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The regulatory regime that the Bill introduces gives Ofcom regulatory powers over licensed television and radio content services provided by cable and satellite delivery for reception by the general public. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right. The Bill does not bring elements of information society services delivered by the Internet, such as webcast, into the regulatory regime. That would mean an enormous increase in regulation. If the Conservative Party wants to support that officially, it should justify that in other places.
The amendment would also mean that 3G mobile phone services, delivered by satellite, would fall within the scope of Ofcom regulation. That is not something that the Government want. Of all new services, mobile telephones are the most individualistic. The industry recognises the problems which can exist for minors, who are enthusiastic users of mobile telephone technology, and the industry is devising a code of practice and other protective measures, which we have talked about, or restrictions on sales to adults.
Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, legislative provision would not be needed to extend regulation. The Secretary of State can, by order, consider in the future whether regulation, as in the case of video
Clauses 230(3) and 245(2) deliberately exclude from regulation any TV or radio services provided over the Internet or via a mobile telephone. For the viewer or listener, choosing to access content by these means, on individual request, is not like using conventional TV or radio. He expects to receive content which may go beyond that on conventional cable or satellite services. As these streamed services develop, it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish those which could be clearly categorised as television or radio.
The amendment would impose clearly inappropriate content standards, such as the availability throughout the United Kingdom of a wide range of TV and radio services which, taken as a whole, are both of high quality and calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests. This is not the regulatory regime for these services.
Variety, even of a more dubious and tasteless kind provided it is not illegal in content, is the essence of information society services and can be provided by anyone. Some people might regret some of the content and we look to the industry to continue to develop blocking devices for the protection of minors. But there we should stop.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to those who have spoken and, in particular, to my noble friend Lord Northbrook, who said that perhaps we should have some clarity on this matter on the face of the Bill. I have to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that, unfortunately, whether one is a lover of spam or not, this amendment was never intended to deal with that. Personally, I always found spam indigestible and indigestible it will remain. This is not an attempt to solve that particular problem.
I am fascinated that the implication of this amendment, as read, makes it a requirement that media, which already broadcast through conventional television or via satellite, would have to broadcast on the Internet. I did not think that that was the implication, although the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seems to think that it is. That is not the intention. In his response, for which I am most grateful, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made it clear that the Government do not want to go into this area. However, the purpose of the amendment simply is to give Ofcom a right to look at what media companies, who already are regulated, do when they use the Internet.
The reality is that the media and information services now use the same medium. There is no distinction between a BBC broadcast in digital form and a digital message technically going down the Internet. At some point, and somehow, we must bridge that gap. One way to do that would be the highly delightful way of deregulating media services completely. That might be the more intellectually
We have had an interesting debate, which has not taken the position much further forward. The Committee is examining the Bill in great detail. It would be entirely superfluous to divide the Committee on this issue, although I had some pressure from my noble friend to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment is intended to ensure that Ofcom has regard to the key role played by electronic communications in sustaining cultural diversity and promoting understanding between communities of differing ethnic origins. It is abundantly clear that Britain is fast moving towards being an ever more multi-ethnic and culturally diverse society. Those from different racial backgrounds should be and, above all, should feel themselves to be, included within the range of communities catered for by the communications industry.
Currently, despite full consultation prior to the publication of the draft Communications Bill, the Bill is, apart from some recognition within public service broadcasting clauses, quite unspecific about cultural diversity, leaving responsibility for this primarily to Ofcom to interpret as it sees appropriate.
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which requires public bodies to promote race equality and monitor the effect of such policies, will apply to Ofcom as a public body. Members of the Committee may ask, why not leave it to the good sense of Ofcom? But if the ethnic dimension of differenceso important in communicationis not specifically stated when others are, there is a danger that it will be neglected or given a lower priority. In communication, the racial aspect of diversity surely is at least as important as that of geography and disability, which are made specific Ofcom duties under the Bill.
Your Lordships should be in no doubt that a laissez-faire approach will not work in this field. I am afraid that the experience with equal opportunities for women over the yearswomen form 50 per cent of the population, not 9 per cent like the different ethnic populationsshows how vital it is to have these duties specifically spelt out and acted upon if progress is to take place.
A purely self-regulatory approach has not been found effective here, and it has not been found effective in the United States either. A Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC)/PACT delegation to the United States in 2001 found that the two public bodies responsible therethe Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commissionboth felt that self-regulatory measures had not been successful.
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that a report to be published by the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the Independent Television Commissionchaired by my noble friend, Lady Prasharemphasises the importance of cultural diversity specifically written into the initial regulatory agenda of Ofcom. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, will expand on its findings.
However, there are three particularly important areas mentioned which need attention. The first is the content of broadcast material where there continues to be significant under-representation of minority ethnic individuals, especially on television. From my own viewing, that situation appears to have got slightly better but the figures do not yet indicate it.
The second area which needs attention is the manner of portrayal where stereotypical and culturally inappropriate representations still persist. Thirdly, employment is an area where, if anything, there has been a decline in the number of people of different ethnic origins employed in the industry.
I am glad that Channel 4, in its latest briefing on the Communications Bill, has specifically backed this amendment. I hope that we shall have the support of the other terrestrial broadcasters as well as Members of the Committee. But most important, I hope that the Minister and the Government will accept the amendment and the important principle that lies behind the need to table it. I beg to move.
Baroness Prashar: I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. In making this contribution I declare an interest in that I was a non-executive director of Channel 4 for about seven years in the 1990s. As the Committee knows, the Government have declared their vision of developing an equal, inclusive society where everyone is treated with respect and within which there are opportunities for all.
The amendment seeks to instil that desire into the Bill, allowing an important and influential regulator the basis upon which to act to ensure that those objectives are achieved. It is also designed to ensure that Ofcom's decisions and the regulatory structure comply with the requirements of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
After some considerable thought, I decided to support the amendment. Some would argue that it is unnecessary. In an ideal world one could argue that such a provision is unnecessary. However, as we have heard, progress thus far has been patchy. Therefore, it is essential that such wording should be included in the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, for the past six months I have been chairing the review that has been looking at diversity in the context of the Bill. The review, which was established by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, with the support of the ITC, will be published in due course.
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