Ofcom to examine regional media ownership

The communications regulator has been asked to consider the effects of further relaxation of regional media ownership rules, it announced today.

Ofcom has already recommended liberalising ownership rules so the only remaining restriction prevented one body owning all three of: local newspapers with more than a 50% market share, a local radio station and the ITV licence for the area.

But Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked Ofcom to look at the effect of removing that as well.

In its response, Ofcom said local media was facing "significant economic pressure" and removing the remaining restriction "could allow local media greater options to consolidate to respond to these pressures".

But it added that a "serious consideration" remained that combined ownership could give too much control over the local news agenda to one person or company.

The regulator admitted "it is also worth noting that there is probably a reasonably low risk of the kind of consolidation that the remaining rule protects against actually occurring even if the rule was removed."

There has been a growing chorus for liberalisation to boost regional outlets battling a slump in advertising

Before the election, the Conservatives promised to sweep away cross-media ownership rules to provide tougher competition for the BBC and give commercial operators more chance of survival.