Rule-change urged on media ownership

HARRY ROCHE, chairman of the Guardian Media Group, yesterday pleaded for a swift change to the rules on cross-media ownership, which threaten 'to inhibit and perhaps damage fatally British newspaper companies in the coming years'.

He said a system of flexible regulation should be set up, to measure a dominant market position across all media sectors, rather than rule on segment by segment as exists currently.

Mr Roche was speaking at the Twenty First Century media conference organised by Marjorie Mowlam, Labour's heritage spokesman, to debate the information revolution of digital technology.

He said: 'I can say quite simply that if we are unable to change the current regulatory framework for media ownership in the UK - which is the most restrictive in Europe - Britain's major newspaper publishers will not be able to make a proper contribution to the investment required to keep Britain in the van of the technology revolution.'

The Guardian is part of the British Media Industry Group, which includes Associated Newspapers, Pearson and the Telegraph. They are lobbying for the freedom to expand into terrestrial television and radio, and follow Rupert Murdoch's example,instead of being constrained to 20 per cent shareholdings in broadcasters. Mr Roche told delegates that the current newspaper price-cutting wars were nothing 'compared with the battles to come around the world as newspapers, magazines, television, computers and telephone systems converge to become one entity'.