CAMBRIDGE, UK: Addressing the biennial conference of the Royal Television Society on Thursday evening, UK government minister for culture, media and sport James Purnell (pictured) revealed that a new Communications Act will be introduced prior to the switch-off of the analogue TV signal in 2012.

The decision follows a series of reviews and investigations into the future of digital television and broadcasting over the internet - especially with regard to the future of public service broadcasting.

Purnell, who was handed the poisoned chalice of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport only three months ago, told his audience that there are "difficult questions" to be asked about public service broadcasting, regulation and the fast-changing broadcast market.

Some of those questions, insiders say, were posed by Clan Murdoch, which has not been backward in suggesting to various UK prime ministers and their acolytes that what is good for News Corporation is good for the British nation.

So Purnell was perhaps delivering a coded message to the clan when he told conference attendees that the proliferation of new media outlets are not an alternative to traditional TV companies fulfilling their public service responsibilities.

Without government intervention, he said, the advance of technology could lead to the dilution of PSB. "A vicious circle could emerge in which the wealthy pay to watch on demand, via technology which is not affordable to the rest.

"Advertising revenues could gravitate to this more affluent market, leaving a significant part of the population not only without access to these new types of content but also finding the traditional broadcast channels dwindling," Purnell warned.

PSB rules require commercial broadcasters to deliver certain types or quantities of programmes such as news or children's programming.

But the minister hastened to reassure his audience that a new Act would not necessarily increase the amount of broadcast regulation.

Broadcasters, he said, could be regulated less by detailed rules and more by principles, as is the case with the financial services industry - a singularly crass analogy in the light of the current financial meltdown!

The government intends to establish a "convergence think-tank" to help it decide its broadcasting policies.

Said Purnell: "We have three [goals]: we want our markets to be open, we want universal access to high quality output and we want individuals to consume and create what they want."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff