Govt takes on Puttnam idea of 'fines' for BBC

Govt takes on Puttnam idea of 'fines' for BBC

Jowell: a good Bill just got better

The BBC will be liable to fines for the first time and draft legislation on local radio ownership will be reviewed, according to the Government's response to Lord Puttnam's Parliamentary committee report on the Draft Communications Bill.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said that Lord Puttnam and his committee had "made a good Bill better," and that the Government had accepted 120 of the 148 recommendations put forward by the committee report.

The BBC could be fined up to £250,000 for breaching programming standards of taste and decency, and the new super-regulator will have more power over the broadcaster than existing programme watchdog, the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

However, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers  labelled Ofcom's approach to the BBC "a fudge".

A statement from ISBA said: "While we welcome the Government's plans, we believe that Ofcom should be given powers to regulate the BBC in respect of both competition law and public service obligations."

However, the Government's response spelt good news for the radio industry, with hints of a possible U-turn on regulations regarding local radio ownership.

The report suggests that proposals for a "three-plus BBC" local ownership rule will be reconsidered in the final Bill.

The move comes following on-going protests from radio bosses against the proposals, which stipulate that at least three independent radio stations, plus the BBC, must operate in any area.

The Commercial Radio Companies Association claimed this should be replaced by a more relaxed "two-plus BBC" structure.

The CRCA, including chairman Lord Eatwell and Capital Radio chief executive David Mansfield, claims a rethink would bring radio more closely in line with regulation governing television and press.

In the same week that the Government published its response to the recommendations, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have all launched a lobbying initiative to alter the draft Bill's "must carry" legislation on digital satellite, in an attempt to bring down the prices they pay to be carried on Sky Digital.

In a meeting on Wednesday, BBC director general Greg Dyke, along with ITV joint managing director Mick Desmond and Channel 4 chief executive Mark Thompson, put the case for public service broadcasters to interested MPs.

The "must carry" rule for terrestrial channels only obliges digital cable TV to carry terrestrial channels, and Sky will only be forced to do so once the analogue signal has been switched off. The broadcasters are urging MPs to fight to bring the "must carry" clause forward to current times - giving them more bargaining power when negotiating price carriage deals with Sky. 

Earlier this year, ITV complained to Oftel that BSkyB's conditional access pricing was too high, but the watchdog ruled last week that the pricing was fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory and rejected ITV's complaint.

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