Memorandum submitted by J M Wober
This forum is looking at a draft of the Communications
Bill. The Bill will set the framework for communications regulation
for the next decade. It will affect you as a citizen and a consumerif
you watch television, listen to the radio or read newspapers,
or if you use a phone or surf the internet. And it will affect
your businessas a user or supplier of communications services.
The Communications Bill will establish a new
it is not necessarily a new framework
which is needed but an effective one for the whole of the communications
sector. It will transfer functions from five existing regulators
(Oftel, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority,
the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the Radiocommunications
Agency) to a new single regulator, OFCOM.
this may appear neat and compactbut
the object should not be to achieve bureaucratic elegancerather
to set up an effective structure in which those who carry out
the regulation know the functioning of the institution which they
scrutinise, and have instruments with which to uphold the rules(and
by prompt application of sanctions deter subsequent possible infractionsjust
like referees and umpires at sports and games).
In its final form, the Bill will make changes
to the rules on media ownership. Firm proposals for reform have
been published alongside the draft Bill. It will introduce a new
structure for broadcasting regulation that is specifically geared
to dealing with the digital age, (to comethis has not really
developed as heralded) making more use of self-regulation where
Wife beaters and cheats may be in the minoritybut
self regulation does not work with them and there have to be penalties
for socially destructive behaviourthis includes broadcasting
material which will be misused
Public service broadcasters will have greater
freedom to regulate themselves in certain areasthey will
have to set out what they intend to offer the public and be held
to account should they fail to deliverin return, they will
have greater flexibility in how they choose to deliver.
OFCOM will have concurrent powers with the Office
of Fair Trading to apply competition rules in the communications
sector (monopolies, mergers, anti-competitive agreements, abuse
of dominant positions).
The Bill will make provision to allow spectrum
trading, which will lead to more efficient use of the available
OFCOM will establish and maintain "The
Content Board" with the principal function of ensuring that
the "public interest" in the nature and quality of television
and radio programmes is represented within OFCOM's overall structure.
The new consumer voice will come through a Consumer
Panel, whose function will be to advise OFCOM, and other bodies
where appropriate, on major policy matters arising from the delivery
of communications services.
There should be no substitute for systematically
representative surveys of how people use the services and what
their responses areto those services and to matters of
public policy at largethe outcome of such research should
be available first to the regulators but then also to the public;
experience has shown that the best survey instrument is a "self
completion" oneeither by postal completion of questionnaires
(viz: the Audience Appreciation Panel which still exists) or the
YouGov.com email operation (which needs a better websiteand
OFCOM as a principal client; I have already sent in one example
of what I am referring tothe case of the BBC programme
Fields of Gold and its possible influence on knowledge about
and attitudes to GM scienceand possibly GM corruption;
and I will append another example at the end of this paper).
The draft Bill sets out seven general duties
for OFCOM, in no order of priority (Clause 3). Paraphrased, these
to further the interests of customers;
to promote competition;
to encourage optimal use of the communications
to secure a wide range of TV and
radio services throughout the UK;
to make sure TV and radio services
as a whole are high quality and diverse;
to protect the public from offensive
and harmful material on TV and radio;
to protect people from unfair treatment
and invasions of privacy in TV and radio;
Are there any duties which should be added?
YESOFCOM should be responsible for providing
facts and figures on the content of what has been broadcast (at
the moment this is erratically delivered by broadcasters and much
of this work has had to be done on the cheap by interested academic
researchers); there is also the matter of connecting broadcasting
users' attitudes and behaviour with what they have consumedsee
my comment above on surveysor taken away?
Are some more important than others? Should
they be prioritised in the Bill?
Should OFCOM have to explain how it has prioritised
them when it comes to making its decisions?
The draft Bill proposes a new system for regulating
content on TV and radio. This would be based on three tiers of
basic standards for practically all
TV and some radio broadcasters;
requirements for public service broadcasters
(BBC, Channel 3, Channel 4, Channel 5, teletext), on topics such
as regional programming and news provision;
specific public service remits for
each individual public service broadcaster;
OFCOM would include a Content Board,
to focus on content issues
Do you think there should be more or fewer restrictions
on TV and radio content? What sort of restrictions should there
Much as they are at presentwith added
attention to the sound quality of what is broadcast (being sensitive
to the needs and interests of the hard of hearinga very
large minority group)
Should there be different requirements for channels
depending on the method of access (for example, should pay TV
channels have the same requirements as channels that are free-to-view)?
Should there be more regional content on TV
How should complaints from the public about
broadcast content, including issues of privacy and fairness, be
Promptly and convincinglywhich will be
aided by good performance on the tasks of broadcasting assessment
referred to in my notes above.
OFCOM is not intended to regulate internet content.
Is this the right approach? Do the definitions in the draft Bill
achieve this? How should Ofcom deal with converging media contentfor
example, interactive services which are delivered to your TV,
these should be subject to the same regulation as whatever else
appears on the TV or TV programmes viewed over the internet?
Should internet content produced by public service
broadcasters be regulated differently to the rest of the market?
One of OFCOM's key roles will be to promote
competition in communications markets.
Do you think there is enough competition in the markets
internet access (including broadband
Should OFCOM regulate these sectors less and
leave the market to develop? Or should it regulate more to control
How might the Communications Bill encourage
a more rapid uptake of broadband? Why should it have to do this?
The social and cultural reasons for believing that broadband will
work better overall have not been adequately demonstrated. To
establish these reasons might indeed be one task to allocate to
The policy document also proposes some specific
changes to media ownership rules. These aim to promote competition
while ensuring that the media is owned by a range of players.
PLEASE pleasemedia are plural; and those who run them are
not "players"; unless the drafters of these documents
and those they draw into discussion use words better, all manner
of weaselly misconceptions and malpractices will ensue. I include
here the malpractice of labelling "evidence" in committee
a whole lot of discourse which might better be termed "positioning".
What Graham Davies and Greg Dyke said to a recent committee was
largely, not "evidence" but explanation and pleading.
Unless this whole operation gets clearer about what is and what
is not evidence, we enter a land of illusion.
Providing a diversity of services. Changes include:
removing restrictions that prevent
the formation of a single ITV company;
allowing national newspaper owners
to buy Channel 5but not Channel 3;
allowing non-European Economic Area
companies to own broadcasting licences;
lifting restrictions on religious
bodies holding some TV and radio licences.
Are specific media ownership rules necessaryor
should media ownership be treated in the same way as other markets,
and regulated using general competition rules?
To answer this requires knowledge not only of
media but also of other markets. Very few people have such broadband
knowledge and to suppose that comments on this are competent is
hoping for a lot.
Will the proposed changes result in a more competitive
and diverse media market?
Should religious organisations be allowed to
own national radio and terrestrial TV licences?
Should cross-media ownership rules include restrictions
on owners of new media such as internet portals yesor
does the growth of new media reduce the need for ownership rules?
The draft Bill sets out general and specific
requirements for public service TV broadcasting (Clause 181).
These include requirements about:
drama, comedy and music, and other
news and current affairs;
sporting and leisure interests;
educational, special interest, religious
and social issues, and programmes for children and young people;
reflecting the cultural, traditional
and community diversity of the UK;
producing content made outside the
Are these the right (areas about which) requirements
(should be established) for public service broadcasting? Yes
What should be addedor removed? Are some more important
than others?too long a matter to go into here.
Under the proposals in the draft Bill, public
service broadcasters will have to publish an annual policy statement
and report on how they have achieved it. OFCOM will monitor this,
and enforce it for most public service broadcasters. NOTE: The
iTC under the 1990 Act has had a requirement to assess the effects
of programmes broadcast upon public attitudes and behaviour .
. . and it has neither done this, nor reported its omission, nor
been questioned about it by the Parliamentary Select Committee
or individual MPsit is important for those who scrutinise
the instruments of regulation to KNOW THEIR FIELD and this is
not always the caseit should not be allowed to become slackeer
than it is now. However, for the BBC and S4C, final enforcement
powers will lie with the Government and Parliament.
Do you think this is the right way to regulate
public service broadcasting? What are the pros and cons of treating
the BBC differently from other public service broadcasters?
The BBC can be dealt with as a separate phenomenonbecause
of its size, special historical momentum and value, and the need
for those who do the regulation to know a great deal about how
it operates. At the same time the regulators (governors) MUST
be separated from the main body and equipped with RESEARCH facilities
which they in turn operate in a way that is accessible to the
publicand on which I have provided a separate memorandum.
The draft Bill and policy documents contain
proposals about how public service TV channels are carried by
cable and satellite operators. These are known as "must carry"
and "must offer" requirements.
How important is it that all public service
channels are available on cable, satellite and digital terrestrial
TV? VERY Will this be more important if analogue TV transmission
is turned off? YES
(CLAUSES 96 AND
The draft Bill proposes a consumer panel, primarily
to advise OFCOM on matters arising from the delivery of communications
services (for example, availability of communications services
in rural areas). It will be operationally separate from OFCOM,
with a high degree of independence.
Who should be on the consumer panel? Should
it represent small businesses as well as individuals? What about
What sort of topics should it focus on? What
role should it have with regard to content regulation?
Clause 97 sets out the interests to which the
Panel should have regard (those living in rural areas or urban
areas, disadvantaged people, those on low incomes, those with
disabilities, elderly people, people from different parts of the
UK). Do any other interests need to be addedor should any