The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR STUART MACINTOSH (sworn). DR STEVEN WILLIAM UNGER (sworn).

  • May I ask each you your full names, please?

  • Steven William Unger.

  • Thank you very much. You are speaking jointly to a paper which Ofcom produced in answer to questions posed to Ofcom by the Secretary of State published on 19 June 2012, starting at our page 00526. Do you attest to the truth of the facts and opinions set out in?

  • Thank you very much indeed for this very thorough piece of work. As you can appreciate -- and doubtless it was also in the mind of the Secretary of State when he asked you to do it -- aspects of it touched very much on the terms of reference which I have to address. So I'm grateful to you both.

  • Mr Macintosh, first of all, you are an executive member of Ofcom's board?

  • That's correct, yes.

  • And Dr Unger, you are group director responsible for Ofcom's strategic approach to communications regulation, which includes leading the executive work on media plurality; is that correct?

  • So although this report may include the work of others, you have each contributed to it; is that correct?

  • Thank you. Now, as I indicated first of all, the Secretary of State in October last year asked you to address five questions relating to media plurality, and that is what you've done. In the executive summary, you supply us with the answers, but I think it's going to be more helpful to us if we move to the introduction, which is section 2, 00532, because some of the concepts will be unfamiliar to many of us.

    The five questions the Secretary of State asked are paragraph 2.1 at 00532. These presumably were very reasonable and appropriate questions; is that fair?

  • Yes. There are roads from earlier consideration of the public interest test, which was a question that the Secretary of State had put to us at the time of News Corp's proposed acquisition of Sky.

  • So it really flowed from your report, which you call the public interest report. That was, as you say, prepared in the context of the Secretary of State's intervention notice following News Corp's bid for the remaining publicly owned shares in BSkyB. The report, I think -- the BIT report -- was published in June of last year; is that correct?

  • The public interest test report was published in December of 2010.

  • We provided it to the Secretary of State on 31 December. I can't -- I think it may be that the publication was at the point where he made his final decision, which would have been somewhat later.

  • There were two stages. The first stage was whether there was an issue worthy of consideration by the Competition Commission at the end of December 2010. You decided that there was. The second report of June 2011 was your assessment of the adequacy of the undertakings in lieu and you, having considered them, were of the conclusion that they did meet the plurality concerns which you'd earlier identified; is that a reasonable summary?

  • That's right. There was also an intervening report on an early set of undertakings which didn't meet our concerns.

  • Thank you. Can I ask you, please, to explain your methodology, section 2.7, page 00533. The four basic concepts there starting with goals and scope of plurality.

  • In very general terms, we felt it was important that before we answered the specific questions we understood what was the underlying purpose of any plural regime. That was what the discussion about goals and scope was about. What we were trying to achieve was the scope of the regulation that might achieve that.

  • Market context?

  • That was understanding, both on the supply side and the demand side, what was the structure of the market. So there we commissioned consumer research to understand consumers' preference for different types of news and we commissioned a study into ways which news was supplied.

  • "International case studies" -- that's probably self-explanatory, as indeed "review of academic thinking". You make it clear that during this process of considering your answers to the Secretary of State's questions, you put the matter out to consultation, as it were. You issued an invitation to comment, presumably on the basis of that being standard practice in this sort of domain. You've explained that you received a significant number of responses from the sort of entities whom you might expect to respond, including -- all the non-confidential ones were put on your websites. Can I ask you, please, for your approach, paragraph 2.12, and the four principles which you set out there. The principles obviously made good common sense but did you apply them simply because they were good common sense or did you get them from somewhere else?

  • They partially come from our own duties, particularly around proportionality. So I think it was also in recognition that in reaching our set of conclusion we were often trading off different factors against each other and that there needed to be some set of guiding principles in making those trades.

  • Thank you. Section 3, "Why media plurality matters". The public policy goals, 3.2:

    "... not a goal in itself but a means to an end."

    Can I invite you, please, to develop that point?

  • Well, based on the research which we did in the context of this and our own related work, it does seem to be fairly clear that in order for there to be an informed democratic process and debate, it's very important that the public and participants more generally have access to news and information on current topics and events. There is, in a sense, no single truth in relation to events and circumstances and it's thus therefore important that there is some diversity in the sources of news and information and opinion that are available to the public if they're going to be able to interpret and understand what is going on and contribute to that democratic debate.

    So I think the reason why plurality matters is largely grounded in that. There is a related question as to ensuring that no one voice in particular dominates the information going to the public, which is a secondary concern.

  • Is it one voice or is it a restricted number of voices?

  • It's probably more a restricted number than one single voice. I mean, ideally one would like to see a diversity and arguably the more, the better.

    As we discuss in the report later on, however, in different media and different platforms, there may be economic constraints on the extent to which it may be possible to sustain a large number of different voices. But all other things equal, the more voices, the better.

  • When you're considering these issues, were you simply doing so from the perspective of diverse opinion being available to the public or were you also taking into account the power that might accrue to one or more voices, even if there are a large number, if they are, as it were, Gullivers as opposed to Lilluputians in the market?

  • Yes. We were very conscious of both considerations and in point 3.5 of the introduction, I think we make reference to the fact our concerns were about informed citizens, which is making sure that there is supply and that the supply is diverse, and making sure that no one owner or collection of owners is able to have an undue influence.

  • We know as a matter of policy, because Parliament has so said, that there's a difference between the idea of competition and the idea of plurality, but can you encapsulate that difference for us, please?

  • Competition is essentially to do with ensuring that there's no one party in a position where they have economic power, and the way that that is traditionally approached in the competitions sphere is that entity having the ability to act independently of their customers and their competitors. A simple translation of that is that they can raise the price and increase their profitability without fear of losing customers.

  • Or reduce the price to drive competition away.

  • Or reduce the price to drive competition away. It can work on both sides of the market. Plurality is a different concern because it's not so much acting independently of customers in that sense. If an individual party has a very powerful and loud voice, the economic disciplines which might act in a competitive market do not necessarily come into play in a media plurality consideration.

  • So just to provide a bit of texture to it, you'd be concerned with competition in supermarkets, but one tin of baked beans sold by one supermarket is very much like the same tin of baked beans sold by a different supermarket, so it's a competition issue?

  • But for the media it would absolutely focus on plurality?

  • Yes, I think that's correct. That's not to say there aren't competition issues --

  • No, I agree, and as I used the word "absolutely" I thought: no, that goes too far.

  • Yes. Well, the competition issue in the BSkyB bid was dealt with very quickly by Brussels?

  • The difference, please, between external plurality -- well, I think that's a concept we can understand, but internal plurality, that may be a slightly more difficult one. Could you help us with that idea?

  • Internal plurality is the notion that you may have a particular news medium which chooses to provide opportunities for a variety of different parties to portray their perspective on current events through that one channel. There may, on the other hand, be news media who want to provide a more unified theme and perspective to their readership and so are less inclined to do that. So in the former case, there's more variety of views and diversity even though it's being channelled through one particular medium.

  • I've been asked to raise this question with you: to what extent is it possible for an organisation genuinely to deliver internal plurality? In other words, do you think that internal plurality can exist effectively within one channel of communication?

  • I think a view that it can exist to some extent and the extent to which that is significant in the market is something that we would seek to take account of. I think in our consideration, we felt it was important to recognise that there is a distinction between the two that it would be inappropriate to assume that internal plurality did not exist and did not need to be taken into account of in any consideration of the state of plurality in the market.

  • I would add that I think it's fair to say that internal plurality is a more difficult concept. The undertakings that we discussed with News Corporation around Sky News were, in many ways, trying to ensure internal plurality by maintaining some degree of editorial independence for Sky News, and you inevitably end up constructing a set of behavioural rules which require an associated set of arrangements for monitoring and enforcing. So it is more complex.

  • Within the scope of media plurality, the first sub-issue is genre and the point here is: do you focus on news and current affairs primarily or do you bring into consideration everything else within the scope of media such as drama, comedy, other factual formats, since those are capable, although perhaps to a lesser extent, of shaping people's opinions?

    You've come to the conclusion, as we see, that you should focus on news and current affairs primarily, but other witnesses are going to tell us that one should broaden the scope of the inquiry. Could you assist us here as to why the narrow approach is the one that found favour with you?

  • The broader interpretation does have some validity. I don't think that we would challenge that for one moment, and indeed I think that as is reflected in the report, to the extent that these issues are looked at in some other countries, in some of them, they do take this broader perspective to look out to broader cultural issues and the impact of different genres. So I think that we recognise that one can make a legitimate argument.

    In this context, we focused on news and on current affairs partly because the evidence that's available to us does suggest that news and current affairs are particularly important to consumers in the UK. They consume news and current affairs very significantly. They tell us that that genre is very important to them. We were also very mindful of the fact that we were looking to come up with practical solutions, and thus it was appropriate not to extend the net too wide, otherwise it's very, very difficult to do that.

    The third thing is in the context of the UK, it's important to take account of other regulation and obligations which is designed to achieve some of these broader objectives relating to other genre which relate specifically to the obligations on some of the PSB operators, for example, which, again, we've set out in the report.

    So we could see the arguments but we felt there were good reasons for focusing specifically on news and current affairs.

  • Thank you. The concept of geographic scope I'm sure we can grapple with ourselves, but the value chain for the supply of news, you say that that is complex. Is the difference here, I think, between the retail and the wholesale?

  • If we want a definition of that, we get it from footnote 16, which clearly explains that.

  • I think it's maybe worth adding on that point that we also recognise that could become more complex going forward, with the role of new types of aggregators online, for example.

  • Your recommendation -- this is point 3.21:

    "Flexibility is required to consider at which points in the value chain editorial control is most likely to be exercised and therefore how best to measure diversity and influence."

    Do you have a view as to whether one should be focusing more on wholesale rather than retail or vice versa or is each equally valid as a metric?

  • In the public interest test and I think also here, we looked at both sets of metrics and we essentially assessed them in the round. There are different reasons for focusing on wholesale and retail. I don't think at the moment it's possible to say that one should particularly look at one of those.

  • Then the concluding part of this section, what would a plural outcome look like when you characterise the ideal plural outcome -- well, there are six bullet points and I think they're each self-explanatory. So we attain that state of affairs and they would each be subjected to diversity in the fuller sense of the term and that's the gold standard.

    The market and regulatory context now, which is section 4. We're looking at a range of suppliers: television, radio, newspapers, online. You see them as complementary, not as direct substitutes, I suppose for the obvious reason that many people dip into at least one and don't regard them as substitutes for one or each other; is that right?

  • Yes. I think it's also partially that we weren't only talking about substitutes in economic terms; we were also trying to describe the different characteristic of the different types of platforms and the way in which they were consumed, which is quite different.

  • You've provided us, in your second annex, with a table of the major news media providers in the UK. Of course, that spreads into the broadcast news. It's not very clear to read in the copy I have here but it helpfully sets out the areas. Is there anything you wish to add to 4.4, which explains the clear differences between television on the one hand, for example, and newspapers on the other, and the growth of the Internet?

  • I don't think so. It summarises more detail that's in the annexes but that summary is reasonably complete.

  • 4.5, this is your quantitative consumer research:

    "TV remains the most used and important platform."

    The reasons for that, I think, are clear enough.

    "Online news is significantly growing."

    Well, we understand that likewise. But multi-sourcing, could you help us through that bullet point?

  • So this, I think, goes back to the earlier discussion about the underlying goals. I think earlier on we established that what was important was both a share of voice, that no one voice should be too powerful, but also the idea there should be a diversity of voices in the market. Multi-sourcing is one particular measure, which really is complementary to looking at market share, which allows one to assess what range of views individual citizens might be consuming. So if individual citizens consuming a wide range of different sources of news, then I think one would be more comfortable about the extent of plurality in the market.

  • You looked at other evidence in 476, which I think is likely to be more qualitative, is that right, than quantitative?

  • It's partially quantitative. We've looked at our own measures but we also here summarise some of the results from some the industry measurement systems, such as Barb, RAJAR and so on.

  • Sorry, there are several industry measurement systems. Barb is the systems used in TV. RAJAR is the measurement used in radio. Within newspapers, there are the ABC and NRS systems, and then online, there is the UCOM just Nielsen system. So what we are also summarising here are some of the results from those platform-specific industry measurement systems.

  • The significance of newspapers you explain in the bullet points. Although, of course, there has been a decline in readership, the impact and influence of the printed word, coupled with the headline, coupled very often with a photograph still remains important, particularly in the context of a news medium which doesn't have to be impartial. A partial one is going to influence people in various obvious ways.

    Can I ask you, please, about the regulatory context and your duties. The last bullet point of 4.9: "Positive mechanisms to promote media plurality". Can you help us about those, in particular the -- what you set out in annex 3 and the implicit subsidies?

  • So particularly in relation to the public service broadcasters. The public service broadcasters receive certain benefits, mainly in kind, in terms of access to spectrum and the prominence of, for example, electronic programming guides. In return for those benefits, they face obligations. For example, they face quotas they have to provide in relation to national and regional news. So that positive set of commitments which promotes the provision of news in circumstances where it would otherwise not take place is like a positive lever for delivering plurality.

  • Thank you. There's some further explanation between paragraphs 4.20 and 4.23, which we're going to come to.

    We're still on the regulatory regime. Media mergers. We looked at this with, I think, both secretaries of state -- that's Dr Cable and Mr Hunt. The relevant provisions are in the Enterprise Act of 2002, which carry forward into the Communications Act. We've examined the difference between section 58(2)B and section 58 (2)C(a). If I remember rightly, the first of those provisions was relevant to the intervention notice of 4 November 2010, but when you came into the saddle a bit later on considering the UILs, I think you were considering section 58(2)C(a); is that right?

  • I can't remember which is which. I do know that there is one set of considerations which deal specifically with newspapers and there's another set of considerations which is really around cross-media mergers and we were focused on the cross-media aspects of these mergers.

  • I think in both cases, Sky, ITV and News Corp Sky is essentially treated as a cross-media merger.

  • Thank you. Controls on media ownership at the bottom of this page, 4.16:

    "The main remaining ex-ante statutory restrictions on media ownership are ..."

    The 20/20 rule. Now, that came into the Communications Act of 2003. I can't remember whether it existed in some different --

  • In previous Acts, yes.

  • Maybe it was in the 1996 Act.

  • I believe that's correct.

  • Yes, Sir John Major explained that to us, didn't he? That rule prohibits a newspaper group with more than 20 per cent of national newspaper share from holding a Channel 3 licence or stake in a Channel 3 licensee that is greater than 20 per cent. Then there are other ex-ante rules which are also to be found in the 2003 Act.

    The position in relation to broadcasters -- as we know, there's an obligation to be impartial and that naturally has a knock-on effect to the issue of plurality; is that correct?

  • The reason for that is probably obvious but can I ask you to make that explicit?

  • It's helpful insofar as it creates an expectation that there will be some measure of balance in the news selection and the way that news stories are presented. However, a couple of qualifications in relation to that. The legislation calls for due impartiality, so it's not an absolute concept, and that inevitably means that the broadcasters in question exercise some measure of judgment in that context as to whether or not they're bringing all of the different perspectives to an issue that they might.

    The second consideration is that when it comes to the selection of topics to be covered, impartiality does not ensure that there is a diversity with regard to that, so while impartiality is helpful as a concept and provides some reassurance to listeners to TV, radio and news, it doesn't necessarily go all the way and provide a measure of plurality.

  • I've been asked to put this point to you. You say in paragraph 4.18 -- you've just told us that impartiality cannot be measured precisely and that the rules would not necessarily prevent an individual with control of a media organisation from influencing the news agenda through the selection or omission of stories. But does this mean that you consider an impartiality requirement as not capable of being enforced if a media enterprise aims to thwart it?

  • I think the issue is more that it is not a complete set of obligations, that one can be impartial in relation to the stories that you run with, but it's still possible to determine an agenda through the selection of stories. I think that's quite well acknowledged. I think the Competition Commission acknowledged it in the context of Sky ITV. I think James Murdoch acknowledged it in his 2009 MacTaggart lecture. So I think it's well acknowledged that the selection of stories is somewhat different from the question of whether you're impartial when you cover those stories.

  • Positive obligations on public service broadcasters. I think we can just note those because they are not likely to be central to this Inquiry's consideration of the issues. It's page 17, 00545.

    If I can move on to section 5, your advice on media plurality. First of all, measuring media plurality across platforms. The Secretary of State had asked you to recommend the best approach. Across platforms -- well, television, radio, press and online. I think those are self-explanatory. But can you help us, please, with the various measures or metrics, to use the term deployed in this area? Availability, consumption and impact. Can you talk us through those, please?

  • So availability is a measure which there's been quite a lot of focus on in the past. The view we took here is that availability provides some sense of shelf space. So there's, I think, an analogy with a library, where the sum of the books available in the library, that's the sum of content that's available to citizens. That, however, only tells you a certain amount of influence. It's only when you actually consume a book by reading it that that can start influencing opinion, and that's therefore why we've moved fairly quickly from availability metrics to consumption metrics. Ideally, you would like to move further and start assessing impact, which is really the third set of metrics in ideal world. I think the problem there is that there are not very many quantitative metrics to allow you to assess impact. That's why we end up focusing on consumption metrics as something that is better than simply assessing the availability but also a set of metrics where it's practical to gain quantitative data.

  • So you're looking for metrics then which are quantitative, which, because they're quantitative, they're more likely to be objective, but also are not too complicated because if they're too complicated, well, the dangers of that are obvious, and if they're too judgmental, then there might be too much argument about what the right outcome is. Is that a reasonable assessment of where we are?

  • That is a reasonable assessment. I think it's worth highlighting though that -- I don't think we can shy away from the need to make judgments here. So we have noted in this section that there's a set of metrics that are useful but they have to be looked at alongside a number of contextual factors, many of which are qualitative.

  • Throughout all this work, there are a number of judgments that have to be made, which may not be absolutely crystal clear on the face of the page but inevitably flow from the nature of the exercise that you're undertaking.

  • That's correct and I think all one can do is try and gather what evidence there is. So if I -- for example, if I take this point about impact. We did carry out consumer research, which looked at the personal importance that individual citizens attach to different titles, different types of media, and that gives you some sense of influence, but you then do have to apply judgment in how you apply that.

  • And that judgment isn't necessarily unaffected by policy considerations.

  • I think that is why it is important to have a very clear articulation of the underlying principles of what you're trying to achieve. It goes back to that early discussion about: what are the underlying objectives? I think there was a witness yesterday who talked about the animating principles of a framework. We have to be very clear what are the underlying duties, what are the underlying things we're trying to achieve and we apply judgment in that context.

  • I think it's also quite interesting -- if you go back to when this was framed or looked at again in the context of the Act in 2002 and 2003, there were changes in economic regulation where, in a sense, those are now being confined to the domain of regulators and the CC, and there you can have a bit more confidence about the relationships between these parameters. So we can look at market power and we can test them using tools which economists have developed and so forth to help us do a our work and reach conclusions.

    It's much more challenging looking at that in the context of information or consumption and understanding that in the context of the impact on public opinions and views, and it would appear to be the case that those were among the reasons why Parliament decided that some aspects of this should be reserved for the political process as opposed to being done from a technical perspective.

  • You're two steps ahead of me, because of course, at the end of the discussion has to be addressing the issue that was raised by a number of --

  • -- witnesses as to who should be making this decision. That's precisely why I asked you about -- this isn't a machine that you can press buttons in and get out an answer.

  • There is an enormous amount of scope for -- potential scope for subjectivity, which is fine, it's understandable, but we just have to be aware of it.

  • So I'm pleased you're prepared to deal with the ultimate question at the end. Yes.

  • On this issue more generally, we've had some evidence that one of the concerns around the impact of the media on freedom of expression is the risk of those who control the media effectively drowning out other voices. Is this an issue that you've considered at all in your work on plurality, particularly when we're looking at the measures?

  • This goes back to the twin set of measures, part of which are around no individual -- part of it's around diversity. We identify consumption metrics, particularly reach and multi-sourcing, which are around diversity, but we also say that share is important. If there's too high a share, then that creates a risk that a particular voice might drown out others.

  • Thank you. You don't, as it were, stop with your quantitative measures. You also consider contextual factors which, I suppose, are likely to be softer, more qualitative, but could you just summarise what those are and how you take those into account?

  • Some of them relate to regulations. So in particular, we've noted that the existence of impartiality regulation in TV broadcasting has to be relevant when considering plurality. Some other contextual factors might relate to the way in which particular titles or particular platforms behave absent regulation. So the particular positions that proprietors take, whether they take a very active role in influencing the views expressed in their titles or whether there's a greater degree of editorial freedom, editorial independence. Those are all factors that might be relevant and you would have to look at the specific circumstances.

  • Thank you. So you bring all these points together in paragraph 5.31. We can see figure 3, which is a useful table, which includes the quantitative and the contextual measures. It's also part of your advice to the Secretary of State at the bottom of this page, 5.33, that the metrics framework itself should be assessed during each main plurality review:

    "This will ensure that it continues to capture what we cannot predict or measure today."

    Because obviously this framework is only going for work for today and the immediately foreseeable future. It may in due course, or fairly soon indeed, become redundant.

    On the next page, our page 55002, online and the measurement framework. Can you help us, in particular paragraph 5.36, with the different types of service which are available to the Internet?

  • There are a number of different services and they continue to evolve.

  • Could I ask you if you could speak up a bit? It doesn't actually magnify the voice, this thing. It records it but it doesn't amplify.

  • Okay. I have the softer Scottish accent, not the harsh Glasgow accent. I shouldn't say "harsh"; my fellow Scots will not thank me for that.

    Several developments. Existing media companies have obviously realised that the Internet is a potential very important means of distributing their content and consumers are going increasingly to the Internet. So we've had a lot of traditional media companies, newspapers and others establishing a very, very strong presence on the web. So people who have previously relied solely on the physical newspaper either rely on that and online, and some are actually just going completely online.

    Secondly, you have aggregators, organisations like Google, who provide a way for users of their services to get to a whole variety of different news sources. I don't believe that Google employs any journalists, but they're becoming a very, very important channel, a conduit through which users get access to news.

    You then have blogs, which are run by individuals, on which they post views and post information regarding current events, and then you have new entities who are establishing up effectively as provider of news services online, of which there are quite a number.

    So there's quite a proliferation and it's a market which is changing and developing very, very rapidly, and one which increasingly is being used by citizens and consumers to gain access to news content.

  • Thank you. 5.39:

    "The move to online distribution has created a rich diversity of online news supply."

    I think each of these categories is self-explanatory really:

    "Different online formats allow a range of consumption patterns ... low barriers to entry have facilitated a growing diversity of viewpoints ... online news and social media enable high levels of participation, including unmediated comments."

    The rapid innovation point.

    In terms of where we are today, the importance of the Internet vis-a-vis other more traditional suppliers of news, how would you describe that?

  • It is becoming very important. I think in one of the charts which we showed earlier, something like over 40 per cent -- I think the number is currently around 41 per cent -- of users use the Internet to get access to news services in one form or another. That appears to have doubled over a relatively short period, i.e. over the past three or four years. So it is very, very important and it's growing very rapidly and may continue to grow rapidly because of the evolution in the devices and the way that people get access to the Internet.

  • That would also include using traditional news online, newspapers online?

  • That's completely correct. One of the interesting facets of the way the online environment has evolved is that some of the major very, very well established players like the BBC are actually the most popular online sites today.

  • There was an interesting contrast, I think, though, in its conclusions. An important conclusion there was that most of what we see online is essentially offline players now going online. So existing newspaper titles, for example, opening up online sites. One of the interesting conclusions here was I think the increasing importance -- if you look at the online rankings, Facebook and Google appearing joint second and third, if you like, in the rankings online, companies that didn't exist a few years ago.

  • The risks of the development of the online platform. We can see those in 5.44, page 00553. Again, most of these are fairly clear. Disruption to traditional news markets, the potential of navigation tools to reduce plurality of consumption. Could you explain that one for us?

  • When consumers are accessing news through aggregation sites and so forth, the search algorithms which guide them towards particular websites will have an influence on what they see and consume. At present, that doesn't appear to be an issue or concern, although one could imagine circumstances in the future where there's a more active role played by the aggregators to steer people towards particular sites for particular reasons.

  • Or for commercial reasons.

  • Yes. Very largely for commercial reasons.

  • I think we were also -- that comes particularly in the fourth bullet point. I think at this point we were also concerned about the potential risk that people would seek out content which reinforce their own views or the views of their friends, if you like. So as opposed to a medium where you are presented with content which has been collected by somebody else, if you're in a situation where you're selecting the content that you access, you may seek content that reinforces your own views.

  • That might be so if you by a newspaper, because those who have certain political views will choose one newspaper; those who have different political views are unlikely to choose the first but will choose the second. I won't put names or labels to any of that.

  • It's clear that it's already a potential issue with newspapers. I think the point we're making is simply where you're able to search for individual stories, that risk may be increased. We did not put a great deal of weight on that point, but I think that is the point.

  • Your conclusion or your recommendation is that online be included in any market assessment. Are you saying though, in paragraph 5.50, that there would need to be a change of the law in order to achieve this recommendation?

  • Potentially so. I mean, "media enterprise" as currently defined in the law would not encompass online. Therefore if one was going to do a review and be able to include effectively online, it seems likely that there need to be a change, yes.

  • It may not be necessarily the case that requires primary legislation, so we note there are different options in the footnote.

  • What would need to be done to the public interest considerations though, which are set out -- indeed, I know -- in the Enterprise Act? Are you suggesting amendments to those to deal with the online considerations?

  • I think insofar as those constrained our ability to encompass online in a review, we were really party to do it, yes, would be the answer.

  • Can you tell us, please, which types of online service you think should be included? In other words, news sites, aggregators, blogs, all or some of them?

  • I think it goes back to what we said earlier about this being a dynamic market where one needs to be open to the circumstances as you find them. If you find that there are different sorts of sites through which people are gaining access to news, information, opinion and comment that counts towards plurality, ideally you would want to have the flexibility to include those in your assessment.

  • How would you measure the impact of these services -- take aggregators or blogs -- on plurality?

  • So we've identified a measurement system that's available at the moment, this UCOM/Nielsen system. At the moment, that allows you to gain certain consumption metrics, so for example, what's referred to as dwell time, so the amount of time that individuals spend looking at particular pages. It allows you to measure click throughs, essentially, something that's important from the perspective of advertisers.

    So there is quantitative data available through those measurement systems and that's what we have used at the moment in assessing plurality. But I think we've been very conscious that particularly in relation to online, that is likely to evolve over time, not least because the nature of the concern might change and therefore that is exactly where there needs to be flexibility.

  • But do you have to be careful that you're not comparing apples and pears? You can see how long a person looks at a page on a website. What you can never determine -- maybe you can, I don't know -- you're way ahead of me.

  • No, sorry, it is exactly the problem we talked about previously, which is that a consumption metric is helpful, it tells you what people are looking at, but it doesn't tell you the extent to which the act of looking at that content has an impact on their are opinion.

  • Or for how long they've looked at it. They may do online, but you can't say how long I read the front page, or the second page or fifth page of my newspaper.

  • We have the same problem with all of these platforms. Radio is another good example where we know what people listen to and broadly for how long, but we don't know whether it's a background task, whether they're really focusing on it -- these things all go to this point about impact. The assumption is it's a useful quantitative measure but I think you have to be cautious not to apply too much weight to that consumption measure and reach --

  • I'm taken back to the evidence of a witness at the very beginning of the Inquiry who spoke about his choice of newspaper because of the crossword.

  • Which actually doesn't tell us much about his interest in news.

  • I think there is some evidence we can look at, so we did look at the importance that people attach to different types of content and you can see that -- there's some interesting results there. So, for example, there are some titles with relatively low shares but where individual consumers attach a high importance to that media. So Al Jazeera is an example of a title -- of a newspaper -- of a TV broadcaster that has a very low share but where those people who view it attach a high personal importance.

    At the other extreme, I think the consumer evidence we reproduce suggests that the Sun, which has a very high share -- the readers of that newspaper attach a relatively low personal importance to the newspaper. There may be reasons. They are reading it for the entertainment value rather than the news, for example. That is covered, I think, in one of the annexes around consumer research.

    I think that's the type of contextual evidence one can take into account, but it's not a simple metric.

  • Thank you. On the next page, page 23, 00555, the sector, you say, is innovating rapidly, changes can't be forecast, et cetera, and so you conclude, in 5.55:

    "The suitability of online measures in the broadest sense could be assessed during any full plurality review."

    So it's the same point that you made previously.

  • Can I ask you this: would these changes mean that a merger involving online providers would be a relevant merger under the Act or are you just looking at how the market is to be understood when considering the impact of a proposed merger on plurality?

  • It may not be a relevant merger under the Act as it stands today, but I think that the substance behind what we have set out in the report is that it should be encompassed in looking at plurality.

  • I see.

    Triggers for a plurality review. The questions you set out at paragraph 5.58 at least really flow from the Secretary of State's questions which we looked at at the start but can we just understand the difference, insofar as it isn't obvious, between a metric based figure and a time-based figure.

  • So the idea behind a metric-based figure, which I think a number of people have supported, is that if a particular company exceeded some metric -- I think normally market share is the metric that's discussed -- that would trigger a review. The difference with a time-based trigger is simply that the elapse of time would trigger a review.

  • The advantages and disadvantages of the metric-based trigger, please?

  • The metric-based trigger has some attractions in principle, in the sense that it might allow you to carry out a review in a way that is at that point in time when the concern arises and potentially targeted to the type of concern that arises. So we see some attractions in principle to a metrics based trigger. In practice, we're concerned -- this goes back to our broader concerns about the availability of metrics which, I suppose, are complete. We are concerned that that there is not a particular metric which would be ideal in these circumstances, and furthermore that the use of a metric-based trigger would, in some sense, subject the market to a continuous review.

    So really, I think particularly in the interests of certainty, we felt that the time-based trigger was better and that as long as the time period between reviews wasn't too long, then a periodic review would be able to take account of events that had taken place between the periods of reviews.

  • Isn't there another disadvantage with a metric-based trigger, that if because some metric has been exceeded, like market share, you're suddenly going to require action to be taken to divest or whatever, whereas time based, there is an opportunity for warnings or discussion, for a rather more measured or less jerky response to changes in conditions?

  • Yes. We talk about this particularly in the context of the exit of the News of the World, where deciding the right answer at the point where the News of the World had exited would not be the right thing to do because we did not know what the final outcome was going to be.

  • Or deciding immediately before, not knowing it was about to exit.

  • Absolutely. So the point is the market is continuously changing. There must be a point in time every so often when one looks at the market, but to not want that to turn into a continuous process of review where the market is continuously subject to the uncertainty that comes with that process of review.

  • Another advantage of this, I suppose, is that if it's time-based, then there is less scope for concern that it is politically motivated?

  • That's also true. The proponents of a metric-based review I think would argue that as long as the metric is sufficiently well defined, then it is still possible to have a trigger which is essentially automatic, and therefore --

  • I understand, but that assumes that you can press the switch and the answer comes out, that it doesn't require any subjectivity in the measurement of the metric.

  • I think that's right, although this is not -- we did not end up going with the metric-based trigger, but I think that it is more straightforward to define a trigger that relates to metrics because you're not then making the final decision.

  • We are very clear that the final decision has to take into account judgment. It's not impossible, I think, to define a trigger which is automatic.

  • Is there a danger, though, with your time-based review, that in a rapidly moving market, damage can be done to the interests of plurality where you have to wait four or five years?

  • There is that risk in the time period. The time period would have to be short enough that you're able to deal with that.

  • If it's too short, though, there are other countervailing --

  • If it's too short, you're making decisions before you know how the market would respond to the changes. You're making -- again, you're subjecting the market to continual review. So that is the trade-off.

  • Your conclusion on the issue of exit triggers, 5.73. You say there may be merit in introducing an exit trigger but I think the suggestion is that you may be inclining against that; is that how you see it?

  • I think we're cautious. We've left the option open at this stage and one of the further questions we've been asked is to consider whether that option may be realisable in practice. I think we're very conscious of the issues set out here, which are essentially overt: firstly, one doesn't know the final outcome at the point of exit and secondly, that in practice one may not be able to do much about an exit.

    So the situation is very different from a merger where the outcome is clearer and you can do something about it.

  • And you can always assess the position ex-ante with a merger, but with an exit, as we've discussed already, it's difficult.

    The current position in relation to mergers I think is fairly clear. Again, one or more secretaries of state explained it to us. I think the position we're at is that the overall framework will continue to apply, but the issue is 5.78, for example, where they are going to bring online suppliers within the framework. Have I correctly understood the position?

  • That's correct, and I think, as Stuart said earlier, our assumption is that online does need to be brought within the framework. The question is how.

  • Your feeling is that it could be done by amendments to regulations rather than to primary legislation. Have I correctly understood you?

  • That's our understanding, yes. I think there are different options. I think the public interest considerations could be more defined without changes to primary legislation. However, if there was a new framework that encompassing periodic review, then that's a different question.

  • I don't see how you could perform a balanced exercise without taking online into account.

  • At a level of principle, it felt to us very easy to say online has to be included and then you get to the practicality.

  • The whole question of plurality is very different from regulation, because of course, Ofcom is conscious that there is everything from Ofcom regulation of broadcast media to no regulation at all for some of these services, and then co-regulation/self-regulation in between the two.

  • In terms of the definition of the media organisation, I think you're saying that aggregators should not be included within the definition, but online news providers and wholesalers should. Have I correctly understood it?

  • I don't think that's what we were intending to say.

  • I think we can see circumstances where aggregators might need to be included, but we also need to be careful that doesn't go too broad. I think the underlying principle is around where the exercise of editorial control is. If an aggregator is exercising editorial control as part of that process, then it may be important to include them. If not, then one wouldn't automatically want to bring in any aggregators.

  • I've been asked to raise this with you. Can you explain, please, how you see a plurality review carried out because of a media merger will relate to any public interest consideration under the Communications Act?

  • So is this the distinction between the periodic review we're proposing and the merger-based review? Sorry, can I just clarify the question?

  • I believe it is. (Pause)

    Oh right. The question was more about the nature of the public interest test under the Enterprise Act.

  • So our assumption is that that would continue in some form. That public interest, as I understand, is potentially triggered in a merger and that would need to continue in some form. That would need to sit alongside a new framework in some way. There are essentially two options there. One is that the two frameworks might co-exist, in which case -- I think we say here, the importance to avoid, for example, situations of double jeopardy -- or the two frameworks could be brought together. Those are both possibilities.

  • A separate matter now is the role of discretion and complaints. Some have argued there should be an additional discretionary trigger, which immediately raises political questions: on what basis is the trigger going to be exercised? Who's going to make judgments? You come to the conclusion that there shouldn't be a discretionary means of triggering a review between periodic reviews but in other words, please, what is your objection to that?

  • I think it goes back to the question we've discussed earlier regarding whether or not we have a metrics-based system as opposed to time-based. It's the question of flexibility and ability to respond to events.

    On the one hand, if there's discretion, there is an opportunity to do that. You can see what's happening in the market, you can decide whether or not that potentially is having an impact on plurality and call for a review. However, as Steve has described in discussing the issue regarding metrics, that potentially creates an environment where there is ongoing and continuing uncertainty regarding the regulation of the sector and whether or not there will be future reviews, and it also does result in a situation where there's potentially considerable politicisation of the process, so that we basically concluded, at the end of our consideration, that it would be more appropriate to come down on the side of opting for time-based reviews without there being discretion or indeed without there being an opportunity to use complaints to trigger a review. That's essentially our conclusion.

  • Yes. Can you explain for us though the point you're making in paragraph 5.87?

    "It's important there's some mechanism for deciding at an early stage what type of market events are likely not to be material."

    I'm not sure I followed that one.

  • This was one particular issue, which is that at the moment, in relation to mergers, there is discretion essentially to decide not to carry out a review as well as to decide to carry out a review. We thought it was important that -- there may be a number of relatively small mergers between different media enterprises and we thought it was important those things automatically trigger a review every time that there was a fairly modest merger. So there's needs to be some mechanism for filtering those out early on in the process. At the moment, that's provided within the current merger regime and that needs to continue in some way.

  • Thank you. The next topic is one where the Inquiry has received a range of opinions and that's the issue of caps, limits or prohibitions, as you put it, on news market share. You divide that question into three parts, as you explain in 5.89:

    "Is it practical or advisable to set absolute limits? What does a good plural outcome look like?"

    The question of sufficiency:

    "How do we balance absolute limits or prohibitions with issues of economic sustainability?"

    Now, the absolute limits or prohibition points -- we've had a number of witness who is have said there should be an absolute limit of 15 per cent, 20 per cent or wherever on one news provider in a sector and if it overtops the limit, there should be, I suppose on an extreme version, a divestment to bring that person lower than the limit. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of that sort of measure?

  • Clearly the advantage of that type of measure is certainty, again. It's very clear what rules everyone has to the abide by, so it is an advantage.

    The disadvantage we saw here was around a lack of flexibility and I think at a high level there are two reasons why flexibility is important here. Firstly, I think we've already acknowledged that these metrics do not map on uniquely to a certain level of influence, that in considering influence it's important to understand a range of contextual factors, and implicit in any such structure based on absolute limits, you do not have the discretion to consider those contextual factors. That's the first point.

    The second point is really around sustainability. I think we recognised that I think particularly the newspaper sector is in decline, so you could have a situation where the application of absolute limits might go against the need effectively to build market share in order to survive. That's not to say that one would automatically allow that market share to just keep growing, but one at least needs the flexibility to balance off these issues of sustainability and plurality.

  • You have commented expressly on the Enders Analysis proposal, which is having revenue as a suitable metric for an absolute limit, and we're going to hear that point elaborated this afternoon with Claire Enders. She is proposing 15 per cent of revenue, but that doesn't favour with you for the reasons you explain in paragraph 5.96. Can I ask you, please, to develop the points you're making there?

  • The underlying point of principle is one that Stuart referred to earlier, which is that revenue is a good proxy for economic power, and I think the -- I think Claire Enders has been reasonably explicit about what their intention is, which is -- the intention their proposal is, I think, to limit economic influence, if you like, economic power. So it works in that sense. It clearly would limit economic power.

    That he is not what we are trying to do. What we are looking at is the question of influence over opinion and we do not think that revenue is a good proxy for ability to influence opinion. I suppose, to give an example, if one was to look at the revenues generated by Sky as a broadcaster and assume that its revenues were a proxy for the ability to influence opinion, then one would apply much more weight to sports broadcasting than news. That doesn't seem right, at least in this context.

  • Is that what you're hinting at when you say that there are practical challenges associated with defining what revenues would be relevant for such a test?

  • Practical challenges are beyond that point of principle. There are also, I think, questions for a company such as Virgin Media, which both provides content but a range of other services. There's a practical challenge as to how you separate out those different revenues. Quite often, the different services are bundled together. It's common to bundle TV and telecom services, for example. If you were to factor in the telecommunications revenues of companies such as Virgin Media and British Telecom into this sort of assessment, then I think you would get to the wrong conclusion.

  • Thank you. You also look at the idea of platform-specific limits. Can I ask you, please, what was the rationale for doing that?

  • Again, it comes backs particularly to this point about flexibility. We talked about this in the context specifically of both newspapers and TV. For newspapers, we were particularly concerned about this point about sustainability, that one needs to take account of the fact that it might be necessary to grow market share to survive. In the case of TV, we were conscious that applying simple limits without thinking about, for example, the governance structures that apply to the BBC would also be misleading.

  • But I think you told us earlier on about the need to look across the different media to get a proper measure of plurality, so why is concentration within a platform relevant to plurality at all as opposed to competition?

  • We felt they were both potentially relevant, but in an ideal world you would have a single metric which applies across media. Given that you don't have such a metric in quite that perfect form, it might be appropriate to look at platform-specific metrics within particularly newspapers and TV, because they are, I suppose, better established than those cross platform metrics that are available. So it's at least worth asking the question.

  • Can I ask you, please, about the declining newspaper market point. It's basically an industry in decline -- we understand that. You say that:

    "Limitations in the declining market run counter to the need for newspaper groups to build a market share in order to survive."

    Is that in itself a sufficient reason not to apply market share limitations in the newspaper market?

  • I think there's a reason for applying them flexibly. I think -- this doesn't say that you wouldn't be concerned if market shares became too high. It's simply that in thinking about that it's important to bear in mind also sustainability.

    I think it's worth noting that -- I think at the moment that is not such a big issue in the national press. It is already a very big issue in terms of local media, where I think we're already in a position where, in many local markets, the issue is really about sustainability, whether there's any local media, rather than the idea of plurality.

  • Aren't there some rather softer factors in play here too? One could visualise a situation of a company that owned an enormously large number of local newspapers but sought to exercise no editorial influence whatsoever --

  • -- upon any of them. The considerations that would arise with such a company would be very different to a company that had fewer national titles, where the proprietor or owner, whether it be a company or individual, sought to exercise enormous editorial influence over what was in the press.

  • That's right. I think the local newspaper question is a good example to take, because I think there's a general acceptance that what is important for local newspapers is their ability to hold local councils to account, therefore there is something important about having a certain level of local investigative journalism, but they do not generally take a particular political stance and therefore plurality is less important. That goes back to this point about these contextual factors, that the way in which proprietors influence the editorial process is really important.

  • But then it becomes extremely judgmental, because you might have three different proprietors or four different proprietors whose approach to their own particular newspapers is extremely different, and to try and judge that and assess where it becomes inappropriate I would have thought was extremely difficult.

  • And also very, very subjective.

  • It involves a degree of judgment, but I don't think it's intractable, in the sense that if you look at newspapers, it is clear that some newspapers explicitly take a particular position. So the Scott Trust which governs the Guardian newspaper, that has a very specific remit to promote a liberal agenda. So it is clear what the position is. In other cases, arguments are made -- I think, for example, there's a particularly argument that's been made around the Times, which is around the extent to which the existence of the independent directors preserves editorial independence of that particular newspaper. That's contentious, but it's something that could be looked at.

  • Just to add to that, I think that one of the things that a review of this form might do is to shine a light on all these considerations so that whoever does this review tries to articulate factually what the position is in terms of consumption, who is using what media, who is active in the market, and, insofar as there are contextual factors which have a bearing on how you interpret what you see happening, that those are highlighted and made clear. Yes, judgment needs to be exercised at the end of it, but hopefully the review would help dispel prejudice insofar as there is prejudice influencing what is actually going on in the market today.

  • Yes. You'll find it difficult to get to the facts too because if you take the particular example that you last mentioned in relation to the Times, there are different accounts of how that particular exercise has operated, which have been heard by the Inquiry, and how you would have to try and judge that sort of issue in the context of the technical work you're doing I would have thought would be not entirely easy to determine.

  • Yes. I don't think we've said anywhere in the document that we anticipate that doing this would be easy.

  • I think I would add on that that we -- in the context of the PIT work, we essentially conclude there was a number of wide range of anecdotal evidence in relation to this is point and we didn't reach any conclusion on it. It's difficult.

  • In the next section, you look at the 20/20 rule which, I suppose in line with your thinking about caps and about metrics, might lead you to conclude that this rule is right to be abolished, but your conclusion is I think, in a nutshell, that it should be considered by Parliament in the near future; is that a fair summary?

  • Yes. I think the position is somewhat different from the general case, in that in this case it is very clear what the purpose is of the rule. It's to prevent a powerful newspaper owner from also taking control of the most powerful commercial TV broadcaster. So it's clear what the facts are, it's clear what the context is, so that differentiates this from our more general discussion.

    What we've said though is it really is a judgment for Parliament and I think particularly in the context of any new plurality regime, it would be necessary to consider in that context whether it was then possible to move this wall or not.

  • The trouble with having a fixed 20/20 regime is that it puts it into stone and doesn't allow you to take into account the context or all the circumstances but it requires an over-arching review of the way in which you look at the issue, I suppose.

  • That's right, and I think that point is illustrated by the evolution over, perhaps, the last decade or more, of these various ownership rules which --

  • And the evolution of digital television, which has multiplied up the number of channels and removed the original justification for regulation through the mechanism of the state which was to do with broadband width.

  • That's right. So we've certainly not said --

  • Bandwidth, not broadband. Bandwidth.

  • So we're certainly not suggesting it shouldn't be removed but this is really on -- our initial view was this was for Parliament. This was one of the questions that's been put back to us in the further questions from the Secretary of State and we'll need to consider that carefully.

  • When are you going to come up with a conclusion?

  • I think we've said by the end of September.

  • September? I'd be very interested today see any of the conclusions you reach.

  • On the concept of sufficiency, on my understanding, sufficiency comes in once a plurality review begins and it's part of the wider public interest considerations under the statute?

  • That's correct, yes.

  • So we're not here concerned with triggers; we're concerned with part of the qualitative assessment that you make as part and parcel of --

  • Is there sufficient clarity of not, yes.

  • That necessarily involves questions of judgment, of quality and I suppose quantity to some extent as well. You put everything into the mix in answering the question which the statute poses of you; is that a fair understanding?

  • That's correct, although I think what we've tried to do in the document, and in particular in paragraph 5.119, is to illustrate the broad factors and the sort of framework that one might bring to this. If you look at that, there is actually quite a lot there that can be described in quantitative analytical terms, to which you would add your understanding of context and to which you would apply your judgment.

  • I've been asked to raise with you an issue about the fifth bullet point in 5.19, which is overall investment of commercial returns. The basic question is: why have you included that? Because some of those matters are about consumer behaviour, not market structure.

  • I think this is partly in looking at the state of the market at any one point in time, you would have to understand whether or not the operations were sustainable, because you may reach a conclusion based on today's judgment that everything is fine, but if it is actually the case that the economic pressures acting on the players in the market are such that they're not going to be able to continue, you would need to be aware of that in understanding how things might evolve.

    So an environment where there is plurality, where the actors in the market are earning sufficient returns to stay in the market is one where you could have confidence that plurality will be sustained as well.

  • Is this a sufficiency issue or sustainability issue or both?

  • It's a sustainability issue.

  • I think we saw sufficiency as being a matter of balance between those two. The risk is one takes an idealised view of what you would like as a plural media which doesn't take into account the economic realities and we need to take into account both.

  • Your conclusion on sufficiency is 5.121:

    "It will be for Parliament to consider whether it can provide any further guidance on how sufficiency should be defined."

    Is this an area, though, where the Secretary of State could give statutory guidance? We've seen that statutory guidance has been given on the issue of media mergers because the Secretary of State, Dr Cable, referred us to the relevant guidance. Is this another area where it could be done by exclusive action rather than legislation?

  • I think the answer to that is yes and that's probably a matter for the Secretary of State to decide whether or not it's something that he or she would do as opposed to something that he or she would expose to Parliamentary debate.

  • Sustainability. We've touched on sustainability, but where does this come into the plurality assessment? Is it part of the wider public interest concern which arises on any review?

  • I think we saw this particularly as coming in, as I said, when we assess sufficiency. In assessing sufficiency, there's no point in something this idealised view of a plural market. It has to be a plural market that's economic and sustainable.

  • So sustainability is a subset of sufficiency?

  • Yes. That's an important element of sufficiency. It's the thing which -- it's the consideration that might lead you to take a less ambitious view of what is sufficient than you might otherwise.

  • I think in paragraph 5.126 you draw attention to the tension between plurality and commercial sustainability and that's exacerbated if you look at smaller geographic units. I suppose the tension is that the larger entities may be more commercially sustainable?

  • Yes, exactly. You could imagine a small geographic location where, if arbitrarily, one said no media provider can have more than 50 per cent of the local newspaper market, it may also be the case that no one can build a sustainable commercial business subject to that constraint.

  • Does it follow from this that plurality may have to be sacrificed because of these economic realities?

  • It's more of a trade off than sacrifice but there certainly needs to be a balance struck, yes.

  • Okay. Well, it's fair to say that you do see it as a trade off. It's paragraph 5.131:

    "The right balance between promoting plurality on the one hand and encouraging economically sustainable news media organisations on the other ..."

    Again, you say that's a matter for the government and Parliament to consider. Parliament would be amending primarily legislation. Government might be doing it by issuing statutory guidance under the existing Enterprise Act provisions; is that right?

  • Can I ask you, please -- not going to ask you about the BBC since that probably is outside our remit but just some general points, finally, about solutions. Your report doesn't cover what solutions or remedies might be appropriate if a plurality review were to be find a plurality problem. What sort of remedies do you think are available and do they include behavioural and structural remedies?

  • I should say that this is a further question we have been asked. It relates to remedies. It wasn't one of the original questions. So we haven't yet looked at the question in detail, but I think you can separate remedies into broadly four categories. I think that there are some behavioural remedies which promote internal plurality. Editorial independence and the undertakings that we negotiated with News Corp Sky -- that would be an example of those kind of behavioural remedies.

    There are clearly structural remedies, divestments, which increase external plurality. There's another category of behavioural remedies which may be relevant, which are really around the standards that apply to different platforms. There's obviously some overlap there with the board of discussion around standards.

    Finally, there are these positive levers to increase plurality funding, benefits in kind and so on.

  • I see. Then this final question. If, hypothetically, a periodic review were to identify a lack of plurality, how would you identify which players ought to be subject to any remedies?

  • I think it's a little bit difficult to do in the abstract, in the sense that you need to conduct a review to understand whether or not there does seem to be a problem, why that problem's arising, and then decide on what might be the appropriate remedies, which may or may not have implications for individual players.

  • I suppose it depends on what the diagnosis was --

  • Absolutely, absolutely.

  • That question was a bit ambitious. Those are all the questions I have for you.

  • Do we know, Mr Jay -- maybe you'll be told from your right -- what questions the Secretary of State has put back to Ofcom?

  • Those are in the public domain.

  • Right, that's very good.

    You're probably aware that my terms of reference include making recommendations for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports, among other things, the plurality of the media, and to make recommendations for how future concerns, among other things, about regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities.

    Here, of course, you were answering questions which the Secretary of State specifically asked you and I appreciate that you now have another series of questions. By the time you've dealt with all those questions -- obviously you're not me and I'm not bound by it -- but will you have provided a view on each of these issues that I've just raised with you?

  • I hesitate to say that we will have done so comprehensively, but we will have touched on a number of the essential features. At this stage we have not been asked by the Secretary of State to architect a new structure for the way in which plurality might be considered, but rather to respond to a series of specific questions which in turn have led to a number of follow-up questions. Those touch on many of the key issues which you identified, but if one were then to proceed to a set of recommendations in future, there may be some other issues which are not on the list of questions the Secretary of State has asked us.

  • I would add it may also be that in relation to many of the -- some of the questions we've been asked, I suppose, are essentially technical in nature around implementation of some of our earlier recommendations. Some still go to matters of judgments, which we may still conclude are more for Parliament, and that is the discussion we need to have with our board still.

  • Well, it would be absurd for me to reach my conclusions in ignorance of where you are on these various matters, and it would be absurd for me to do so without having the benefit of such experience you have in these areas, even if the Secretary of State hasn't specifically asked you.

  • So I would be very grateful if, within the same time frame that you're already working to, you cast an eye back on the issues that I have to consider. I'm not asking you to provide me with answers in the back of the book, but the benefit of your experience to such extent as you feel able.

  • We'll be more than pleased to consider that, obviously.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you both very much for your assistance.

    2 o'clock.

  • (The luncheon adjournment)

  • Sir, the first witness this afternoon is Mr Foster, please.