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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 15:03 GMT
Communications Bill published
Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell has promised to protect broadcast content
The government has published its Communications Bill, ushering in new rules for the way the media is regulated.

Officials say it is designed to bring regulations up-to-date and allow companies to react more easily to respond to changes in the market.

A joint committee of MPs and peers, chaired by Lord Puttnam, spent several months studying a draft text of the Bill and listed 148 recommendations for improving it.

The government accepted 120 of them, including a proposal to make the BBC liable to fines from a new regulator, Ofcom.

Key points
New watchdog to regulate TV, radio and telecoms
Consumer panel to report on public's concerns
Promise of "access to all" for digital services
BBC faces fines for decency lapses

The new body will replace existing watchdogs such as the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, and the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

It will also look after telecommunications issues and allocate radio frequencies.

The bill aims to promote universal access to media and communications services, and self-regulation for companies in the media industry.

Religion

Under a change to the draft bill, the government has reserved the right to ensure that public service channels are carried on all TV platforms.

This would allow the government to order satellite operator BSkyB to carry the UK's five terrestrial channels.

The issue has been the subject of dispute, with the public service channels claiming that Sky should not be exempt from rules which cover its cable competitors.

Another previously unannounced change to the bill will allow religious groups to launch their own stations on digital radio.


This is a highly deregulatory bill. But at every stage of deregulation, broadcasting content will be protected

Tessa Jowell

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said before its publication, the bill had gone through "an almost unparalleled process of scrutiny and consultation" by Lord Puttnam's committee.

She said: "This is a highly deregulatory bill. But at every stage of deregulation, broadcasting content will be protected.

'Impartiality'

"This has been democratic debate at its very best and has played an essential role in shaping its final form.

"Where we have been persuaded an alternative approach would enable us to achieve our objectives better, we have amended our proposals."

She singled out a renewed ban on political advertising on TV and radio as "an important plank in protecting the impartiality of broadcasting and democratic debate".

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the bill would give companies a better environment to develop their businesses.

"It will liberalise the market, removing unnecessary regulatory burdens and cutting red tape, but at the same time will retain key safeguards that will protect the diversity and plurality of our media," she said.



Setting up Ofcom

Background

The BBC's Torin Douglas takes a closer look at the Communications Bill Media shake-up
What does the future hold for broadcasting?
See also:

20 Nov 02 | Entertainment
20 Nov 02 | Entertainment
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