OPINION: Communications Bill Can Only Devalue British Broadcasting

Article excerpt

It has taken a little while, but the penny is now starting drop on just how damaging the government's draft Communications Bill could be for British broadcasting.

The proposed legislation - dubbed 'Murdoch's Law' by one journalist - would indeed allow News Corporation, whose interests include The Times, or BSkyB, to buy Channel 5, but not ITV.

But, while nothing can be ruled out, all the signs are that Bertelsmann, the owner of Channel 5, has no intention of selling. Equally, trying to buy Channel 5 does not seem to be a high priority for either News Corp or BSkyB.

And it is difficult to see how a change in ownership of a channel with few public service responsibilities could make a dramatic difference.

The real damage could be done by opening up ITV to foreign ownership - in particular making it possible for an American major to own all of ITV.

This development, a government 'decision' not a government proposal, as Tessa Jowell emphasised, is enormously good news for Carlton shareholders.

Instead of having to surrender to Granada when the time comes, there is now an international market for the company. Fresh from its ITV Digital triumphs, Carlton has been handed a get-out-of-jail card worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

It is difficult to see how anyone else will benefit.

The real oddity is that the government should have been so determined to open up the heart of Britain's commercial system to foreign ownership without any reciprocity. The Americans can come into the UK, but they have no intention of allowing British companies to own US broadcasting licences. …