Media concentration and diversity
Concern for concentration of media ownership, and devising rules to deal with it to lessen perceived threats to the public interest, have been longrunning themes in UK competition policy.
In contrast to the treatment of mergers in industry at large, the Fair Trading Act 1973 contains specific interpretations of the public interest in newspaper cases: such mergers have been subject to automatic referrals to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) since 1973. In May 1995, the Government’s White Paper on Media Ownership concluded that ‘to preserve the diversity of the broadcast and press media in the UK’, there is a ‘continuing case for specific regulations governing Media Ownership beyond those which are applied by the general competition law’ while proposing some liberalization of existing ownership rules ‘both within and across different media sectors’ in the context of extended regulation. The Government is contemplating abolishing ‘the existing structure of detailed rules’, substituting a set of triggers on ownership levels in the ‘media market’ as a whole, and sector triggers, which when actually or prospectively exceeded would mean the merger would be ‘subject to approval by an independent media regulator’ to determine ‘the public interest’.2 Thus, ‘in the long term’ the special treatment of newspaper mergers in UK law would be extended, in modified form, to other media. A separate Quango might be established alongside the other ‘UK authorities’, or incorporated in them.