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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 17:02 GMT
No 'digital divide' under Labour
BBC digital output gallery
Smith unveils proposals for TV regulation overhaul
Access to the new digital era is to be available to all under a series of reforms of the broadcasting and telecommunications industries unveiled by Culture Secretary Chris Smith.

Whilst we welcome the general thrust of today's statement, we do not trust the Government's meddling instincts

Peter Ainsworth
Mr Smith told the House of Commons that British television, radio and the telecommunications industry are to be brought under the umbrella of a single regulator.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom) will take over a range of responsibilities currently carried out by the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, Oftel and the Broadcasting Standards Commission, among others.

Mr Smith said that there would be no "digital divide" as the conversion from anologue to digitial transmission continues.

All broadcasters would be subject to basic minimum standards ensuring impartiality in news broadcasts, access to relevant regional coverage and high standards of public broadcasting.

He said that the white paper would "help give the UK a world lead by creating a new framework for these fast moving industries.

"It will provide a broadly lighter-touch approach - giving the industry the opportunity to act with responsible freedom."

Upholding standards

"But it will also robustly uphold important standards of quality and protection for the citizens."

Chris Smith
Smith accused of turf war
Ofcom will act as a "backstop" for any complaints from consumers and will be jointly answerable to Mr Smith and the secretary of state for trade and industry.

The white paper received short shrift from Conservative culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth who complained that it had been very slow in coming - a fact he blamed on a "turf war" between Mr Smith and Trade Secretary Stephen Byers.

He said that reforms to the broadcasting and telecommunications industry had been promised in the Labour Party manifesto for the 1997 election.

The earliest point the legislation could now be expected on the statute book was 2002, he argued.

Mr Ainsworth said: "Whilst we welcome the general thrust of today's statement, we do not trust the government's meddling instincts."

He said that where there was a need for the government to be radical it had been "timid".

"The vital need to balance commerce and culture will not be made by a government which understands neither," he said

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