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U.K. panel: Yankees stay home

Puttnam-led committee opposes U.S. ownership of nets

LONDON — A parliamentary panel chaired by ex-film producer David Puttnam has come out against a U.K. plan to allow U.S. companies to buy British TV stations.

But the committee’s advice is likely to be ignored by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor government, which is determined to lift ownership restrictions based on nationality.

The Puttnam committee’s opposition was widely leaked before Wednesday’s publication of its report on the Communications Bill.

The tone of its objections proved to be relatively mild. The proposed regulation was based on unproven expectations, said the report. It recommended that the decision be left to the Office of Communications, the new super-regulator that will police the U.K.’s broadcasting and telecoms sector in the years ahead.

The Puttnam committee declared its concern that U.S. ownership would erode the British identity of local webs.

Retaining Brit focus

“We would not wish to characterize this as ‘dumping’; rather, what is more likely is a determined and sophisticated attempt — backed by enormous marketing expense — to shift the balance of regulatory expectations away from domestic content produced primarily with a British audience in mind towards a more internationally focused product mix,” said the report.

A U.S. media company in the U.K., the report’s authors added, would be as interested in increasing the value of domestic content as in the return of its investment in the British market.

At the press conference to unveil the report, Puttnam, a member of the House of Lords, said that any takeover of British webs by American companies must increase programming investment, create jobs and avoid reducing competition as well as the plurality and diversity of U.K. media.

He denied that the government had already decided to reject the committee’s recommendations.

Government ministers have repeatedly argued, however, that since European companies are already allowed to own U.K. webs, it makes no sense to exclude non-European players.

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