The Government’s vision of how the media industry should be regulated in the digital age has generated a mixture of frustration and cautious praise, but many key figures have criticised the Communications White Paper for leaving too much to the imagination.
The key element of the paper, which was unveiled by Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport this week, was the creation of a super watchdog, Ofcom, which will end the “alphabet soup” system of regulation by combining bodies such as the Independent Television Commission, Broadcast Standards Commission and Radio Authority.
Ofcom will have wide-ranging powers, including the enforcement of competition regulations across the industry, as well as maintaining standards of content for which it will have the power to fine those in breach of the rules.
Former managing director of BBC radio Liz Forgan and ITC chief Patricia Hodgson have already been tipped as possible candidates to run the new body. The document also paves the way for the merger of Carlton and Granada to form a single ITVcompany. However, such a move is unlikely to be given the green light soon. While the fixed 15% share of audience limits placed on ITV companies and the rule banning one company owning both London franchises will be swept away, further ITV mergers will be placed at the discretion of Ofcom.
The watchdog, which will not be created until after the next election, is unlikely to approve such a deal until ITV accounts for significantly less than its current 60% share of total TV advertising revenue meaning a single ITV is still years away. ITV’s director of programming David Liddiment welcomed the initiatives outlined by the Government.