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Bill to create super regulator

Five industry watchdogs become one in Ofcom

The UK government yesterday published its plans to create a communications über-regulator, Ofcom, which will be responsible for the media and telecommunications industry.

Under the draft Communications Bill the newly created Ofcom (the Office for Communications) will incorporate all five existing regulators, thereby simplifying the legal framework for the media industry.

It will take a 'light touch' approach to ensure regulation is kept to a minimum across the whole communications sector and will be demanded to regularly review its functions to reflect changing conditions.

"In all of these changes, the interests of the citizen come first, whether as consumers, as viewers and listeners, or as participants in democracy," said Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, minister and sport.

Ofcom will not have the power to regulate internet content. Instead, the government is keen for the industry to regulate itself working alongside Ofcom to create industry standards and provide online safeguards, in areas such as internet porn.

Its main duty will be to ensure effective competition, working alongside the Office of Fair Trading, to address the powers of all monopolies and check they are working within the boundaries of the Fair Trading Act 1974.

Under the draft Bill, telco operators running systems without licences will face civil rather than criminal charges, which could mean damages amounting to 10 percent of annual turnover.

An Ofcom chairman is expected to be appointed in June, with Ofcom's work due to begin in 2003.

Job losses are expected across all five regulators, which include the Independent Television Committee, Radiocommunications Agency, radio Authority, Oftel and the
Broadcasting standards commission, but no exact figure has yet been released.

Full draft can be viewed at www.communicationsbill.gov.uk.


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