Ofcom (Britain's new supra-regulator for broadcast, telecoms and online media) has been ordered by the government to undertake a sweeping review of the industry’s public and commercial sectors with regard to their public service obligations.

The fledgling watchdog, finally empowered by the new Communications Bill which received the Royal Assent on Thursday, will focus its enquiry on broadcasters’ commitments to education, innovation and availability of information.

Also under the microscope will be digital broadcasting, both TV and radio, the amount of locally originated content (compared to that imported from the USA and elsewhere), accessibility, inclusion of minorities and free access.

All terrestrial broadcasters fall within the review’s remit, including cable; but for reasons unexplained, the Murdoch-controlled BSkyB satellite service does not.

Said an Ofcom spokesperson: “The review will be a complex process involving public consultations and representations from the stakeholders.” But reticence ruled when questioned about the relevance of its inquiry to the government’s renewal of the BBC Charter which expires in 2006.

“How that investigation fits into the Charter renewal is up to the Government to decide,” came the reply.

Ofcom supersedes and absorbs the respective functions of Britain’s five former regulatory organizations: the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications, the Radio Authority and the Radio Communications Agency.

Its remit does not extend to press and poster advertising which remains the prerogative of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff