Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

OfCom chief: we're in politics; too easy to appeal

The Tories have never been happy with Ed Richards as Chief Executive; he was previously a senior policy adviser to Tony Blair and, later, Gordon Brown, and is viewed with suspicion by them as a Labour 'placeman'. Media regulation is meant to be non-partisan (above party politics), but since assuming office in 2010, the Tory-led coalition have overseen a number of Conservative Party members being moved into senior regulatory posts, not least at the BBC.

You can find links to, and brief analysis of the contrast between, several Mail/Guardian articles below on Richards stepping down from his OfCom role at the end of 2014.
His appearance before the House of Lords communications committee highlighted some useful/interesting points...

OfCom is a quango - theoretically independent from government, although government can set the parameters it operates within (the formally independent BBC is highly dependent on government who set the license fee - or even threaten to scrap it altogether!)

Richards claims that none of the Blair/Brown Labour governments, the Tory/Lib Dem coalition that replaced it in 2010, and the SNP-led Scottish government, that he has worked with have ever unduly or improperly pressured him, though the Guardian coverage rightly makes much of the explicit threats Cameron made before the 2010 election to scrap OfCom, a clear means of influencing this 'super-regulator'.
“The nature of the business and the area [in which the regulator operates] means that anybody who pretended that Ofcom could conduct itself in a typical year without any interface or interaction with the political world would in all honesty be delusional,” said Richards. “These issues are too important to people, in people’s lives, for their not to be interest of real significance in the political sphere.”
[...] He added that there has been a “clear acceptance” that Ofcom has been set up to be an independent regulator, and that has been “honoured by politicians of both sides in a way that I have found satisfactory.” (Guardian)

Do the rich and famous have priviliged access to, and treatment from, media regulators? The ability to access expensive lawyers can be seen as creating a very uneven playing field. In the context of the press we see many wealthier individuals going straight to court rather than using the PCC (or now IPSO). Richards is unhappy that OfCom's decisions are so easy to legally appeal, and that the organisation's resources are increasingly tied up in defending its decisions in court.
He also said that it was too easy for media companies to appeal Ofcom’s regulatory decisions and on any given week it was defending up to 10 of its rulings in the courts.
Richards added that when he joined Ofcom in 2003, it employed 10 lawyers, now it has a team of about 40.
[...] However, Richards complained that it was too easy for companies to appeal Ofcom decisions, which often resulted in years of legal red tape before a regulatory change could happen.
He said that Ofcom has a “uniquely low” threshold for review and that “every day of every week” the regulator is defending between three and 10 of its decisions in court.
He said that while the Competition Appeal Tribunal, where cases that are appealed get scrutinised and ruled on, was meant to deal with appeals of cases across the spectrum of the UK economy, in reality it was bogged down by Ofcom’s broadcasting and media industry battles.
“Look at the business in the CAT, it is looking at the whole economy supposedly, but I think we alone make up 85% to 90% of their work. Just us,” he said. “We alone make up a huge majority of their decisions. We win most of our cases but giving you an honest answer of whether for the UK this is a good position, is the balance right, it isn’t.”
Richards said the issue is that cases can get held up for years – for example a battle with Sky over the price it offers its pay-TV channels to rivals is heading for its fifth year. (Guardian)

Now, they can rejoice ... Ed Richards will be stepping down at the end of 2014, after 8 years in the post. The Daily Mail was, naturally, gracious about this...
Okay ... so the Daily Mail wasn't a fan!
The left-wing press saw things rather differently:
Guardian coverage was more positive!
Naturally, when informing their readers of how morally lax and liberal Richards has been, they helpfully show their readers some of the disgusting, explicit material that caused outrage (to the Mail at least):
Ban this filth! (But here's a handy pic for Mail readers so they know what was vile and disgusting!)
One of the 'sidebar of shame' stories appearing alongside the Mail story - this isn't vile/filth, apparently! It is key in making the Mail the world's leading online paper though!!!

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