U.K. House divided

Culture secretary to fight Lords on media bill

LONDON — While the U.S. has passed controversial laws to open up media ownership, Blighty culture secretary Tessa Jowell vowed Monday night to fight those in the House of Lords, the government’s upper chamber, who oppose similar moves in the U.K.

Members of the House of Lords gathered Tuesday to discuss the most controversial aspects of the Communications Bill. A majority opposes the relaxation of foreign-ownership rules, which would allow U.S. firms and others outside the European Union to acquire commercial broadcasters ITV or Five.

They also are against lifting the ban on newspaper proprietors owning terrestrial TV stations, the so-called Murdoch clause. This would open up the market to Rupert Murdoch’s News Intl., which owns four dominant U.K. newspapers including the Times and the Sun.

Leading opponents include filmmaker David Puttnam, who chaired a government committee that scrutinized the bill; respected author and TV presenter Melvyn Bragg; and TV exec Waheed Ali. Puttnam argues there is no evidence to prove that relaxing ownership rules would result in increased investment.

Different paths

Jowell is due to meet members of the House of Lords next week to discuss the bill before they cast their votes next month. It’s not clear whether ministers would use their parliamentary powers and huge majority in the lower house, the House of Commons, to force the bill through if the Lords reject it.

“I’m absolutely not going to speculate about circumstances which have not yet transpired. We’re having robust arguments about this,” Jowell told the Guardian newspaper.

Meanwhile, Granada and Carlton, ITV’s two biggest shareholders, met with the Competition Commission on Tuesday in a final bid to persuade the regulator to approve their merger.

The commission is considering forcing the pair to spin off both ad sales houses, since a merged entity would control more than 50% of the TV ad market.

Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt is expected to announce her decision in mid-July.