Puttnam to chair media ownership committee

Puttnam: will head inquiry

Chariots of Fire film-maker Lord Puttnam is to head Parliament’s inquiry into demands that media ownership rules should be further relaxed.

The Labour peer will chair a joint committee of 12 MPs and peers who are to examine the draft communications bill.

Members include Lord Hussey of North Bradley. As Marmaduke Hussey the crossbench peer was chief executive of Times Newspapers from 1971- 1982 before becoming BBC chairman from 1986 to 1996.

Hussey previously worked with Associated Newspapers’ Harmsworth Publications where he was managing director and also worked for the Thomson Organisation.

But even as Lord Puttnam called this week for publishers, broadcasters and journalists to submit evidence, Media Secretary Tessa Jowell hinted she would resist pressure for further changes even if they are backed by the committee.

While Rupert Murdoch’s News International and other large news-paper owners will be free to buy into Channel 5, newspapers with 20 per cent of the national market will still be barred from holding a significant stake in national TV.

Similar rules will prevent regional newspapers taking over regional ITV companies. Tory Shadow Media Secretary Tim Yeo told the minister in the Commons that there should be no special regime for the media which should be subject only to competition law.

But Jowell said: "The media, more than any other industry, underpins our democracy." The rules, she said, "prevent a single owner from owning too large a share of the nation’s democratic debate".

The committee will meet twice a week and will make their recommendations by 7 August.

Ministers will respond by prod-ucing a main bill in November which could take a year to become law.

By David Rose

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