MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Blair must end his passive stance on media ownership

Newspapers make depressing reading at the moment. We've seen

leading media owners across the board announcing downturns in

advertising and in the Financial Times this week a headline screamed

that ITV is to suffer its worst advertising slump since commercial TV

was first introduced.

While you can't help wondering if all the grim announcements are in

themselves becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, there is no doubt that

times are tough and everyone is looking at ways to boost income.

So news of a leaked letter from Granada's chief executive, Charles

Allen, a co-owner of ONdigital, to Tony Blair saying that the digital

service faces closure if cross-media ownership restrictions are not

relaxed soon, and that Granada is increasingly at risk of being taken

over by an overseas investor, seems a rum affair.

ONdigital, which is soon to be relaunched, is already having its every

move scrutinised by a sceptical City. Allen's letter, which he sent

early last week after hearing that the Queen's speech would reveal the

Government did not plan a communications bill in the near future, seems

to be self-imploding dynamite in these testing times. And it seems

Carlton is none too happy with this move.

Of course, the story behind the story is that Allen didn't reckon on

those government leaks - despite leaks being its particular forte. It

was clearly not a letter he intended for the public eye, but a desperate

plea to the Government to rethink its policy on digital TV. Although

Allen acknowledges that Blair had planned to put back media ownership

rules before the Queen's speech, desperate times clearly call for

desperate measures.

The leak has led to Granada's share price being eroded even further and

the cracks are now revealed to all. But you can't help being sympathetic

to ONdigital, even though you wonder if Allen believes that this kind of

foot-stamping is going to be acknowledged or drive the Government to do


The Government's inability to name a D-Day for analogue switch-off is

muddying the waters for companies, and while the key players should

stick their hands in their wallets to drive forward a strong consumer

awareness campaign, the Government should also take responsibility for

educating consumers.

There is also the issue of why cross-media ownership is being held up by

the Government, and in this sense I'm referring to companies outside of

ITV. After all, since ITV has been allowed to consolidate to two and

dominate the commercial terrestrial TV landscape, why shouldn't

companies with interests in, say, radio and newspapers be allowed to

consolidate their presence? The Government may be playing a careful game

to try and keep all parties happy, but ultimately its passivity is more

likely to irritate than placate.