Tories promise change in TV regulation

Friday, November 20 2009, 12:57 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

The Conservative Party has pledged to introduce "massive reform" in regulation of the TV industry to usher in a new era of freedom for operators.

Speaking at the Media Festival in Manchester, shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said that his party would foster more "flexibility" in the TV sector should they win at the general election next year.

On Monday, Ofcom submitted a report to the government calling for a relaxation of the rules governing cross-media ownership so that companies can own multiple media platforms in a single area. However, Hunt said that he does not believe that goes far enough.

"The reason for regulation is to stop the emergence of local monopolies, to make sure people have choice, but we have to recognise these monopolies are much more fragile than before and regulation has to understand that," he said.

"We need a massive reform of the outdated regulatory framework. We need to allow media operators to own businesses on the same and different platform. We will go further than Ofcom has said."

Hunt labelled the government's Digital Britain report a "colossal disappointment" as it proposed "old world solutions for new world problems". He also said that the report would lead to broadcasters "competing for subsidies rather than content".

As the Tories want "a lot of different people to get involved" with news provision in the UK, Hunt discussed the prospect of the BBC's newsgathering operation being opened up to other operators.

"I have had discussions with [BBC director general] Mark Thompson in a number of areas and one of those is the subsidised use of the BBC News studios," he said.

"People are understandably cynical about the BBC's sharing proposals but if they could use [BBC facilities] for nothing, or a subsidised rate, it would be really helpful."

In terms of local news, Hunt claimed that the idea of a three-minute tag-on to national bulletins being able to satisfy public demand is "fundamentally patronising".

Instead, he backed greater support for local TV stations, such as Channel M in Manchester, to bring the UK in-line with a US-style TV model, where individual cities and towns often have their own dedicated TV station.

United for Local Television recently called on Ofcom to reserve spectrum during the digital switchover for local TV to be delivered on digital terrestrial television under a new Channel 6 brand.