Comms Bill under attack in the Lords

The largest shareholder in struggling advertising group Cordiant Communications has demanded crisis talks to avert a sell off of the company.

Puttnam: last-ditch attempt

Major areas of the draft Communications Bill have been attacked from all sides this week during its final committee hearings in the House of Lords.

On Tuesday, Lord Puttnam tabled a new amendment to the bill that would prompt an automatic investigation, through the auspices of new super-regulator Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading, if a large media company suggested a takeover of another group.

The amendment by the former film producer has been seen as a last-ditch attempt to add safeguards to the bill, restricting any move by Rupert Murdoch, or other interested party or organisation, in a bid for Five or ITV.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of peers called for the bill's proposal to cap the shareholder ownership of ITN at 40% to be lifted.

Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat spokeman in the House of Lords, said: "BBC and Sky News are successful because they're well-resourced and integral parts of the parent broadcasters' overall service.

"ITN has a proud record as an innovator and pace setter in high quality broadcast news. It is essential that it should emerge from the present regulatory shake-up with the opportunity to continue to build on that record - thus ensuring quality and diversity in the provision of televised news."

The reporting stage of the bill begins in two weeks' time, during which peers will vote on the amendments put forward during the hearings that have been taking place since the beginning of May.

The bill will then be sent back to the House of Commons for final approval, before an expected sign-off date before Parliament recesses for the summer.

A senior Lib Dem insider this week said a large number of peers across the political spectrum "firmly believed" major concesssions could be obtained from the government over both the ITN and Five ownership issues.