Axe BBC’s Self-Regulatory Powers, ITV Chiefs Tell Government

17 September 2001

The barons of Britain's ITV Network , gathered at last week’s Royal Television Society convention, branded as “bizarre” the right to self-regulation currently enjoyed by the British Broadcasting Corporation and demanded that it be withdrawn by the government.

The ITV attack focused primarily on the fast-expanding commercial activities of the BBC rather than regulation of its broadcast content. At present the BBC’s trading practices are regulated by a board of governors appointed by the government.

This situation angers Gerry Murphy, chief executive of Britain's second largest ITV broadcaster Carlton Communications: “The dominant player in the broadcast industry is the BBC, and the fact that its regulation as a market phenomenon is separate is frankly bizarre,” he fumed.

Equally irked is Charles Allen, chairman of number one ITV player Granada Media, who urged that future planning decisions concerning the BBC should not be made in isolation from those affecting ITV.

“There is a real urgency. The industry needs clarity in terms of timing of the legislation,” argued Allen. “We have never sat down and said that all of these things need to be decided together. We need to define the role and regulation of the BBC because it is the centre of this industry."

Allen urged the government to accelerate the execution of its communications paper, which is not due to be enacted by Parliament before 2003: “The pace of government and the pace of business are completely different ... we need to decide what this industry will look like in ten years' time. If you had done this ten years ago, the picture [today] would be very different.”

BBC director general Greg Dyke – himself an ex-ITV tycoon between whom and Allen there is a rasping friction – not surprisingly disagreed. Nor could he resist a jibe at Granada’s current fiscal performance: investors, opined Dyke, would do better “putting their money in the Abbey National [a consumer bank]”.

ITV companies, he continued, should not be obsessed with becoming the new Vivendi Universal: “We must not throw away all that we have built up in a quest to create our own Vivendi Universal, because might find out in a couple of years that we don't want our own Vivendi Universal.”

Taking a different tack was BSkyB chief Tony Ball, who questioned whether a regulator was necessary at all: “We don't need another regulator making judgements about whether a deal is fair or not. We need to ask if the consumer is benefiting or not,” he said.

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