HC Deb 22 February 1993 vol 219 cc667-8
7. Mr. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received on the question of cross-media ownership.

Mr. Brooke

This and other ownership issues are raised at meetings with broadcasters and in letters from hon. Members and the public. However, there is no agreement about what, if anything, needs to be changed.

Mr. Bennett

I am sure that the Minister would agree that free and well-dispersed media in this country are essential if we are to maintain freedom of speech. Can he therefore explain why the ownership of the electronic media—radio and television—is subject to control while no restraints are imposed on the accumulation of newspapers by certain owners? Can he tell me how much of both media is now owned by Rupert Murdoch?

Mr. Brooke

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government should pay attention to the matters he raises. He will be aware of the remarks of Sir David Calcutt regarding the regulation of the electronic media. The matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised were widely debated when the House considered the Broadcasting Act 1990. He will also be aware that the President of the Board of Trade has certain powers in relation to the ownership of newspapers. For the time being, we shall leave matters as they are and allow the Broadcasting Act to settle down.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my right hon. Friend accept that cross-media ownership of newspapers and the electronic media occurs in France and Italy? Does he accept that if Britain and the English-speaking world are to compete adequately with those conglomerates, we must have strength in our own media?

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend has done the House a service by referring to the international dimension of the issue. I repeat the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).

Mrs. Clwyd

Surely, despite what the right hon. Gentleman has said, he would agree that pluralistic press media are at the heart of what is meant by a democratic society. Does he agree that when one man can own three weekday newspapers and two Sunday newspapers, as well as a 50 per cent. stake in BSkyB, that is a totally unacceptable concentration of media ownership? When will he face up to this issue and take some action, or is he simply afraid of Mr. Rupert Murdoch?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Lady used the word "unacceptable" as the justification for her argument. As I have already said, we keep these matters under review and I do not believe that that adjective can be justified at this time.