Leading Article: Keeping up with the barons

Share
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

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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition