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Freepress 131 leads with a critique of the Communications Bill...
It was classic New Labour spin. When the government published its response to the Puttnam report on the draft Communications Bill, Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell proudly said that, of the 148 recommendations, they agreed with 120 of them. She claimed, “A good bill has been made better. ”

We disagree. It is still a bad bill. There has been no movement on the key proposals which organisations like the CPBF have kicked up a stink about. Britain is on course to become a satellite of the US if the Communications Bill, just published by the government, gets an easy passage through parliament. By ignoring widespread public concern and relaxing media ownership rules the bill opens up UK TV and radio channels to the highest bidder, in particular to powerful US-based global media groups like Sumner Redstone ’s Viacom and AOL Time Warner. Rupert Murdoch will also get a piece of the action—the bill will enable him to take over Channel 5. It would also make it easier for other powerful US-based media groups to buy into UK newspapers, radio and TV. CPBF chair Julian Petley points out, “The Communications Bill is a product of the government ’s eagerness to sell off public services. We ’ve recently seen the disastrous results of market-driven policies on our railways. Now we ’ll have US media moguls deciding what we can read, watch and what information we receive. ” He predicts a dumbing down of broadcasting as commercial companies go for mass-produced programmes attracting big audiences and the most profits. The bill lets these companies completely off the hook, failing to stipulate the amount of special interest programmes, quality news, current affairs, education and entertainment material they must carry. At this rate the BBC will be left in a public service ghetto catering only for minority audiences. The government has ignored the concerns raised recently in the Puttnam report, as well as by a host of media campaigners, trade unions and community organisations - that programme quality, diversity and plurality should be protected. The bill is also a slap in the face for UK nations and regions whose media can now be swallowed up by foreign owners with no regard to social and cultural factors and no commitment to local production. The Scottish and Welsh assemblies have no voice, either, in the new super-regulator OFCOM. The bill provides for just 9 people on the OFCOM board, only slightly larger than that proposed in the original draft bill. The content board and consumer panel intended to work alongside OFCOM have no teeth and can only advise the regulator. We expect a groundswell of public anger against the Communications Bill when people realise what is at stake. “We will fight this bill to the last letter to stop Britain being landed with an ultra-commercial, US-style media system, ” Julian Petley said.

DATELINE: 24 January, 2010