Concern has been expressed that the liberalisation of cross-media ownership that the Communications Act was meant to bring about may still be subject to regulatory restrictions.
Making a final stand before being subsumed into Ofcom at the end of December, the Radio Authority blocked a move by Midland News Association to expand into radio through the acquisition of Telford FM. Under the old regime this may have been expected but with the provisions of the Communications Act and Ofcom in sight, it gives cause for concern.
The idea behind the Act was to open up the market and allow for more cross-media ownership. With the recent ITV merger as a backdrop one may have thought that some healthy consolidation and buy-outs would be on the cards. Not so for Midland News whose move on Telford FM was blocked on public interest grounds. Under the Communications Act a public interest test should not automatically be applied to such deals. In conservative mode the Radio Authority decided it did not want to be the first to interpret the Communications Act and stuck by the old public interest test stating that granting Midland News permission to diversify into radio would act against the public interest in the region.
This sends a sour note across the airwaves for other aspirational media moguls. Perhaps Ofcom will take a more robust approach.