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Tories slam communications bill

LONDON - The Conservatives have slammed the government's communications bill as it prepares to receive its second reading in the House.

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Tim Yeo, shadow secretary of state for media, says the bill fails to address the key issues.

"This is a timid little mouse of a bill which fails to address any of the key issues. The government should be giving an urgent lead on digital switchover and relaxation of ownership rules, for the benefit of the consumer and producers alike," he said.

Yeo argues the bill does neither and he hit out at its exclusion of the BBC from the proposed super communications watchdog Ofcom. He said the decision to exclude the BBC from Ofcom's remit was an irrational one, which would not stand the test of time.

"I am calling on ministers to amend this omission during the passage of the bill. I also invite them to support my bill, which will remove the current special ownership rules that uniquely restrict the media industry from responding to market conditions instead of allowing normal competition laws to operate," Yeo said.

Earlier this month, the Conservatives attacked current media legislation, saying that it was too strict. The party said it wanted to see the law changed to allow the formation of a single ITV company.

The Tories proposed a bill that would liberalise the competition laws, which would give ITV the chance to be served by one company and remove restrictions on the ownership of Channel 3 licences.

Yeo said of his party's bill: "Our bill allows the ITV network to be served by a single company, thus recognising that enough alternative channels now exist and enabling the existing companies to weather the downturn in advertising revenue."

In November, the government unveiled a consultation document as it prepared a review of communications laws. The government's proposals would not remove regulatory hurdles blocking News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch from buying a UK terrestrial station, but would allow the creation of a single ITV company.

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