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Tories propose dismantling media ownership rules

LONDON - The Conservatives plan to abolish local cross-media ownership rules and strip Ofcom of policy-making responsibilities, according to a report.

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The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt blames the commercial media industry's current crisis on "heavy-handed regulation".

"It is why no major international players have come forward to buy ITV and major US networks are not interested in investing in Britain," he told the Telegraph.

"They are driven away by the top-down, paternalistic regulations which are strangling our creative media industries. We will strip away the regulations."

Under the Tories, Ofcom would be reduced to making judgments in areas such as "decency, impartiality and taste".

Hunt will expand on his theme in a speech on Thursday, when he is due to address The Media Festival in Manchester.

Ofcom has been consulting the industry on proposals to relax local cross-media ownership rules so that the only remaining restriction is on ownership of local newspapers (with a 50% or more share of the local market); a local radio station; and the regional Channel 3 (ITV) licence.

It is unclear whether the Tory proposals would go further than this.

Hunt also spoke to Sky News yesterday on the subject of the BBC licence fee, signalling that if the Tories win the next election they will be tough in the next review of the fee in 2012.

"Times are very tough. We are not ruling out freezing the licence fee, or cutting it," he said.

He put the spotlight on the cost of the BBC's digital channels, BBC Three and BBC Four.

"The BBC needs to make a better case for investment in some of its new digital channels, which have very low audiences but do cost a lot of money. If we win the election, there will be discussions we will be having with the BBC."

The Tories may revisit the current Government's review of "crown jewels" sporting events which must be shown on free-to-air channels, which is likely to please Rupert Murdoch. Sky is set to lose out from the decision to put The Ashes on the list of protected events.

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