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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Queen announces media shake-up
The Communications Bill
The bill will replace five media regulators with one
A bill to create a single regulator for the media and communications industries has been announced in the Queen's Speech.

The bill, which would establish Ofcom, is likely to be the most significant piece of media legislation since 1990.

The establishment of Ofcom would reduce the number of regulators in the sector from five to one, taking in the roles of the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel), the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Radio Authority and the Radiocommunications Agency.

Labour's business manifesto promised to bring Ofcom "into operation by 2003" after consultation with industry, consumers, viewers and listeners.

The government hopes the establishment of a single regulator will address the convergence of previously separate industries and keep the UK at the leading edge of the world communications revolution.


But the government is to postpone the publication of a broader draft communications bill, which would have addressed the issue of cross-media ownership, until the autumn of 2002.

The decision is likely to delay key mergers and acquisitions currently planned in the TV and radio sector.

Senior independent TV chiefs have already contacted Downing Street to complain about the delay in publishing the bill, according to a report in The Guardian.
Tessa Jowell
New at the DCMS: Tessa Jowell

The delay has been caused by the complexity of the industry, the speed of technological change and the arrival of two new ministers in the relevant departments: Tessa Jowell at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Patricia Hewitt at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

But critics say that cross-media ownership is such a hot political issue that it was shelved until after the election to avoid offending powerful newspaper proprietors - particularly Rupert Murdoch, who was seen visiting Downing Street just five day after Labour's election win.

Despite its size and scope, there is still a chance that the Communications Bill could be overtaken in the legislative schedule by public service priorities.

  • The five regulators have appointed Towers Perrin, one of the world's largest management consultants, to map the process for setting up the new regulator by the end of August 2001.

    The consultants will report to a steering group of the DCMS and the DTI as well as all five chief executives, who have released a statement saying:

    "We need to get the vision and the initial strategy right if we are to develop a new, streamlined regulator appropriate for this dynamic and complex industry.

    "Our organisations are strongly committed to working together in setting up Ofcom, and we are very pleased to have appointed Towers Perrin to assist us in this crucially important exercise."

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