Jowell threatens tougher media laws if Murdoch takes control of Five

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The Independent Online

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, warned yesterday that if Rupert Murdoch took control of the TV channel Five she would introduce new rules to prevent him promoting his other media interests.

She said that in the event of Mr Murdoch, or another media baron, taking control of the public service broadcaster she would instruct the watchdog Ofcom to ensure they did not "abuse their position" and publicise their newspapers and other television channels.

Ms Jowell said: "We would, if it were necessary, ask Ofcom to look again at cross-promotion in order to ensure that a newspaper proprietor could not abuse their position through the advertising outlets of channel Five."

Murdoch's reported interest in the channel has provoked criticisms that the naturalised American already dominates the British media. As well as owning The Sun, News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers, the Australian-born entrepreneur has a large stake in Sky television.

The proposed changes to media ownership rules, introduced in the Government's Communications Bill, also allow for foreign ownership of ITV and will attract heated opposition in the House of Lords, which likely to start debating the proposals today. But the Culture Secretary claimed that allowing a large media group such as Mr Murdoch's News Corporation or the Daily Mail and General Trust to take over Five was "good and progressive". Ms Jowell said because Five had an audience share of only 6 per cent and covered only 80 per cent of the country, it was a "minority channel with a small viewing audience".

She said: "If channel Five becomes a serious competitor with ITV then we will tighten the obligations on channel Five in order to preserve its distinctive public broadcasting ethos." Accepting the possibility of an American take-over of ITV, Ms Jowell made a passionate defence of US media organisations, saying they were already doing a fine job in producing quality products for British audiences.

She noted that American companies already owned television channels broadcasting in Britain such as MTV and Nickelodeon and magazine groups including IPC and National Magazines, which owns the title Good Housekeeping.

"What is more quint-essentially British than Good Housekeeping?" asked Ms Jowell.

She said: "We live in a world where American dollars are already funding media that people like. Why do they like it? Because it's sympathetic with their values, their expectations what they want to buy when they turn on their televisions or when they go to the newsagents."

She said that the programmes that British broadcasters bought from America were "high quality stuff".

"It's popular, people watch it," she said. "There are some programmes of fantastic quality on American TV, The Sopranos, West Wing, ER and so forth."