Letter: Who owns the media is not the issue

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The Independent Online
Sir: By focusing on ownership rather than regulation, the Government's new media review ('Let the feeding frenzy commence', 12 January) is stirring up a lot of excitement about the wrong issue.

Frank Barlow (managing director of the Pearson Group) couldn't be more wrong when he asserts that 'Television is a natural extension of newspapers . . .' Today's newspapers and today's television are both 'one-way' or 'broadcast' media. Control of broadcast content is restricted to a few powerful companies because of the high capital cost of setting up or acquiring the production and distribution capacity and (in the case of TV) a licence to broadcast.

But television is about to become a two-way medium, as cable TV and telephony and other technological developments will enable the viewer to 'talk back' and, shortly, to 'broadcast back'. The capital cost of creating and sending TV 'programmes' will soon be within the reach of many people, as computer and television technologies start to merge. The channel capacity of telephone networks is being expanded to enable any of us to send our 'programmes' to anyone else.

Mary Fagan, in the same edition ('Cable TV companies take the fight to BT'), reports the aim of cable industry to combine the 'delivery of entertainment, telephony and information services'. If we get the regulation right, the services concerned will soon become two-way services and will include the ability to send as well as to receive TV signals.

The main issue in all this is regulation, not ownership. I don't mind who owns the services that I use to send and receive entertainment, telephony and information services, but I do mind if lack of the right debate on regulation means, for example, that Rupert Murdoch gains a broadcasting licence and can therefore broadcast to all and sundry, while I as a citizen can only 'narrowcast', sending messages to just one or two people at a time. When the capital cost of the means of production is high, then the high capital cost of gaining a licence is an issue only among those who can afford to produce. When we can all afford to be producers, should wealth and political clout be the factors determining who is allowed to broadcast?

The main debate on regulation should focus on where the technology is taking us, where we would like to be, and the right way to get there. Whether or not Mr Murdoch and his competitors should be allowed to own TV franchises needs to be seen for what it is - just a small, short-term issue en route to a very different meaning to the term 'media'.

Yours faithfully,

HORACE MITCHELL

Chairman, Management

Technology Associates

Newbury,

Berkshire

12 January

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