Brits stick to U.S. ownership plan

Officials stand by move to open TV market

LONDON — The British government has reaffirmed its pledge to allow U.S. companies to own U.K. terrestrial television networks under new, relaxed ownership rules.

Speaking today at a London media conference, culture secretary Tessa Jowell declared that “Britain was open to business” effectively ruling out any U-turn on the policy that is causing unease amongst parts of Blighty’s media establishment.

In recent days there has been speculation that the government is rethinking its plan to open up the British TV market to American ownership, but today Jowell stressed that she had no intention of reversing the plan outlined in the Communications Bill published in May.

“The policy in the bill was not arrived at lightly,” said Jowell. “We believe it is right for broadcasting, right for the public and right for the media industry.”

She pointed out that U.S. media firms such as AOL-Time Warner, owner of IPC Magazines, already employ thousands of people in the U.K., and argued that regulatory restrictions need to be dropped so that Britain was a place where businesses like the American giant can be even more successful.

“The benefit (for British TV networks) is more money coming into our media industry in order to fund a wider range of quality programming that will retain its unique British character because of stringent regulation,” Jowell added.

A cross-parliamentary group, chaired by filmmaker David Puttnam, which is examining the Communications Bill, is expected to raise doubts over the plan to allow U.S. companies to own U.K. TV webs outright without any reciprocal arrangements.

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