THE GOVERNMENT PLANS to merge the functions of broadcast regulators with those of Oftel, ac-cording to a speech last month by culture, media and sports secretary Chris Smith - a move long mooted by industry and consumer interests.

Together with trade secretary Stephen Byers, Mr Smith has already embarked on the process of creating a mainstream bill for presentation to the next Parliament [that’s electoral confidence for you!]. Speaking at a London seminar, the culture commissar said that the convergence of media and telecommunications made a single regulatory structure essential: ‘It no longer makes sense to regulate a thing called broadcasting and a thing called telecommunications with another structure’, he said.

Considerable liberalisation of the present rules affecting media is expected and insiders believe the new regulatory body may be split into two arms: one concerned with content, the other competition. Said Smith: ‘Our approach is going to be what I call the competition policy plus’ - the ‘plus’ being protection for the interests of viewers and consumers.

He also made it clear the planned merger between Carlton Communications and United News & Media will be considered under existing regulations.