U.K. media warning

Professor tells Blighty to avoid U.S. dereg

LONDON — An academic in the U.S. has warned the U.K. government that pressing ahead with plans to liberalize broadcasting with U.S.-style deregulation would “lead to disaster.”

British-born Professor Michael Tracey, director of the U. of Colorado’s center for mass media research and former director of the British Broadcasting Research Unit, warned that relaxing ownership rules in the U.S. has allowed a “cartel” of 10 media giants to control virtually all media output.

“The evolution of American television into the current sorry state came in the wake of the kinds of deregulation which the British government is now proposing,” Tracey said in a 52-page report.

He argued that the U.K.’s proposals in the Communications Bill to allow U.S. ownership of a commercial network would cause the demise of documentaries and original drama, and would dumb down and erode journalistic values.

U.S. national news broadcasters ABC, CBS and NBC have cut commitments to overseas coverage and air more commercials, and sponsors of local TV news are given favorable treatment, he reported.

Backed by the Campaign for Quality Television and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, the report was presented to media secretary Tessa Jowell last month. The Department for Culture, Media & Sport said it did not plan to respond.

However, in a speech delivered Wednesday, Jowell said, “The media environment in the U.S. is different — it had always had fewer controls, and it has never had anything like our commitment to public service broadcasting. But U.S. companies operating here will have to match our quality standards… and accept our regulatory conditions.”

There is also a mounting backlash from the House of Lords, the government’s upper chamber, about deregulation issues. Earlier this week, film producer David Puttnam, broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and Planet 24 co-founder Waheed Alli, all members of the House of Lords, joined forces to call for public interest to be put above market demands.

Without this, Bragg said, Britain could mirror America where relaxed media regulation had led not to “wondrous benefits of unfettered capitalism” but to mega-corporations “obliterating” competitors.

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