The Office of Fair Trading today moved to quell fears that a review of cross-media ownership rules may take years to complete.
In its Digital Britain interim report last month, the government revealed it would be asking the OFT to carry out “an exploratory review” into whether the merger rules needed changing.
It led to a fierce rebuke from Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey who accused ministers of a lack of urgency and predicted the investigation could take up to two years.
But today the OFT said the review would be completed by mid-April, in time for its recommendations to be included in the final version of the Digital Britain report due out in the summer.
Amelia Fletcher, senior director of mergers at the OFT said: “Local and regional media is an important part of the economy which is currently subject to a range of pressures.
“Initially we are asking for views on the key issues the review should focus on. Following this we will engage in detail on how the current media merger regime is operating in both protecting competition for relevant audiences and advertisers, and maintaining media plurality.”
Newspaper Society director David Newell said: “The NS welcomes today’s announcement that the OFT is reviewing the local and regional merger regime within the timeframe of the Digital Britain report.
“It is helpful that the government has specifically asked for the review to examine a number of the main issues which the NS has been asking the government to address as a matter of urgency.”
These include the extent to which markets for local print journalism products are any longer self-contained either in relation to advertisers or to readership, and the extent to which public service broadcasters and local authority information services constitute competition to commercial local media services.
All stakeholders wishing to submit initial comments to the OFT on the scope of the review are being asked to respond by the end of this month.