Update: Ofcom to advise Secretary of State on News Corp UK and Ireland Limited's application to be released from newspapers Undertakings

  • Start: 02 August 2021
  • Status: Closed
  • End: 16 August 2021

Ofcom submits advice on public interest considerations to the Secretary of State

Ofcom has today submitted a report to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, providing advice on the whether or not News UK’s application to release the Undertakings relating to The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers may be expected to operate against the public interest considerations set out below. The Secretary of State will now come to an initial decision on whether to release News UK from the Undertakings.

On 30 July 2021, the Secretary of State asked Ofcom to provide advice on the application by News Corp UK and Ireland Limited (News UK) to release the Undertakings pertaining to The Times and the Sunday Times newspapers.

The Undertakings ensure the continued publication of The Times and The Sunday Times as two separate newspaper titles under the direction of separate editors and also provide various protections to maintain editorial independence.

On 1 February 2021, News UK requested that the Secretary of State release the Undertakings. On 24 June 2021, the Secretary of State opened an invitation to comment (ITC) on the application, seeking input from interested parties. The ITC closed on 15 July 2021.

The Secretary of State has asked Ofcom to report on whether or not any effects adverse to the public interest considerations may be expected to result from the release of the Undertakings. The public interest considerations are:

  • the need for accurate presentation of news;
  • the need for free expression of opinion; and
  • the need for, to the extent that it is reasonable and practicable, a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers in each market for newspapers in the United Kingdom or a part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has also asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to provide advice relating to whether there has been a material change of circumstances set out in the Invitation to Comment. In particular, on how market circumstances have changed for the business in the context of News UK’s request.

As stated in the ITC, the Secretary of State will consider News UK’s application, submissions received in response to the ITC and advice by Ofcom and the CMA before reaching an initial decision.

Process guidance

As a first step, we will gather and analyse the information. Our analysis will draw as appropriate from stakeholders’ submissions as well as information that we already have available in-house, and any other sources we deem relevant.

In the ITC, the Secretary of State requested submissions and evidence on whether there has been a material change in circumstances, whether the change means that the Undertakings are no longer appropriate or necessary for the purpose they were intended to achieve, taking account of the public interest considerations applying to newspapers. We will review the evidence already gathered by the Secretary of State. We also intend to request information from News UK, and other relevant parties where appropriate and as allowed within the timescale set by the Secretary of State.

If stakeholders would like to submit evidence pertaining to the public interest considerations noted above, this should be sent to NewsUKundertakings@ofcom.org.uk no later than 16 August 2021.

Ofcom strictly observes confidentiality in all aspects of its operations. We will give the Secretary of State all relevant submissions (including confidential ones) to enable him to make his decision. We will also provide information to the CMA where appropriate. We will require a full non-confidential version of any confidential submissions, together with reasons why information should be treated as confidential.

As soon as practicable, we will consolidate the results of our internal analysis and the points raised by stakeholders to reach a provisional position on our advice to the Secretary of State. If our provisional position were that the application to release the Undertakings raises potentially material public interest issues, we would send an issues letter to News UK, setting out the core arguments and evidence in the case. If appropriate and practicable, the letter would include the offer of an issues meeting to discuss our draft position and the analysis underpinning it.

We must finalise our report and send it to the Secretary of State by 24 September 2021 together with any other material that may be relevant to his decision. DCMS intend to publish our advice (including any necessary redactions) in due course. The Secretary of State will then come to a minded decision on whether to release News UK from the Undertakings.