U.K. mulls tougher media plurality regs

News Corp. phone hacking scandal prompts change

The British government has signaled tougher regulations on media plurality in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at a News Intl. Sunday paper that killed parent News Corp.’s bid to own paybox BSkyB outright.

Media minister Jeremy Hunt, who was within days of approving the bid before it emerged that journalists from the now defunct News of the World had hacked the phone belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, told delegates at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention on Wednesday that regulator Ofcom will look at options for measuring media plurality in the converged era.

With papers operating websites and broadcasters providing online news, more accurate measurement systems are required for assessing plurality, the pol told an audience of communications industry high-flyers.

“I have today asked Ofcom to examine what the options are for measuring media plurality across platforms and recommend the best approach,” he said. “Ofcom’s research into this during the BSkyB/News Corp. merger process was a start. But further work is needed.”

In the future, he said that “media plurality should mirror competition policy” and that there’s a case for investigating congloms in terms of their impact on media plurality even when a corporate transaction is not taking place.

“In an age when consumers are moving freely from platform to platform, we should not be restricting media operators from developing products that can follow their customers from TV to Internet to smartphone to tablet,” Hunt added. “But by the same merit, we should measure their influence based on a sensible aggregation of consumer contact through those different types of media.”

During the row over News Corp.’s bid to buy the 61% of BSkyB it doesn’t already own, Hunt had asked the conglom to spin off its Sky News channel due to fears the takeover would limit the range of voices providing news in the country.

He said a balance should be struck between a dynamic media market and allowing any one group to be too dominant.