Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for
Press and Broadcasting Freedom
1. ABOUT THE
1.1 The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting
Freedom (CPBF) was founded in 1979 to promote accountability,
diversity and plurality in mass communications. The Campaign works
closely with trade unions representing media and communications
professionals and with them has been organising a series of conferences
and public meetings on the Communications Bill around the country.
We also work with public interest groups, trade unions, academics
and individuals inside and outside the media. One particular strand
of our work has been to track and analyse the distorting impact
which excessive media concentration can have on the democratic
process, and on broader social, cultural and economic activities.
Our responses to previous consultations on communications regulation
are available at www.cpbf.org.uk.
1.2 We have restricted our comments below
to key concerns and recommendations in line with the Joint Committee's
request. We welcome this opportunity to provide written evidence
and we hope the Committee will wish to invite us to give oral
evidence at its forthcoming hearings.
2. GENERAL COMMENTS
2.1 The draft Communications Bill proposes
a radical redrawing of media ownership rules which will make them
the most liberal in the world and will diminish already weakened
levels of protection of plurality and diversity. The Bill extends
``light touch'' regulation in a manner which will roll back regulatory
safeguards across the media. By setting up a centralised Office
of Communications, reducing public service obligations and loosening
ownership regulations, the Bill will sideline quality, accountability
2.2 Over the last 20 years communications
policy has shifted decisively towards serving the interests of
large commercial companies. From a democratic perspective, it
is vital that communications regulation is shaped by and is accountable
to wider public interests and that it exercises control against
powerful commercial and sectoral interests in order to secure
wider public policy objectives. The government needs to revise
the Bill if we are to avoid ending up with a media system dominated
by powerful commercial companies, such as now exists in the United
3. THE OBJECTIVES
3.1 A major part of OFCOM's remit should
be the promotion of high quality communications which inform,
educate and entertain and which fully reflect the range of opinions
and cultures in the UK, across all the major services. All satellite
and terrestrial broadcasting licensees should be subject to regulatory
requirements (and in some cases economic incentives) to increase
the amount of public service programming they carry and OFCOM
should have the responsibility for monitoring and enforcing these
obligations by including them in detail in the licenses granted.
3.2 To act in the wider public interest
the OFCOM board needs to be constituted by democratic nomination
from the devolved institutions and by UK wide associations with
a major interest in the media, including, educational bodies,
cultural organisations, NGOs and trade unions. In particular the
devolved assemblies should have the right to nominate members
of OFCOM, to both the main board and any sub-boards.
3.3 OFCOM's powers to act as a complaints
body should be removed and complaints concerning communications
media (including the press) should be dealt with by a separate
body, independent of OFCOM.
4. CONTENT REGULATION
4.1 The Content board and Consumer panel
should be constituted as bodies separate to OFCOM with powers
to instruct OFCOM to enforce high quality services and public
service commitments across major providers. Both should be representative
in composition and accountable in their operations.
5.1 As the former EC Competition Commissioner
Van Miert stated "We cannot use competition rules to govern
democratic issues." Communications regulation needs to be
based on the recognition that media contribute to pluralism, diversity
and quality of information and hence require a separate regulatory
structure from that which governs other parts of the national
and global economy. Providing OCOM with concurrent powers with
the OFT significantly limits how it may evaluate competition matters.
5.2 In assessing market power through economic
considerations, competition law is unable to grasp more complex
forms of media power which regulation for media pluralism has
traditionally sought to address. Narrow definition of the relevant
market may ignore cross-media holdings and the significant media
power arising from these. Competition regulation may tolerate
monopoly or oligopoly provided that markets are economically speaking
"contestable" and so allow conditions that may threaten
pluralism. In contrast, the public policy concept underpinning
media ownership rules concerns the effects of concentration on
the public interest rather than on competition.
5.3 OFCOM must be granted powers and have
clear obligations to secure specific public interests in communications
over and above the application of general competition powers.
5.4 The relaxation of cross-media ownership
rules for local radio and newspapers go against the Bill's stated
aim to protect pluralism. We believe the proposed changes in local/regional
newspaper ownership are made in response to the media industry
lobbies, are ill thought out, and should not be implemented until
a full competition inquiry has been carried out. We oppose deregulation
of ownership in national radio.
6. PUBLIC SERVICE
6.1 The Bill should ensure a continued commitment
to a public service system in British broadcasting, rather than
a commercial system with a few protected public service "remits".
6.2 The deregulatory thrust of the Bill
is best exemplified by the approach to the BBC. Instead of building
on the success of publicly funded broadcasting and applying the
standards of the BBC across the output of other major providers,
the Bill proposes to apply the same deregulatory standards to
the BBC as it does to its commercial competitors. The BBC will
be "subject to increased external regulation while other
public service broadcasters will face reduced external regulation.
Thus the BBC's position will be brought closer to other broadcasters"
(8.2.1). OFCOM, whose main purpose is to promote economic competition
in the media as well as to lift "burdens" in the sector,
will be bringing its overwhelmingly commercially orientated outlook
to bear on scrutinising the BBC. The effect of this will be to
create a regime where the commercial operators, whose interests
OFCOM has been created to uphold, will be able to pressurise OFCOM
into demanding that the BBC does not compete with them in designated
commercially profitable areas, Using the arguments that there
is not a 'level playing field' and that publicly funded media
should not undermine commercial operations, the BBC's remit in
areas such as popular comedy, sport and drama will come under
direct pressure, as well as any plans the BBC might have for expanding
6.3 The BBC should remain separately regulated,
particularly given the structure of OFCOM and its stated deregulatory
6.4 Positive programming requirements and
regulation concerning programme standards, advertising and promotions
should be strengthened for ITV and Channels 4 and 5. Non-terrestrial
broadcasters should be included within the regulatory framework.
6.5 There should be research into overlap
and convergence between digital television and other communications
media, particularly the Internet. There should be clearer statements
about broadcasters' obligations when using other media, given
that these too are potentially part of a public service system.
6.6 The regional ITV franchises with their
obligations to local news, current affairs and general programming
must be retained. The Public Service Broadcasting requirements
on ITV broadcasters should not be lowered but remain at the same
level as the BBC. Licenses must carry requirements to maintain
not just local news but programme production in all the main centres
of franchise areas, including current affairs and magazine programmes,
drama, access programming and cultural coverage. There must be
no further consolidation of ITV ownership. The companies must
also engage separate advertising sales operations, to prevent
6.7 The ITV news contract should be the
subject of a separate franchise, in the same way that the national
breakfast franchise is separately awarded. OFCOM should award
the licence and ensure directly that it is adequately funded.
No single company should be allowed to hold a controlling interest.
7. THE ROLE
7.1 The remit of the Consumer panel is narrowly
drawn and should be expanded. Consumer welfare and protection
must include matters such as the separation of editorial and advertising
matter in all media and the nature and extent of commercial material
8. FOREIGN OWNERSHIP
EU TELEVISION WITHOUT
8.1 We believe the prohibition on non-EEA
ownership of broadcasting licenses should remain.
8.2 We also believe that the proposal in
the European Television Without Frontiers Directive that 50 per
cent of programmes broadcast within the European Union should
be made by European audio-visual companies should be applied more
rigorously. This could be effectively enforced by stating the
requirement explicitly in the Bill.