Leading Article: Keeping up with the barons

Related Topics
Free countries should be fractious places. Newspapers, television channels, magazines, electronic information services are there to amplify the arguments - in short, to cause more trouble. This newspaper was founded precisely because the great media warlords of print and screen cause too little trouble in the bear garden of ideas.

Stephen Dorrell's proposals to overhaul the rules governing how newspaper and television companies can own shares of the each other's markets suggest that the Government takes seriously the need for more trouble. It has recognised that the present system isn't delivering sufficient competition and that it is needlessly complex and arbitrary. To move towards a system which assesses competition policy across the whole media market, rather than within its subdivisions of print and broadcasting, must be sensible. Confining the large players at roughly their present shares, while encouraging smaller firms to grow across several different media, also feels right. Mr Dorrell's new simpler thresholds for market share should be workable.

Strangely the BBC has been left alone, on the grounds that government already, in a sense, oversees it. That a state-owned dominant player should be thought less threatening to competition than a private one is a conceit rich in irony and one that will not last for ever.

Most important, though, ministers must now keep their nerve. At the weekend Rupert Murdoch openly defied the Government to enforce any set of thresholds. His tired and emotional reaction to the proposals yesterday merits no sympathy. Mr Dorrell should ignore him.

Mr Dorrell must also decide soon who the main media competition troubleshooter will be and what powers he or she will have. There is logic in empowering a single regulator, but the crucial thing is that the relevant authority must be able to act quickly, effectively and transparently.

The immediate verdict on the whitish-green paper is therefore broadly positive, but if we are to avoid problems in the medium term the Government will have to be still bolder. It does not seem from yesterday's announcement that it has learnt sufficiently from its previous regulatory efforts about the need to keep ahead of media technology. Mr Murdoch stole a march in setting up what is now BSkyB precisely because the 1990 Broadcasting Act left the upper atmosphere outside the ownership rules. Such loopholes can be fatal for competition. Mr Dorrell's paper has bought its ticket for the new world in which multimedia blur the boundaries between text, sound and moving picture - but it hasn't actually gone to the show.

The central problem of defining these new media markets, and developing relevant ways of measuring the share of particular firms in them, has been shelved - probably for a future government to deal with. This is an understandable reaction to complexity, but it ignores the fact that media technology moves more rapidly than parliamentary draughtsmen. If Mr Murdoch flutters his eyelashes at Microsoft's Bill Gates and their affair gives birth to a global on-line multimedia information service, the regulator (and the public) will face yet another media baron fait accompli.

Only if the Government tackles this subject is there a realistic chance that the next Broadcasting Act will have a longer life than its unhappy predecessor, which was obsolete within three years of its passage through parliament.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power