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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 17:24 GMT
Communications white paper: At a glance
Culture Secretary Chris Smith
Culture Secretary Chris Smith gave details of the white paper
The UK Government has published its long-awaited communications white paper, setting out its proposals for the digital age of broadcasting and telecommunications.

The key details are listed below.

Regulation

  • A new super watchdog, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), will regulate TV, radio and the whole telecommunications sector.

    The Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, Office of Telecommunications, the Broadcasting Standards Commission and Radio Communications Authority will all be merged to create the new body.

    The new body will have a "lighter touch", becoming a one-stop shop for dealing with complaints.

  • For the first time there will be a three-tier system of regulation for broadcasters.

    All the broadcasters will have to meet the criteria laid down in the first tier while tiers two and three apply to universally available public service broadcasters - BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

    First tier: All broadcasters will be subject to a basic rule on quality, the impartiality of news services, the protection of minors and a commitment to access to programmes for people with disabilities. This will be regulated by Ofcom.

    Second tier: Broadcasters will have to meet measurable obligations laid down by Ofcom, including a commitment to original production quotas, regional programming and the availability of news and current affairs in peak time.

    Third tier: Broadcasters will be expected to regulate themselves on their commitments to children's programmes, religious programmes and the coverage of arts, science and international issues. All the broadcasters will be required to produce an annual statement of programming policy.

    Ofcom will assess the success of each broadcaster in meeting its annual statement.

  • The BBC's board of governors will continue to regulate BBC output and ensure impartiality.

    Unresolved complaints about the BBC's failure to meet basic standards will be taken up by Ofcom only after the broadcaster's own complaints system has been used.

  • S4C, the Welsh language channel, will continue to be self-regulating.

  • Ofcom will also promote better understanding of rating and filtering systems which help the safe use of the internet.

  • Restrictions on the format of independent national and local radio stations will be lifted slightly, but independent national radio must keep one predominantly speech station and one non-pop music station.

    Consumer panel

    The government will set up a new consumer panel to represent consumer concerns to Ofcom.

    The panel will be independently appointed, and will publish its findings and advice.

    Consolidation

    The government would appear to have given the go-ahead for ITV to be run by a single company.

    The ITV network is currently divided into two super companies, Granada Media and Carlton Communication, which between them own all of the other small, regional companies, such as HTV Wales, Meridian and Anglia.

    But the government has replaced a rule which prevents one ITV company from controlling more than 15% of the total audience and revoked a rule which prevented one company running the two existing London ITC companies.

    The move could see a single company operating all of the ITV network for the first time.

    But any merger between ITV companies would still be subject to examination under the merger provisions of the Fair Trading Act.

  • Restrictions on newspaper groups owning broadcasters have not been relaxed. The government has asked for further consultation on the issue.

    Access

    The government says it is committed to ensuring that there is no "digital divide" between those with access to new information services and those without.

    TV channels that are currently free to air - BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C in Wales - will remain free to viewers whether they are broadcast on digital terrestrial, cable or satellite.

  • Other services, such as digital subscription services, should be available at an "affordable" price.

  • Everyone should have access to the internet by 2005.

    Channel 4

    Channel 4 will not to be privatised and will remain a public sector broadcaster.

    Chris Smith said the channel should continue to be distinctive and innovative.

    Electronic programme guides (EPGs)

    The content of EPGs, which guide viewers through the maze of TV channels and programmes, will be regulated by the new super watchdog Ofcom.

    Ofcom will ensure that public service channels, such as BBC One and BBC Two, are given due prominence on the guides.

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