Ofcom to examine plight of local newspaper industry

The crisis confronting newspapers will be examined by media regulator Ofcom, incoming chairman Colette Bowe assured MPs today.

Bowe, who succeeds Lord Currie as chairman of Ofcom in March, was pressed by MPs as to whether the media regulator was concerned about recent newspaper closures and the loss of journalists’ jobs.

She told them: ‘We are looking at the markets for the delivery of local news and in particular it would be extremely foolish of us to ignore the position of local newspapers.”

But she emphasised: ‘Our powers in the sector of newspapers are limited. Our remit is primarily about the broadcasting side but it would be foolish of us to think about that in a silo without thinking about local papers as well.”

Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle said newspaper closures meant there was now no competition for local news in many towns.

Bowe was summoned by the media and business select committees to be questioned about how she would discharge her responsibilities when she succeeds Lord Currie.

She surprised MPs by declining to answer questions about public service broadcasting by saying the Ofcom board was meeting at that very moment to finalise its proposals.

‘I’m afraid I cannot pre-empt that document,’she said. ‘I cannot talk about any issues that are market sensitive.

‘As soon as we can, I would very much like to come back and talk to you about that, but I’m afraid at this moment I can’t be at all precise.”

MPs had wanted to question her about the future funding of public service broadcasting and the job losses in ITV regional news.

Bowe said: ‘I think it is a very difficult moment for public service broadcasting. Ofcom is due to make a considered statement on its proposals on public service broadcasting quite shortly.”

John Whittingdale, chairman of the media select committee, asked whether she would be asking the government for a new communications bill.

She said she thought it would be ‘rather presumptoous’of her ‘to walk in at this stage of my tenure and say we’re looking for a new communications bill”.

Bowe rejected a suggestion from MPs that she should set recession-hit Britain an example by taking a pay cut in her £200,000-a-year salary to chair the Ofcom board three days a week.

Tory MP Nigel Evans suggested that Bowe, who has a number of non-executive directorships at other companies, should concentrate on the Ofcom job and nothing else.

Linsday Hoyle, supporting him, said that instead of spending three days a week she should be working five days and suggested she voluntarily agree to have her salary reduced.

‘You don’t have to take such a big salary,’he said. ‘Everybody’s feeling the pinch. In the end it’s only a part-time position.

‘I think it would be a great gesture if you where to take less. You’re not exactly struggling at the moment.”

Bowe told MPs that if they were concerned about the salary that they should raise the matter with ministers.

She said she would spend 60 per cent of her time at Ofcom but said the role at the media regulator ‘will be my primary role”.

‘Other things I do currently will take two days a week,’she said. ‘Ofcom is my primary focus and will continue to be so.

‘If I believe at any point that more time needs to be given to it then Ofcom will be given more time.”

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