U.K. media regulator starts consultation

LONDON — U.K. regulator Ofcom has invited submissions to inform its examination of methods to measure media plurality in the wake of the controversy over News Corp.’s abortive attempt to own paybox BSkyB outright.

The watchdog has given interested parties until Nov. 18 to respond.

Move comes after media minister Jeremy Hunt said last month that he wanted Ofcom to assess how practical it would be to set limits on U.K. media ownership.

Ofcom said that questions for comment include:

• What are the options for measuring media plurality across platforms?

• Is it practical or advisable to set absolute limits on news market share?

• What could trigger a review of plurality in the absence of a merger?

• And how might this be monitored and by whom?

It also wants to hear comments on whether the examination of media plurality should include the BBC, a point certain to be of interest to News Corp., given the BBC’s pole position in broadcast news consumption in the U.K.

The regulator’s findings will be given as evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, set up by British Prime Minister David Cameron following the summer’s revelations about the News of the World phone hacking and police corruption scandal.

Media plurality is notoriously hard to measure with any degree of precision, but in order to protect media plurality it was agreed between News Corp. and U.K. policy makers that news web Sky News would be hived off as a condition of the Murdoch-owned company having 100% ownership of BSkyB.

But that deal was derailed by public opinion when the extent of illegal phone tapping at the Murdoch-owned tabloid emerged in July.

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