Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540-542)


13 MAY 2008

  Q540  Mr Evans: How do you know they are aware of this case?

  Mr Richards: It is difficult to see how anyone could not be aware of these cases. They have an established interest in the topic because they came to us. They cannot be unaware of the situation; it is plastered over every front page.

  Q541  Mr Evans: Are you surprised they have not got in contact with you?

  Mr Richards: Last time they did not get in contact with us over night, it took a little while.

  Mr Purvis: Sometimes we do get an individual phone call from an individual police station as well because they have read something and they want to follow it up. If we were hiding away our findings I think you might ask why we have not handed them over, but we have not exactly hidden our findings. If I could just pick up on the other point in a non-police sense which is: does the regulatory system work? I think this issue of a system based on individual licences for channels which is where we are, life has moved on now and these channels are sometimes consolidated, there are media organisations which have a number of channels and the sanction system is based per channel but, as Ed said, actually sometimes responsibility lies at the corporate centre. We have other cases in which this is an issue. I suspect one of the lessons learned will be crudely: where does the buck stop? Should it be down to the managing director of an individual licence holder or does it lie at a corporate centre?

  Mr Richards: I think this is a very important issue. If Parliament were considering new legislation in this area now one of the things we would, without doubt, say to you is that the sanction system should be linked to where the real responsibility lies rather than attached to single individual licences which has been an anomaly and a constraint in relation to our meeting the seriousness of the concern in this area. No-one spotted it; it is a product of the history of ITV being a regional system. In reality these are network programmes that are running across the whole of ITV, but actually the sanction only relates to an individual licence.

  Mr Purvis: The issue applies not just to ITV but to other major media organisations.

  Q542  Adam Price: When this first came to the public domain I wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking them to investigate. They wrote back to me and said in terms that it was a matter for you, as a regulator, to refer the matter to the police. You are saying it is a matter for them. Both cannot be correct.

  Mr Richards: What we are not expert in is deciding whether something is a criminal offence or not. That is not what we are expert in. We are expert in deciding whether this was a breach of the broadcasting code and, if it was, setting a sanction. What the police are expert in is deciding whether something may or may not be a criminal offence. We do not want to get ourselves in the position of recommending or suggesting that something is or is not a criminal offence; it is dangerous territory for a regulator to get into. In the case of the SFO what we found in the previous case was that "who is going to tell who" as it were resolved itself perfectly happily with them making a single call to us, we gave them the files and they investigated it. That may well be what happens again on this occasion. It has found a way of resolving itself.

  Adam Price: Certainly there seems to be some degree of confusion on the part of some police officers and police stations.

  Chairman: Thank you; we need to move onto our next session.

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