Joint Committee on The Draft Communication Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 55-59)



MR STEPHEN PRIDE and MR STUART BRAND from the Bill Team in attendance.

  Chairman: Welcome Mr Stoller. Lord McNally?

Lord McNally

  55.  Tony, it is getting near lunch, everybody has done all the exciting things—sex and violence, who owns Channel 3. What will we do? Oh, I know, good old steam radio! Are you not worried that that is going to be the approach to what is quite a massive Bill; that poor old radio is going to get pushed into the margins and not be given distinctive enough attention? If you are, now is your chance!

  (Mr Stoller) You have obviously been reading my notes! Of course it is of concern to us, and the concern comes not, I hope, entirely out of self-interest; it is that radio, which has had a terrific decade, has enjoyed that decade after coming out of the converged regulator. The old IBA was a converged broadcast regulator and, since there has been sector-specific regulation radio has been given the chance to fly so of course it is of concern to us. You referred to the Friday afternoon job and that was true within the IBA, I think by general consent the IBA only looked after independent television and radio. OFCOM will have telecoms and spectrum management, so we are worried it might not be a Friday afternoon job so much as a going-down-the-lift-at-the-end-of-Friday-evening job! That said, this is a matter for OFCOM and how OFCOM organises itself internally. The Bill, which I know is this Committee's concern, as drafted avoids these pitfalls. There is a separate treatment for radio and television. Much of the detailed radio drafting still has to be completed, and I may not give you quite such a sanguine answer when we see the details of the clauses that still have to be produced and if I may I will come back to the Committee in writing if anything does arise that concerns us but, as things stand at the moment, we do not perceive any problem in the Bill. If you look specifically at some of the clauses which exist, the radio licensable content proposal, Clauses 170 and 172, they are fully acceptable to us. We were closely involved in drafting the equivalent proposals for television and, therefore, drafted them in such a way that, when they were copied out for radio, that did not produce a problem. Similarly on the question of codes. The draft Bill as it stands in Clause 212 does envisage the possibility of separate codes for different media. We think that is necessary partly because radio and television are different perhaps in the structural sense, overwhelmingly because radio is not subject to the European Television Without Frontiers Directives.We think it is important that there should be the ability to treat them separately whilst at a higher level having consistency of standards. So at the moment, on the Bill itself, we are pretty content but perhaps there is one area where I might mention we think more work needs to be done which is in terms of the regulation of the BBC Radio. Clearly there is an intention that BBC Radio should come into that commonality of standards. That is not yet evident in the draft Bill—it is work still to be done—and it seems to us a very important part of work still to be done to ensure the Bill is specific on what it expects OFCOM to do in terms of BBC Radio, and as it is at the moment on BBC Television.

  56.  Are you saying to us that there is a danger though that the weaknesses that you suffered under the IBA could creep back into OFCOM, as far as radio is concerned being sucked back into a large regulator, and is there anything we can do in terms of the Bill to make that less likely to happen?
  (Mr Stoller) We think it is a huge danger: we fear it may happen. As you know, we will scream very loudly to try and stop it but we do think it is a matter for OFCOM. It may well be something that will emerge during the course of Parliamentary debates but, in terms of what appears on the face of the Bill, as both the ITC and the BSC have said, we are nervous about the Bill being too prescriptive in any direction and even in defence of radio we do not think that is necessary as it stands. It is going to be a matter for those who are determining the shape of OFCOM to decide how to deal with this issue.

  57.  Brian White is whispering in my ear why was radio not within the European Television Without Frontiers Directive?
  (Ms Salomon) It is basically because television can be an international medium, particularly with the advent of satellite television, whereas radio is primarily national and local, and therefore within the boundaries of individual jurisdiction.

Brian White

  58.  I listen to Finnish Radio at the moment on my satellite broadcast.
  (Ms Salomon) It is possible—

Lord McNally

  59.  This is a very odd Committee!
  (Ms Salomon)—But going back to the development of the TWF Directive, it was looking at the emergence of international broadcasting on television, not on radio. There have been noises that when the TWF Directive is next reviewed it might include radio but that does not look like it is going to happen for a good few years.


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