UK Politics

Vince Cable urges end to 'dominant' media moguls

Business Secretary Vince Cable has said there should be "clear" rules on how powerful media groups can be, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

He told the BBC having dominant media moguls was "deeply unhelpful" - partly due to their political impact.

There should be market share limits and a "presumption against" media groups owning both newspapers and TV stations.

Separately he criticised "right wing nutters" in the US over the row about raising America's debt ceiling.

The business secretary was responsible for media ownership rules until he was recorded saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch in December.

Following the undercover recording by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cable was stripped of his responsibility for overseeing Mr Murdoch's bid to take full control of broadcaster BSkyB.

That bid was withdrawn this month amid new phone-hacking allegations and in the face of political opposition.

'Deeply unhelpful'

Lib Dem cabinet minister Mr Cable said he accepted that Mr Murdoch had made "positive contributions" to the British media landscape - but said plurality, diversity and choice were needed - and had to come from wider ownership.

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry, set up in the wake of new phone hacking allegations against the News of the World newspaper, will make recommendations on media plurality, regulation and cross-media ownership.

Mr Cable said he would wait to see what the inquiry recommended, but added: "We have learned from the past that having media moguls dominating the British media is deeply unhelpful, not simply in terms of plurality but because of the wider impact on the political world.

"What I want to see is a very clear set of unambiguous rules... about market shares, that we don't have dominant players and a presumption against cross-ownership between press and television."

Asked if any company could be as dominant as News Corporation in future, he told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "It isn't simply an issue of Rupert Murdoch, there are other big media companies who could have the same influence in future and we've got to stop that happening."

Asked about a Guardian report that Lib Dems had been bullied by News International staff over the BSkyB bid and told the party would be "done over" by its newspapers if the deal did not go through, Mr Cable said: "Well, there was heavy lobbying but it was perfectly legal.

"I don't want to dwell on the past and my own role in it - what I do want to focus on is reforming the system of competition and takeovers as it applies to the media, so we have a healthier, more plural system in future."

He also said there was a "big question" over whether News Corporation was a "fit and proper" company to hold its existing 39% stake in BSkyB - but that was a matter for Ofcom to decide, not politicians. On Thursday Deputy PM Nick Clegg said Ofcom must take the issue "very seriously".

'Out of touch'

On the issue of Greece's debt crisis - which this week saw eurozone leaders agree a new rescue package to try to shore up its economy and calm the financial markets - Mr Cable said there had been a "big step forward" but it had not solved the main issues.

But he made reference to stalled efforts in the US Congress to approve a plan to raise America's debt ceiling - aimed at averting a debt default.

Mr Cable said: "The irony of the situation at the moment, with markets opening tomorrow morning, is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American congress rather than the eurozone."

But he was criticised by Conservative backbench MP Peter Bone.

"They have a different system in America, where governments cannot spend what they like," Mr Bone said.

"That is excellent scrutiny. I would personally support a similar limit here, where you would have to go back each year and get extra debt authorised.

"To call them right-wing nutters shows how out of touch Vince Cable is with ordinary people in this country."

He also suggested the remark was insensitive following the attacks in Norway, for which the suspect is reported to have links with right wing extremists.

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