Ex Ofcom man calls for Comms reform

Former Ofcom partner and ITN CEO, Stewart Purvis, has called for quick action on ITV, a reversal of European regulation, and relaxation of advertising and impartiality rules, in a speech delivered for the RTS (Royal Television Society) Fleming Memorial Lecture 2010.

Entitled ‘Calling Time on Analogue Regulation – an agenda for the next Communications Act,’ Purvis provided detailed proposals for the next Communications Act, stating that the polite game of poker that ITVplc is playing with the Government would need to come to an end if the “Government is going to deliver its very ambitious timetable for local television set out in the DCMS business plan this week”.

Purvis proposed that the ITV licensees “should be invited to sign up for a clearly defined pattern of content for the nations and regions for ten years with no annual renegotiation downwards and in return the licences will be rolled over.”

He said that if Britain didn’t want that kind of deal or wouldn’t agree to it, “then the only logical next step is to review the use of that spectrum and see if other interested parties have a better idea about how public value can be realised. I suspect that ITV will find it hard to take that risk.”

In terms of European legislation, Purvis said Britain should “stop Europe taking us any further down the road to more statutory regulation” and should “pull back” from where it has gone too far already. He went on to argue that the UK should try to reverse recent trends in European directives and release from regulation the parts where our media has been “forced into it,” and suggested some “sunset clauses” on existing regulations.

Purvis also called into question the future of the European directive that defines the amount of TV advertising allowed in each hour. He proposed that local TV should experiment with a different system for advertising minuteage and allow “sponsorship around, but not inside news programmes on local TV”, making reference to PBS in the US.

Proposing what he suggested was “the best way forward” on impartiality, Purvis said local television and radio should be allowed to operate a self-regulatory model perhaps using a version of the PCC code which requires accuracy but not impartiality. Although he proposed that statutory regulation should remain for incitement to crime, racial hatred, the protection of children and unwinnable competitions, he said that complaints about lesser “harm and offence”, about fairness and privacy from viewers, could be moved from Ofcom and instead handled by a self-regulatory body.

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