Edinburgh Television Festival: Mellor attacks dominance of overseas media owners: Former cabinet minister warns against bigger share of ITV being held by newspaper barons

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The Independent Online
TOO MUCH of the British media belongs to foreign owners who care little for the country's long- term interest, David Mellor, former Secretary of State for National Heritage, told the closing session of the Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday.

In a thinly veiled attack on Rupert Murdoch and other overseas- based owners, Mr Mellor argued that there should be no relaxation in restrictions on newspaper publishers owning ITV licences.

He said: 'I cannot see any public interest whatsoever being served by increasing the newspaper barons' share of ITV. One of the great self-inflicted wounds of Britain in the 1980s has been to allow so many national newspapers to fall into the hands of foreign companies, who sometimes delight in demonstrating that they have no long-term interest in Britain and its well-being. It is no ornament to a mature democracy that so much of its media is in foreign hands . . . so it cannot be in the public interest that non-British/non-European companies increase their influence over the British media and television.'

Mr Mellor said 'no one in their right mind' would want to see another organ under News International control and that Margaret Thatcher's decision to allow the group to take 50 per cent of British Sky Broadcasting was 'with hindsight an unfortunate development' for the future of Britain.

The former cabinet minister is well regarded in the industry. He piloted the 1990 Broadcasting Act through Parliament, securing key amendments, and is credited with a shrewd understanding of the medium. His session yesterday on possible reform of the 1990 Act was attended by leading television figures, including Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, and Charles Allen, chief executive of Granada and LWT.

His proposed reforms include an easing of the rules to allow ITV companies to expand into satellite services and Channel 5. He believes a company should not be limited to two licences but instead should not be allowed to earn more than 25 per cent of all television advertising revenue.

Mr Mellor agreed with Mr Grade's plea on Sunday that the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission be abolished and that the ITC alone deal with viewers' complaints. But he did not want to see the ITC's remit widened to include the BBC - that was for the BBC's governors.

Although the 1990 Act, which led to the ITV franchise auction, was 'by no means flawless', it had guaranteed independent production access to the ITV network - independents provide 27 per cent of total programming hours and account for 36 per cent of the network budget - and had secured Channel 4's future.

TVS and TV-am, which both lost their franchises, would have been under pressure to hold on in the old regime as they were not exactly 'the finest flowerings in British civilisation'.

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