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Murdoch expansion to be thwarted by new UK media laws

LONDON - Rupert Murdoch will see his plans for future expansion into UK television thwarted by new media legislation, which will prevent him buying more than 20% of ITV or Channel 5.

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The upcoming and much-awaited communications bill will continue to bar newspapers owners who own more than 20% of the UK market from buying more than 20% of a national free-to-air broadcaster, according to the Financial Times.

The government is concerned about newspapers getting together with TV owners because of the need for editorial independence.

Murdoch's News Corporation owns News International, publisher of The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World, as well as 37% of BSkyB. He is reported to have been trying to break into UK terrestrial broadcasting for some time, through either a stake in ITV or Channel 5.

However, the government is being tipped to allow expansion into radio above the 20% threshold, but this is unlikely to appease Murdoch who has had little time for the medium in his empire, which is dominated by newspapers, television and film.

The communications bill is thought to be almost ready and will be published by the government after Thursday's local elections.

The communications bill will also pave the way for the creation of a single ITV company by lifting the ceiling on broadcasting ownership limits, which are currently preventing the creation of a single ITV company. This would allow a merger of Granada and Carlton Communications.

The government is also expected to retain the rule that disbars ownership of ITV companies by non-EU firms.

Recent reports suggest that the government is considering drawing up a list of key media properties, of which a single company would only be allowed to own five, regardless of whether they are newspapers, TV or radio stations.

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