Tory warning over TV 'stranglehold'

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Media Correspondent

A former member of John Major's Downing Street policy unit has warned that the explosion in television channels will be meaningless unless the Government guarantees rival broadcasters access to delivery systems.

In a pamphlet of essays on cross-media ownership published by the BBC this week, Damian Green argues that a single operator, such as Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, could gain a stranglehold on access to the new digital channels if there was no legislation to prevent monopoly control over the digital gateway - the decoders viewers need to watch subscription services.

Through its pioneering efforts in developing a pay system that works, BSkyB already enjoys an effective monopoly over encryption technology.

Mr Green, prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ashford in Kent, agrees with the government proposals for a licensing system for the 18 new digital terrestrial television channels. Run by Oftel, this would prevent any provider of encryption or subscription services from discriminating for or against service providers.

In another essay, Tim Congdon, one of the Treasury's panel of independent advisers (the "wise men"), warns that market solutions are not sufficient to ensure cultural diversity and political pluralism.

"The determinants of maximum profits are on a differnet plane from the preconditions of healthy political debate," he writes.

He adds that as television fragments, he believes the need for a public service broadcaster will grow.

nBBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, yesterday announced the creation of a new division, BBC Worldwide Learning, to capitalise on the rapidly expanding market for educational services.