solved by sweeping away all controls on ownership; the 'local' element of national broadcasting can best be protected by specific rules about programme sourcing and content. The same should apply to local radio.

What sense is there in a regulatory structure that forbids a group like Emap from owning a national newspaper and local radio stations, but allows a company like News International to have BSkyB, the satellite channel, plus a goodly chunk of Fleet Street?

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