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12/12/2000

WHITE PAPER SETS UP SINGLE MULTIMEDIA WATCHDOG

CULTURE Secretary Chris Smith has announced the setting up of a single Communications regulator to oversee the converging sectors of broadcast and communications.
Smith said that the Office of Communications (Ofcom) would give the UK a world lead, acting with what he described as “responsible freedom, upholding important standards for citizens”.
The long awaited Communications white paper, which sets out the Government’s vision and objectives for communications in the 21st century, has been welcomed by many of the industry’s top figures. The Government’s aims were broadly supported in many of the consultation replies submitted, as the White Paper, as anticipated, draws together the main regulators of established communications industry.
The move sees the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority scrapped. A new super-regulator, Ofcom, is to be given the remit to carry out the regulatory functions previously under the auspices of these three autonomous bodies. Ofcom is to be given increased powers to regulate competition in the communications sector.
Smith pledged that one of the key principles was to protect the high quality of programmes.
The White Paper will abolish the current 15 per cent limit on TV audience share in favour of a news system to ensure “plurality”. Also revoked will be the rule that prohibits ownership of more than one ITV franchise in London.
One of the largest Government consultations ever mounted in the industry, the paper has drawn responses from national broadcasters, many of the top regional companies and the supporting organisations in the UK.
However, despite hefty Government criticism of some of the BBC’s recent decisions the BBC Governors appear to have escaped any repercussions.
While it had been widely expected that the Governors would be made accountable to an external body, they appear to have escaped unscathed. The BBC’s current role as a self-policed public service broadcaster remains largely unchanged.
BBC Chairman Sir Christopher Bland said: “We are pleased that the Governors’ core responsibilities for ensuring the BBC programmes are impartial”.
In its future policies towards a single broadcasting, telecommunications and information technology industries, the Government’s had three broad aims: fostering competitive markets; ensuring that the UK builds on its competitive strength in these industry sectors; and to take the measures necessary to protect the public interest and the interests of consumers.
Since October, the Government has received over 70 written representations from consumer organisations, industry, regulators, business organisations, trade unions and others.
(SP)
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