Ofcom sends public interest test report to government on acquisition of minority shareholdings in owners of Evening Standard and Independent

On 23 August 2019, Ofcom announced that it has sent its report to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the media public interest issues relating to the completed acquisition by International Media Company (IMC) of a 30% share in Lebedev Holdings Ltd (owner of the Evening Standard newspaper) and the completed acquisition by Scalable Inc of a 30% share in Independent Digital News and Media Ltd (IDNM) (owner of the Independent online newspaper).

On 27 June 2019, the Secretary of State issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice and asked Ofcom to report to it by 23 August 2019 on the effects of the transactions on the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers (see Legal update, Secretary of State issues PIIN in in acquisition of minority shareholdings in owners of Evening Standard and Independent newspapers).

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was also required to report to the Secretary of State on jurisdictional and competition issues. It submitted its report on 28 July 2019. The reports of the CMA and Ofcom have not yet been published by the Secretary of State.

On 16 August 2019, the Competition Appeal Tribunal, following an appeal by Lebedev and IDNM, ruled that the time limit for the Secretary of State to make a reference of these transactions under section 45 of the Enterprise Act 2002 had expired on 1 July 2019 (see Legal update, Time limit has expired for Secretary of State to make a public interest reference of transactions relating to ownership of Evening Standard and Independent (CAT)).


European Commission stakeholder dialogue under Digital Copyright Directive

The European Commission has published an invitation to a stakeholder dialogue to discuss best practices for co-operation between online content-sharing service providers (OCSPs) and rights-holders as required by Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market ((EU) 2019/790) on the use of protected content by OCSPs.

The Commission states that the objective of the dialogue will be to hear stakeholders’ views and to discuss possible practical solutions for the application of Article 17, including actions to be taken by OCSPs with regard to unauthorised content, taking into account the interests of all relevant parties and the safeguards for users. The Commission states that the outcome of the discussions will feed into the preparation of the Commission’s guidance on the application of Article 17, referred to in the Directive.

The Commission states that it will hold the first meeting of the stakeholder dialogue on 15 October 2019 in Brussels. The objective of the first meeting will be to start mapping out existing practices related to the use of copyright-protected content by OCSPs in co-operation with rights-holders, as well as to gather user experiences. Further meetings will be organised until the end of 2019 or early 2020. The final dates for the meetings will be confirmed in due course.

The Commission is inviting relevant representative organisations of stakeholders, in particular EU-level representatives of rights-holders, of OCSPs, and of consumers, users and fundamental rights organisations to express their interest to participate in the stakeholder dialogue by online application, with a deadline of 18 September 2019.

The Commission states that it will be able to accommodate up to 80 individual representatives of stakeholder organisations in the meetings. Representatives of EU member states are also due to attend. The Commission states that it will select representative organisations considering the following criteria:

  • Organisations representing the interests of rights-holders, OCSPs or users, including consumer and fundamental rights organisations, related to the application of Article 17.
  • Organisations that have a legitimate interest in discussing the best practices for cooperation between OCSPs and rights-holders in the context of Article 17.
  • Organisations that have some practical experience related to the matters regulated by Article 17.
  • Representative organisations operating at European level.


Government consultation on extending permitted development rights for Code operators

The government has published a consultation on proposed reforms to the permitted development rights available to electronic communications code operators (Code operators) in England under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (SI 2015/596).

The proposals are designed to support the deployment of 5G networks and to extend mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas.

The consultation seeks views on extending the relevant permitted development rights to:

  • Remove the requirement for prior approval by the local planning authority (prior approval) for the installation of radio equipment housing on article 2(3) protected land, or on unprotected land where it exceeds 2.5 cubic metres. This amendment is intended to bring these rights in line with those relating to fixed-line broadband infrastructure. Prior approval would still be required for installations on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
  • Allow Code operators to increase the width of existing ground-based masts by more than a third to encourage greater utilisation of existing sites. The consultation also seeks views on the maximum increase that should be permitted without prior approval.
  • Allow Code operators to increase the height of existing masts to the relevant permitted height without prior approval.
  • Allow masts to be installed within 20 metres of a highway on buildings less than 15 metres in height. The consultation also seeks views on whether this right should be subject to prior approval.
  • Increase the maximum height of new masts that may be deployed as permitted development, subject to prior approval. The consultation also seeks views on the appropriate maximum height and whether a lower limit should apply to masts located on article 2(3) land or on a highway.

The consultation also seeks views on what restrictions should be attached to each of the new rights, to promote safety and security and to control the visual impact of the relevant installation.

Interested parties are encouraged to comment on the likely impact of the proposals (with regards to the government’s stated aims) and to suggest further measures that could be offered to reduce the visual impact of new installations, ensure the removal of redundant apparatus and maximise the use of existing sites.

The consultation closes on 4 November 2019. Subject to the outcome of this consultation, the government anticipates a further consultation on the detailed proposals, including draft regulations.

For information on the current permitted development rights for Code operators, see Practice note, Telecommunications and permitted development.

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