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Radio Authority

For other uses, see Ministry of Communications.
For the Federal Office of Communications in Switzerland, also known as OFCOM, see Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.
Office of Communications
301px
Abbreviation Ofcom
Formation 29 December 2003
Type Statutory corporation
Legal status Created by Office of Communications Act 2002[1]
Purpose/focus Regulator and competition authority for broadcasting, postal services, telecommunications and radiocommunications spectrum
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Location London, Belfast, Cardiff, Caterham, Glasgow, Newton-le-Willows
Region served United Kingdom
Official languages English, Welsh
Chairman Colette Bowe[2]
Main organ Board
Website http://www.ofcom.org.uk/

The Office of Communications (Welsh: Y Swyddfa Gyfathrebiadau), commonly known as Ofcom, is the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries of the United Kingdom.

Ofcom has wide-ranging powers across the television, radio, telecoms and postal sectors. It has a statutory duty to represent the interests of citizens and consumers by promoting competition and protecting the public from what might be considered harmful or offensive material. Some of the main areas Ofcom presides over are licensing, research, codes and policies, complaints, competition and protecting the radio spectrum from abuse.

The regulator was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002 and received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003.[1]

History

The creation of Ofcom was announced in the Queen's Speech to the UK parliament in June 2001. The new body, which would replace several existing authorities, was conceived as a "super-regulator" to oversee media channels that were rapidly converging through digital transmission.[3]

Ofcom launched on 29 December 2003, formally inheriting the duties that had previously been the responsibility of five different regulators:[4]

In July 2009, Conservative party leader, David Cameron warned in a speech attacking the proliferation of quangos that "Ofcom, as we know it, will cease to exist" if his party came to power.[5] Under Cameron's leadership, the current UK coalition government has pulled back from substantially reducing Ofcom's remit, although the current Public Bodies Bill does propose some changes to it.[6]

On 1 October 2011, Ofcom took over responsibility for regulating the postal services industry from the Postal Services Commission (Postcomm).

News International phone hacking scandal

In July 2011, in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, Ofcom came under pressure to launch an inquiry into whether the parent company of News International, News Corporation, was still the "fit and proper" owner of a controlling stake in the satellite broadcasting company British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). On 13 July former Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Ofcom to launch an investigation.[7][8] On 15 July the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated that the Government would launch a review of laws on what constituted a "fit and proper" owner for broadcasting companies in the United Kingdom, and that anyone found not to meet that standard can be forced to give up their current holdings in a company.[9] On 22 July it was reported that Ofcom had begun an investigation into whether the phone-hacking scandal may have changed BSkyB's status as the "fit and proper" holder of a UK broadcasting licence.[10] On the same day Ed Richards, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, replied to Simon Hughes MP, Don Foster MP and Tim Farron MP following a letter which they had written to him on 8 July concerning News Corporation's shareholding in BSkyB.[11] In the letter Richards confirmed that Ofcom considers that News Corporation’s current shareholding of 39.14% in BSkyB does give it a material influence over the company; that Ofcom is not precluded from acting by ongoing police investigations; and that Ofcom’s process is not dependent upon a criminal conviction being secured.[11]

In April 2012, Ofcom's probe moved from a monitoring phase to a "evidence gathering" phase.[12]

Activities

Television and radio

Ofcom licenses all UK commercial television and radio services in the UK. Broadcasters must comply by the terms of their licence, or risk having it revoked. Ofcom also publishes the Broadcasting Code, an extensive series of rules which all broadcast content on television and radio must follow.[13]

As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, part of Ofcom's duties are to examine specific complaints by viewers or listeners about programmes broadcast on channels that it has licensed. It does not oversee unlicensed channels broadcast to UK viewers. When Ofcom receives a complaint, it asks the broadcaster for a copy of the programme, it then examines the programme content to see if it is in breach of the broadcasting code. Ofcom requests response from the broadcaster to the complaint. On the basis of this response, Ofcom will mark the complaint as either "upheld" or "not upheld", or alternatively simply "resolved".

They also undertake the enforcement of radio licensing, where pirate radio stations are raided, among other tasks.

Telephone and broadband

Ofcom regulates the UK telecoms sector, defining and enforcing the conditions by which all mobile and fixed-line phone and broadband companies must abide. These ‘general conditions’ are wide-ranging rules relating to matters such as telephone numbering, emergency services, sales, marketing and interconnection standards. Ofcom's investigation unit monitors compliance with the conditions and resolves disputes between providers.

Ofcom is also the competition authority for telecoms, enforcing remedies in markets where it believes dominant operators may have a potentially harmful influence on competition or consumers. One of its most high-profile interventions was to require BT to split its wholesale and retail arms into separate companies, bringing about the creation of Openreach which supplies wholesale services to both BT Retail and competing providers.[14]

Spectrum licensing and protection

Ofcom is responsible for the management, regulation, assignment and licensing of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licenses portions of it for use in TV and radio broadcasts, mobile phone transmissions, private communications networks, wireless devices and so on. The process of licensing varies depending on the type of usage required. Some licences simply have to be applied and paid for, other commercial licences are subject to a bidding process. Most of the procedures in place have been inherited from the systems used by the previous regulators. However, Ofcom may change some of these processes in future.

Ofcom protects the radio spectrum in a number of ways:

Working within International organisations (BEREC).

Licencing UK controlled commercial radio spectrum; The UKFAT (UK Frequency Allocation Table). The current table was produced in 2010.

Investigate and, when necessary, carry out enforcement activities to clear interference or illegal use from the spectrum. Until June 2010 Ofcom investigated all interference cases within the UK. Interference reporting has now been transferred to the Ofcom.

Postal services

In October 2010 the UK Government announced plans for Ofcom to inherit the functions of Postcomm as part of a wider set of public service austerity measures.[16] Following the Postal Services Act 2011 regulatory responsibility for postal services transferred to Ofcom on 1 October 2011, with its primary duty to maintain the UK 6-day a week universal postal service.

Consultations

Ofcom makes extensive use of consultations with industry and the public to help it make decisions based upon the evidence presented. Consultation processes begin with publishing documents on its website,[17] asking for views and responses. If the document is perceived to be long and complicated, a plain English summary is usually published as well. A period of ten weeks is allowed for interested persons, companies or organisations to send in their responses to documents.

After this consultation period, Ofcom publishes the responses on their website (excluding any personal or confidential information). When the consultation period has elapsed, Ofcom will prepare a summary of the responses received, and will use this information as a basis for their decisions.[18]

Leadership

Colette Bowe was appointed Ofcom Chairman with effect from 11 March 2009.[19][20][21] She is the founding chairman of the Telecoms Ombudsman Council, and chaired Ofcom’s Consumer Panel from its inception in 2003 to December 2007. The current Chief Executive is Ed Richards, who previously was Chief Operating Officer, and is responsible for Strategy, Market Research, Finance, Human Resources and other functions. Richards was Senior Policy Advisor to the Labour party Prime Minister Tony Blair for Media, telecoms, the internet and e-govt and Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC.[22]

The first chairman of Ofcom was David Currie, Dean of Cass Business School at City University and a life peer under the title Lord Currie of Marylebone. The first chief executive was Stephen Carter, Baron Carter of Barnes, formerly a senior executive of JWT UK and NTL and subsequently a Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting.[23]

Key personnel

Ofcom's key personnel at September 2010 were:[24]

  • Chief Executive, Ed Richards
  • Content, International and Regulatory Development, Christopher Woolard
  • Legal Group, Polly Weitzman (General Counsel)
  • Consumer Group, Claudio Pollack
  • Strategy, Chief Economist and Technology Group, Steve Unger
  • Competition Policy Group, Stuart McIntosh
  • Spectrum Policy Group, ‘H’ Nwana
  • Operational Group, Jill Ainscough (Chief Operating Officer)

Controversies

Expenditure

Ofcom has received criticism for incurring unnecessary costs as a result of "extravagant Thames-side offices" and a "top-heavy salary bill",[25] for a "Nero approach",[26] and for "poor service".[27]

Press TV

In May 2011, Ofcom ruled that Press TV, an Iranian English-language satellite channel, was responsible for a serious breach of UK broadcasting rules and could face a fine for airing an interview with Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek journalist arrested covering the Iranian presidential election in 2009, that was obtained by force while he was held in a Tehran jail.[28]

Upon the release of Ofcom's findings, Press TV launched a campaign against Maziar Bahari and Ofcom. Maziar Bahari was accused of being a "an MI6 contact person"[29] taking guidance from "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, protocol #7".[30] Press TV called Ofcom's ruling "part of an anti-Iranian campaign," and that "A quick look at senior decision makers at OFCOM demonstrates that the regulator is mostly made up of former Channel 4 and BBC executives, some of whom are well-linked to and influenced by powerful pro-Israeli politicians."[31][32]

Ask Ofcom

An area of the Ofcom website seemingly intended for members of the public to submit questions to Ofcom does not actually provide this service.[33] Rather, it provides a list of suggested questions in the style of an FAQ.

Sitefinder database and freedom of information

In September 2007 an Information Tribunal ruled that the public should have access to the database under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.[34] However, as Ofcom has no legal power to enforce mobile phone operators to add information to the database, UK mobile phone operators consequently ceased updating it.[14] Ofcom appealed against the Freedom of Information Act ruling, together with one UK mobile operator – T-Mobile.[35] This has led to accusations of the organisation's complicity with the mobile telecommunications industry in keeping information about mast locations secret.[36] Ofcom's stated reasons for the appeal have ranged from "preventing terrorist attacks" on the sites of phone masts to "protecting the intellectual property" of the mobile telecommunications industry.[35]

In April 2008, the High Court found in favour of the Information Commissioner's Office and overruled Ofcom's objections.[37] Ofcom appealed to the Supreme Court, who in turn referred a point of law to the European Court of Justice, and then in October 2011 ordered that the matter should be remitted to the Information Rights Tribunal to reconsider the public interest balancing exercise.[38]

See also

References

External links

  • Ofcom website
  • Ofcom Broadcast Codes
  • OfcomWatch – Ofcom-related blog
  • Quick video guide to Ofcom for broadcast journalists
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of ITV
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Channel 4
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Satellite Television
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Cable Television
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Radio Authority
Regulation of Independent Local Radio
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Radiocommunications Agency
Regulation of use of the Radio Spectrum
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Broadcasting Standards Commission
Monitoring of 'Taste and Decency'
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Current
Preceded by
Postal Services Commission
Regulation of Postal Services
1 October 2011–present
Succeeded by
Current

Template:Media in the United Kingdom

Template:2011 News Corporation scandal Coordinates: 51°30′28″N 0°05′43″W / 51.5079°N 0.0953°W / 51.5079; -0.0953

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