Memorandum submitted by the Broadcasting
1. The Broadcasting Standards Commission
(BSC) considers audience complaints about fairness, privacy and
in broadcasting of all kinds. It is unique. It is the only statutory
body which covers the whole field: radio and television; public
corporations (including the BBC) and commercial broadcasters.
Its overarching codes must be reflected by all the broadcasting
2. The BSC continues to believe that the
merger of the existing regulatory functions in broadcasting and
communications into a single body is worthwhile and necessary.
It is working with the other regulators to prepare for OFCOM and
to minimise any adverse effects both of the delay in introducing
legislation and of the continuing overlapping functions between
it and other regulators. The BSC is now, by arrangement with the
ITC and the Radio Authority, carrying out (with the complainants'
consent) all investigations into complaints relating to fairness
and privacy, whichever regulator initially receives the complaints.
Co-operation is also advanced in audience research, for which
joint planning and joint working with the ITC in particular is
3. However, the new OFCOM should not merely
merge the functions of the existing regulators, but should start
from a fresh analysis of the future necessary purposes and functions
of sector-specific regulation of broadcasting and communications.
That analysis must principally be undertaken by Government and
Parliament. The substantive Communications Bill now being prepared
should re-enact and codify all the legislation which is to remain
in force, and state or re-state the guiding principles to provide
a future framework which is clearly intelligible to the industry
and the public. Within such a clear framework, Parliament should
allow the regulator sufficient scope to respond to new market
and technological developments.
4. OFCOM should from the start establish
itself as a body at the cutting edge of those new developments.
The initial key appointments should send that message: the Chairman
and Chief Executive need to establish a flexible, non-bureaucratic
culture which builds on the expertise of the existing bodies and
deploys it on the issues which matter. As communications develop,
the issues and the mechanisms for regulation (both economic and
of content) will change.
5. In the BSC's view, the BBC and S4C should
come under OFCOM on much the same basis as Channel 4 is now regulated
by the ITC. The remits of all these public broadcasting corporations
should be set by Government and Parliament, in general terms;
those remits interpreted in more detail by their appointed boards;
and performance against the remits monitored and assessed independently
by OFCOM. The recent debate over the BBC's proposed new digital
channels demonstrated the danger of the Government's becoming
too closely involved in the definition and policing of the BBC's
programming operations in the absence of other independent supervision.
The model we suggest both safeguards the BBC's independence and
provides independent scrutiny of its performance.
6. The debates in the House of Lords on
the current Office of Communications Bill have emphasised the
need for a clear, strong and specific "content" regulation
function within OFCOM. That does not mean having separate content
and economic regulators, which would simply perpetuate existing
overlaps: the economic and content objectives need to be seen
together, and balanced as necessary. Nevertheless, OFCOM should
embody the principle of dedicated, "lay", representative,
control of content regulation, independent of commercial interests.
It should therefore, in our view, have an identifiable "Content
Board" to carry out its distinct content regulation functions:
this could act as a sub-committee of OFCOM itself, chaired by
a non-executive OFCOM board member.
7. The BSC successfully applies this principle
of independent, lay control to represent the citizen's interest.
All its cases derive from individual complaints, and are assessed
by Commissioners. In reaching a decision, they take full account
of wider public opinion, as revealed through extensive research,
which is in turn embodied in the BSC's codes, and through a programme
of seminars, conferences and roadshows. OFCOM will similarly need
to demonstrate, through its structure; its practice and its research,
that it takes direct account of the citizen/consumer's views in
formulating its content policies.
2 January 2001
1 Fairness and privacy complaints cover cases where
individuals or organisations are directly affected by a programme
which they say has misrepresented or misled them; not given them
a fair say or intruded on their privacy. Standards complaints
cover cases where viewers and listeners claim that offensive material
has been broadcast which falls below acceptable standards of taste
and decency. This may involve the use of foul or abusive language
or the broadcast of inappropriate subject matter, eg violent,
criminal or sexual activity. Back