Investigative reporting must be safeguarded

The House of Lords’ extensive consultation on media ownership has led to demands for future newspaper and broadcasting mergers to be vetoed if they harm news gathering.

A cross-party select committee is concerned that the onset of 24-hour news and online journalism has not been accompanied by a corresponding expansion in news gathering and investigative journalism.

As a result, peers have rejected industry calls for media ownership rules to be relaxed, and instead have called for the public interest test now applied to mergers to be amended to include a requirement to establish whether a merger ‘will impact adversely on news gathering”.

‘It is news gathering and investigative journalism that distinguishes a great news organisation,’the committee told the Government following an inquiry into media ownership and its impact on news presentation.

‘It is therefore clearly in the public interest that a media merger does not negatively impact in the amount of time and money devoted to this type of journalism.”

The House of Lords communications committee also called for media regulator Ofcom to be given a stronger role in newspaper mergers.

Committee chairman Lord Fowler said: ‘The newspaper industry is facing severe problems as readership levels fall.

‘The result is that there has been consolidation of ownership and pressure on costs. Companies are having to make savings and this is having a particular impact on investment in news gathering and investigative and specialist journalism, including a reduction in foreign correspondents.”

Telegraph chairman Aidan Barclay refused four times to appear before the committee.

The committee said: ‘We have a newspaper proprietor seeking to hide behind a shield of privacy that his newspapers would not accept for a minute.”

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