Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Second Report


The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has agreed to the following Report:



The communications revolution

1. In May 1998 this Committee published a Report entitled The Multi-Media Revolution.[6] We argued that the convergence of television and computer technologies would have a dramatic impact on the British communications landscape. We considered that the potential for beneficial effects was being held back by the complacency of broadcasters, the confusing array of regulators and the lack of clarity of public policy. We proposed a new approach to public policy based on the following five priorities:

    "·  to promote the development of technologies, including the Internet, which have almost immeasurable potential to drive forward economic progress, social development and the effective delivery of public services to meet the needs of the citizen;

     ·    to promote a competitive British sector in the new media market, coupled with open access to delivery networks;

     ·    to support a strong and diverse British broadcasting production base, for both traditional and new media, including an enduring role for public service broadcasting;

     ·    to provide, insofar as it will continue to be possible, a regulatory framework for broadcast content geared to methods of access and sensitive to changing competitive pressures, not least the growth of the Internet (subject to self-regulation) as a broadcast medium;

     ·    to ensure a translation of the principle of universal access into the digital era with the objective of creating a universal broadband infrastructure".[7]

We advocated early legislation to establish a unified regulator for broadcasting, telecommunications and the communications infrastructure.[8]

2. In July 1998 the Government issued a Communications Green Paper that was sceptical about the speed with which new technologies would affect broadcasting. The Government then favoured an "evolutionary approach", believing that the existing regulatory framework "has sufficient flexibility to meet our aims for some time to come".[9] A year later the Government remained committed to its "rejection of a big bang approach to reforming communications regulation".[10]

3. On 12 December 2000 the Government published its Communications White Paper entitled A New Future for Communications.[11] This states that the Government has concluded that closer co-operation of existing regulators would be "a second-best response".[12] The Government now acknowledges that more radical measures are needed; the centrepiece of the White Paper is a proposal for a new single regulator, an Office of Communications (OFCOM). As the two Secretaries of State responsible for the White Paper note in its Foreword, there can now be no doubt that "the communications revolution has arrived".[13]

The conduct of our inquiry

4. In view of the prolonged gestation period of the White Paper and the consultation processes that preceded it, the Government decided to impose a tight timetable on further consultation, requiring submissions by 12 February 2001.[14] Since we wished to report to the House as soon as possible thereafter, our own inquiry was necessarily compressed. We took oral evidence from 25 organisations at six sessions between 25 January and 14 February, including current regulatory bodies,10[15] communications companies and organisations,11[16] and the National Consumer Council. We concluded with evidence from the Rt Hon Chris Smith MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Ms Patricia Hewitt MP, Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce in the Department of Trade and Industry. We received additional written evidence from a range of individuals and organisations, some of which is published with this Report and the remainder of which has been reported to the House and is available for inspection by Members of the House of Commons in the Library of the House and by members of the public in the House of Lords Record Office.12[17] We are most grateful to all those who assisted the Committee in the course of its inquiry.

6  Fourth Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, The Multi-Media Revolution, HC (1997-98) 520-I. Back

7  Ibid, para 141. Back

8  Ibid, paras 147, 158. Back

9  Regulating communications: approaching convergence in the Information Age, Cm 4022, July 1998, pp 5, 6. Back

10  HC Deb, 17 June 1999, col 219W. Back

11  Cm 5010, December 2000. Back

12  Ibid, para 1.3.6. Back

13  Ibid, p 3. Back

14  Ibid, para 9.3.2. Back

15  0The Radio Authority and the Independent Television Commission (ITC). Back

16  British Telecommunications plc (BT), News International, ntl, Video Networks Limited, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU), the British Internet Publishers' Alliance , ONdigital, Emap Performance, GWR Group plc, the Community Media Association, Radio Regen, BSkyB, ITV Network Limited, Granada plc, Carlton Communications plc, Channel 4, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Daily Mail and General Trust plc, AOL UK and SMG plc. Back

17  For details of how these papers can be inspected, see p liii. Back

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