Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1431
WEDNESDAY 14 DECEMBER 2005
Lord Currie of Marylebone and Mr Tim Suter
Good morning. It is very good to see you again. I gather you decided
not to bring Stephen Carter today?
Lord Currie of Marylebone: We felt that the
two of us would be able to handle your questions appropriately.
Tim Suter is head of our contents and standards area.
As you know, we are now into the second part of our review. We
have published the first part and we are now looking at various
other areas but perhaps we could jog back to the first part and
some of the recommendations and proposals that we made there and
also in light of the debate we had in the House of Lords on Friday.
One of the things which is constantly said about Ofcom is that
you are just an economic regulator, nothing more, nothing less.
Do you accept that?
Lord Currie of Marylebone: I would certainly
not accept it. Our public service broadcasting review and the
whole process around it indicate the much broader range of responsibilities
that Ofcom has given to us by Parliament, enshrined in the Communications
Act. We have a very clear responsibility for the citizens' interests
as well as consumer interests and we have to balance those where
they might come into conflict. We have a very clear responsibility
to maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting which is
reflected in our PSB review. We have a much wider range and we
regulate not just the private sector but the state owned Channel
4 and we also have regulatory powers over many aspects of the
BBC's activities. We are certainly not a pure economic regulator.
Remind us of the two powers, the powers you have with the BBC
and the powers you have with the commercial broadcasters in the
Lord Currie of Marylebone: We have over the
commercial broadcasters, including Channel 4, tier one responsibilities
for harm and offence, fairness and privacy and accuracy and impartiality.
We also have those powers over the BBC except in respect of accuracy
and impartiality of news. Then we have powers at tier two in terms
of quotas of regional production, origination and so on. The BBC
governors have responsibility for tier three powers. In the case
of commercial broadcasters, we have a co-regulatory arrangement.
If someone makes a complaint to the BBC and they are not satisfied
with it, that is perhaps the end of the matter but if someone
makes a complaint to ITV do you act as a final court?
Lord Currie of Marylebone: Yes and also in respect
of the BBC. We made the final adjudication on the Jerry Springer
Mr Suter: It is important on issues
like that that the BBC is regulated in exactly the same way as
any other broadcaster. If it is an issue of harm or offence, what
used to be described as taste or decency that is a matter for
Ofcom. A complainant to the BBC has exactly the same status as
a complainant to ITV about a similar programme or a complainant
to any other broadcaster. The broadcaster may respond to it and
may satisfy the complainant or may not, or the complainant can
come direct to the regulator and in those instances the regulator
is us. In Jerry Springer, the BBC received a lot of complaints.
We received a lot of complaints directly as well. We waited, as
we always do in situations like that, for the broadcaster to determine
their own response, whether they think what they did was appropriate
or not appropriate, before we come to our regulatory decision.
In those senses, the BBC is in no different circumstance to any
When it comes to accuracy and impartiality the BBC is a special
Mr Suter: That is right.
They are judge and jury, to put it in an emotive way?
Mr Suter: They regulate their own output in
relation to accuracy and impartiality in news programmes.
They are judge and jury.
Mr Suter: If regulators are judges and juries
that is what they are.
You say that you will consider charging companies who use the
spectrum from 2006 and you also say that if you decide to go ahead
charges would apply to the BBC and Channel 4. As far as the BBC
is concerned, obviously it would push up the costs and the licence
fee costs. Have you therefore decided whether the BBC is to be
charged for spectrum from 2006?
Lord Currie of Marylebone: No, we have not. We have
made it clear that there will be no charge for analogue spectrum
unless a broadcaster was wilfully late with the digital switchover
process. The question of whether we should charge for digital
spectrum for broadcasters is a question that we will be going
out for consultation on next year. We have not taken a view on
it but it is a question that we will come to as part of the broader
review of spectrum pricing and spectrum trading. This is part
of a much broader picture but whether we would wish, after consultation,
to charge broadcasters is an entirely different matter.
Is the decision entirely up to you?
Lord Currie of Marylebone: Yes.