Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 718-719)



  Chairman: Sorry for the delay. Thank you very much for coming to see us. We shall start with a question from Lord McNally.

Lord McNally

  718. We have had conflicting evidence about what radio actually wants from OFCOM. GWR states that it does not want radio pigeonholed. We have heard complaints that in the past within an overall regulator radio has been the "Friday afternoon" issue. On the other hand, we have heard the Radio Authority say that there are specialist functions, particularly as they apply to licensing, which are going to need specialist attention within OFCOM. What is the message from the industry? Where do you want to sit within OFCOM—as part of its general responsibilities, or do you want some niche operation within it?

  (Lord Eatwell) I think the key thing about this Bill which we do not want is that we do not want a Bill which discriminates against the radio industry as this Bill does, as, with respect to other media, we feel very strongly that it is inconsistent in its regulatory approach to other media and its approach to radio. It discriminates against the radio industry with respect to the ownership provisions, with respect to the potential role of the Content Board and, as you yourself have identified, with respect to the potential structure of OFCOM.
  (Mr Bernard) I think we feel very much that radio should not be part of a radio-only silo within OFCOM. We think that whilst we recognise that there will be a need for radio experts for licensing provisions, that is not necessarily a reason to have a separate radio division. We think that it would, in a sense, underline the fact that radio becomes a Friday afternoon job again, because everything else would be in a converged OFCOM. I think that we ought to recognise, I would like you to recognise, that radio is probably the medium which is subject to more potential change over the next few years than almost any other medium that I can think of. The traditional patterns of listening are going to change. The way we receive radio is going to change, through the internet, through satellite television and now through digital radio, through mobile phones particularly as well. Radio is itself waking up to the fact that there is a potential for datacasting through digital spectrum which could be linked to mobile telephony. So all of this suggests very much that this is a medium which should be involved in a converged regulator.

  719. It is interesting. "Discriminate against" is a pretty strong charge. Most of the other sectors that we have received evidence from have, as it were, welcomed the amount of deregulation in the Bill for their sector, welcomed the promise of a lean and mean, light-touch regulator. You are saying that radio has been left behind the other sectors, are you?
  (Lord Eatwell) I think we do indeed welcome the general light-touch tone of the Bill, but we have actually had officials who use the phrase that whilst radio needs "belt and braces" regulation, do not have one regulation where two will do.

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