Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1020-1023)



  1020. Part of the vision for this Bill is a very successful ecology of United Kingdom TV and part is a well-funded and strong BBC setting minimum standards and competition in that way, but would not a weak and underfunded BBC such as you reminded us of only a few years ago knock some of the pillars out of the whole process you put forward, and would it not be better to have the BBC under OFCOM now rather than waiting until that debate in 2006 when the BBC's Charter is renewed?
  (Tessa Jowell) No, I do not accept that analysis. The BBC's strength comes from the security of its financial position, which was obviously created on the back of the licence fee settlement. In 2004 the process of Charter review will begin. I think there are very pressing issues, and you have touched on a number of them over the course of our time with you today, which are more important than how the BBC is funded. Those issues are about what is the BBC for: what is the BBC's role in an increasingly competitive market: what is the scope or the proper scope for the diversification of services funded by the licence fee? As the principal public service broadcaster, I think that the case for modernisation or reform applies as compellingly for the BBC as the principal public service broadcaster as it does to other of our more literal public services. I do not accept, therefore, that the strength of the BBC derives principally from its regulation because we would hope that the consistency of regulation would be the same by the governors as by OFCOM, and the three tiers of regulation with tier 1 and 2 designed by OFCOM complied with by the BBC are designed to secure precisely that kind of level regulatory playing field, and certainly I as Secretary of State and no doubt OFCOM will be looking very closely to make sure that that is achieved in practice.

  1021. But are we not setting up a situation where the Bill when it comes as a proper Bill and the first three years of OFCOM's operation are all dominated by how this particular decision or piece of legislation affects the BBC, and it will detract from the important points you just made?
  (Tessa Jowell) No, because I hope that the legislation will settle the regulatory position of the BBC and it will settle the model of dual regulation of public service broadcasting with the impact of OFCOM where relevant on the BBC, so that the focus of Charter renewal can be not on the system of regulation or financing but the broader purposes of the BBC.


  1022. Lastly, the licence fee is obviously one pillar of funding; the other is in many respects the dog that has not barked which is advertising. The overwhelming view of the advertising industry is that they should enjoy the same degree of self-regulation as the broadcasters and as has been practised successfully in non-broadcast advertising. Are there any real or sustainable reasons why the Bill should not include the introduction of a properly accredited, self-regulatory system for broadcast advertising, with OFCOM if necessary as the backstop power?
  (Tessa Jowell) I know that the advertisers feel very strongly indeed about this, and at the moment there is a system of what is described as co-regulation between the ITC and two industry bodies, and that system of co-regulation exists for important reasons—the implementation of European rules in relation to advertising, the application of minimum content standards, taste and decency which apply to all broadcast material—and it is important to remember that broadcasters are responsible also for the advertising that they carry. It is also important to be aware of the potential risks to programmes from product placement. So the reasons for the maintenance of the system of co-regulation I think are clear but certainly we are very happy to discuss further with the advertisers the safeguards that might be in place were a system that were closer to self-regulation to evolve over time, but the importance about any system of self-regulation, and therefore I think your point about accredited self-regulation, is that this must be regulation in which the public can have confidence and which provides the public with the proper safeguards that a system of more rigorous regulation might be designed to deliver.

  1023. Ms Hewitt, do you have anything to add?
  (Ms Hewitt) No, absolutely not.

  Chairman: Thank you both very much indeed.



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