Ofcom

Ofcom

The Office of Communications (Y Swyddfa Gyfathrebiadau) or, as it is more often known, Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established in the enabling device, the Office of Communications Act 2002, but received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003. On 29 December 2003, Ofcom inherited the duties that had previously been the responsibility of five regulatory bodies:

  • the Broadcasting Standards Commission,
  • the Independent Television Commission,
  • the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel),
  • the Radio Authority, and
  • the Radiocommunications Agency.

The inaugural chairman of Ofcom is David Currie, Dean of Cass Business School at City University and a life peer under the title Lord Currie of Marylebone. Its inaugural chief executive was Stephen Carter, formerly a senior executive of JWT UK and NTL. Its second, and current chief executive, is Ed Richards, formerly Ofcom strategy partner and COO and, previous to joining Ofcom, a government advisor.

Responsibilities

Ofcom's responsibilities are wide-ranging, covering all manner of industries and processes. It has a statutory duty to further the interests of citizens and consumers by promoting competition and protecting consumers from harmful or offensive material.

Some of the main areas over which Ofcom presides are licensing, undertaking research, creating codes and policies, addressing complaints and looking into competition. Ofcom has developed a reputation for its tendency to issue a large number of consultations (there was even a consultation on the consultations). This however reflects Ofcom's intention to operate in a more open and accountable manner, being receptive to public and industry comments.

Consultations

Ofcom considers consultations to be a vital way of helping it to make the right decisions based upon the right evidence. Ofcom's formal process of consultation starts with their publishing a document (all of which are published on their website), asking for views and responses. If the document is long and complicated, Ofcom will usually publish a plain English summary.

Ofcom will then usually allow a period of ten weeks for interested persons, companies or organisations to read the document and send in their responses. After this ten week period, Ofcom will normally publish all of the responses on their website (excluding any which are marked by the respondent as confidential).

After the consultation has closed, Ofcom will prepare a summary of the responses, and may use this as a basis for some of their decisions.

Programme complaints

As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, part of Ofcom's duties are to examine specific complaints by viewers/listeners about programmes. When Ofcom receives a complaint it firstly asks the broadcaster for a copy of the programme, and it then examines the programme to see whether it is in breach of the broadcasting code. Ofcom also asks for a response from the broadcaster to the complaint. Considering these, Ofcom will mark the complaint as either upheld or not upheld, or alternatively 'resolved'.

In June 2004, Ofcom, having received complaints from 24 viewers, censured Fox News commentator John Gibson for stating that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest". Ofcom held that these statements were untrue opinions based on false evidence that necessitated that Fox offer the BBC rebuttal time

Perhaps one of the most controversial decisions made by Ofcom regarding a complaint was that regarding Jerry Springer: The Opera. Having received a large number of complaints from various viewers, Ofcom decided there had been no breach of the broadcasting code, citing the broadcaster's right of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

One recent decision which attracted much media attention was Ofcom's decision to restrict junk food advertising aimed at children.

In January 2007 Ofcom received over 44,500 complaints regarding the fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother and racial issues concerning Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody. This was Ofcom's highest ever complaints response, and higher than that of any other media regulator.

Licensing

Ofcom is responsible for the management, regulation, assignment and licensing of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licenses portions of it for use in TV and radio broadcasts, mobile phone transmissions, private communications networks, and so on. The process of licensing varies depending on the type of usage required. Some licenses simply have to be applied for and paid for, others are subject to a bidding process. Most of the procedures in place have been inherited from the systems used by the previous regulators. However, Ofcom may change some of these processes in future.

Sitefinder Database and Freedom of Information

Sitefinder is a database and web-front end set up and maintained by Ofcom as a result of recommendations of the Stewart Report to the Government in 2000. [4]. .It is a voluntary scheme under which mobile network operators send information on the location and operating characteristics of individual mobile phone base stations (or masts)nationally.

In September 2007 an Information Tribunal ruled that the public should have access to the information contained within the database through Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests [5]. .. However as Ofcom has no power to compel mobile phone operators to use the database, UK mobile phone operators consequently ceased sending updates to the database. In response Ofcom appealed the Freedom of Information ruling, along with one UK mobile operator - T-Mobile [6]. . which has led to accusations of the organisations complicity with the mobile telecommunications industry in keeping information about mast locations secret . Ofcom's reasons for the appeal have ranged from preventing terrorist attacks on the sites of phone masts to protecting the intellectual property of the mobile telecommunications industry.

As of April 2008, the High Court found in favour of the Information Commissioners Office over Ofcom's objections. It is publicly unclear at this time if Ofcom intends to appeal this ruling [8]. .

See also

References

External links

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