Ofcom prepared to surrender powers

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has offered to surrender a number of its powers in anticipation of the coalition government's plans to reduce its remit.

Ed Richards: Ofcom chief executive
Ed Richards: Ofcom chief executive

In July, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport unveiled its structural reform plans as part of the government’s efficiency drive, and said it would look to cut the role of Ofcom by 2012.

It is understood that Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards has accepted there will be reductions in the regulator’s powers and has already made a presentation to the government about what those could be.

Richards took a 10% pay cut in July, bringing his salary to £353,541, and has told Ofcom’s 900 staff to expect redundancies as the regulator looks to reduce costs.

Among the powers Ofcom has offered to dispense with is the obligation on public service broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, to submit annual statements of programme policy to Ofcom.

Asked about plans to trim the regulator, Richards said: "The new government wants to be clear that in certain areas it is in charge of policy. As far as I'm concerned, that is absolutely fine and not problematic.

"One person's trimming is another person's deregulation. We've got a very good record in simplifying regulation or deregulating. There's a host of areas that I will be proposing that we deregulate altogether."

Last week, Ofcom announced that, from 1 September, it would remove restrictions obliging commercial public service broadcasters to sell all of their ad minutage and preventing them from insisting agencies and advertisers buy ads on bundles of channels. However, it ruled out a wider study of the TV ad market.

On 15 July, the government outlined its plans to relax local cross-media ownership rules by November, scale back Ofcom, and begin the legislative process for a new Communications Bill by November 2012.

The DCMS will begin a scoping exercise for the new Bill in November. A spokesman for the DCMS said: "The broadcasting sector is currently heavily regulated and we believe that it is time to remove unnecessary regulation.

"We will remove or reduce regulation in areas where it is possible to do so in advance of a new Communications Bill, but this is a complex sector and we will need to get the interdependencies right."

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