Labour is calling for an “emergency” amendment to the law in relation to media takeovers to give ministers greater power to intervene, following News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.
According to an announcement by the party on Sunday (28 August) it hopes to “close legal loopholes” identified during News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB, before the conclusion of the Leveson inquiry. News Corporation eventually withdrew its bid as phone hacking allegations continued to be mounted against its now-closed News of the World title.
Under the proposed amendments to Section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002, outlined by shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis in a letter to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, ministers would be given powers to ask regulators to apply “a wide ranging public interest test as well as a fit and proper person test”, from the start.
The changes also call for ministers to be able to intervene at any stage “if new information came to light”. Lewis will put these proposed measures before both the House of Commons and House of Lords when the summer recess ends in less than a week.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has reportedly said he will consider the introduction of “new provisions in respect of media plurality” in a new Communications Bill, following calls for quasi-judicial roles to be removed from ministers in media ownership decisions.
The Guardian reports today that shadow culture minister Ivan Lewis wrote to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this year with a series of questions relating to News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.
At the end of his letter Lewis asked the culture secretary if he would consider provisions in the new Communications Bill for the removal of politicians from having any quasi-judicial role “in relation to specific plurality and cross media ownership decisions”.
In a response, which appears to have been posted on Scribd by the Guardian, Hunt reportedly says he will be considering new provisions.
I will be publishing a green paper by the end of the year and seeking views this year in order to scope what it should include.
Following the green paper consultation we will look to make necessary changes as soon as practicable; not everything will necessarily require primary legislation and we are open to looking at what can be done more quickly where appropriate.
The correspondence comes as News Corp’s bid for full ownership of BSkyB is considered, following the acceptance by Hunt of proposals put forward by News Corp in response to concerns raised over media plurality.
This included the spinning-off of Sky News under a separate publicly limited company called Newco.
The Guardian says a decision on the deal is expected “possible as early as next week”.