UK comms regulator Ofcom is to lose a range of powers as part of a drive across Government to increase radically the transparency and accountability of all public services. The news follows on from proposals set out by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt in July this year, and reflects warning shots across the bows from Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron when on the Opposition benches.
Hunt’s department identified several Ofcom duties, which should be amended or removed to return the policy-setting role to the Secretary of State, reduce unnecessary expense and to avoid duplication. The proposed changes include: Amending the duty for Ofcom to review public service broadcasting every five years so that a review will only be conducted at the discretion of the Secretary of State; Allowing Ofcom flexibility to implement changes to its governance structures; Removing the duty on Ofcom to promote development opportunities for training and equality of opportunity; Changing the regional Channel 3 networking arrangement review from an annual review to a reserve power for Ofcom to assess as required; Amending the duty for Ofcom to review the media ownership rules every three years so that a review will be conducted at the discretion of the Secretary of State; Removing the requirement for public service broadcasters to provide annual statements of programme policy; Amending the duty on Ofcom to review a “change of control” to a Channel 3 licensee or Channel 5 so that one isn’t automatically required. However, the Secretary of State will retain the power to request one. The fit and proper persons regime on new owners of channel 3 and 5 licences will remain.
Where necessary, the changes will be implemented through a new public bodies bill announced today by the Cabinet Office.” We note today’s Cabinet Office announcement regarding the Public Bodies Bill,” said a spokesman for Ofcom. “Ofcom will work with government to implement the measures outlined.”
Cabinet Office proposals also include merging Ofcom with postal services watchdog Postcom, a move announced on October 13 with the publication of the Postal Services Bill, The Bill provides for the transfer of Postcomm’s regulatory responsibility for the postal sector and its staff to Ofcom. The Bill will require Ofcom to carry out its postal services functions in a way that it considers will secure the provision of a universal postal service.