Ofcom: Local media ownership rules could be eased

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has recommended iberalising local cross-media ownership rukes as a way to combat the "significant economic challenges" faced by media businesses.

Launching a consultation today, Ofcom said it proposed removing local radio service ownership rules to allow one company to own the stations in a single designated area.

Ofcom is also proposing to allow media businesses greater freedom to own local TV stations, newspapers and radio stations.

A second consultation has also been launched on reforming the rules around commercial radio which could see companies share programmes locally.

Lord Carter's final Digital Britain report, published last month, asked Ofcom to consider the impact of current ownership rules on the long term sustainability of local media.

The watchdog said today even though consumers are increasingly using the internet as an alternative source of news, there was still strong reliance on television, newspapers and radio.

As a result of this reliance, and the economic challenges being faced by these industries, Ofcom recommended the ownership changes as part of its statutory three-year media ownership review.

Ofcom proposes to liberalise local ownership rules so the only restriction would be on a single company jointly owning local newspapers with 50 per cent of more of market share, a local radio station and a regional ITV licence in any designated area.

Ofcom said: "This liberalisation will increase the flexibility of local media to respond to market pressures. Consumers still rely on television, radio and press for news, so going further to complete removal of the rules could reduce protections for plurality."

The second consultation on radio ownership recommends commercial stations be allowed to share programming in return for owners agreeing to provide those services to the national digital audio broadcasting (DAB) multiplex, in effect creating a series of new national radio stations.

The watchdog said: "Commercial radio has been particularly hard hit by falling advertising revenues and yet audiences continue to value local commercial stations for their local programming.

"The central challenge for regulation is to secure the delivery of local radio content, while at the same time ensuring a viable commercial sector, able to adapt to the digital world."

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