Blair Bows to Criticism Over Communications Bill

26 February 2003

The Communications Bill – currently in passage through the British parliament and seen as a pet project of premier Blair – is to be amended after a barrage of criticism, much of it from the government’s own supporters.

The bill, which is due to coincide with its third reading in the House of Commons, will be amended to underline the statutory responsibilities of new regulatory body Ofcom.

Namely to scrutinise media takeovers and ensure diversity in TV and radio ownership. A specific amendment confers on Ofcom the onus for “maintenance of a plurality of providers of different television and radio services”.

Explained culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell: “The changes we are making are a belt and braces guarantee that the bill will deliver our policy commitment to safeguard and further the interests of the community as a whole and consumers.”

The amendments also acknowledge the concern of commercial broadcasters and other interests that the publicly-owned BBC is currently answerable only to its own state-appointed board of governors. It too will now fall within the new regulator’s remit.

Although the BBC is not specifically named, an amendment requires Ofcom to “further the interests of the community as a whole in relation to communication matters” – a splendid catchall phrase that will give it the power to intervene in BBC matters if it deems necessary.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff