Out-Law News 2 min. read

New Communications Act will rewrite media regulation, says minister

The Government will overhaul the way UK media companies are regulated with a new Communications Act. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that a new law was needed "to create regulatory certainty".

"[I am announcing] a thorough review of media and communications that will lead to a new Communications Act. It is now seven years since the last act – a long time in today’s fast-paced environment," he told the Oxford Media Convention yesterday.

Hunt said that the Government would seek industry feedback and produce a green paper by the end of this year that would set out what a proposed Communications Bill would contain.

The minister also outlined plans for a network of local television stations in at least 15 of the UK's cities and said that this would involve a slackening of regulatory controls that force ITV companies to produce regional news.

"When we have this structure in place I will be very relaxed as to what happens in regional news," Hunt told The Guardian newspaper. "[Public service broadcasters] will have a much freer hand over what they thought was appropriate for the future for their regional services. I would leave it to the PSBs what to do."

Hunt said that a new law was needed in the UK to make sure that the rapidly converging worlds of traditionally broadcast and internet-distributed content were given the ability to develop.

"Now is the moment to make sure we have the most modern, innovation and investment-friendly legal structure in place," he said. "One that will allow our digital and creative industries to move to the next stage, and to play their fullest possible role in promoting competition, innovation and economic growth."

"I am prepared to radically rethink the way we do things," said Hunt. "To take a fresh look at what we regulate, whether we regulate, and how we regulate. To consider whether there are areas we might move out of regulation altogether. And to think hard about what we mean by public service content."

"Whether we’re watching a broadcast live or though catch-up services, via a TV or a computer, it’s the content that matters, rather than the delivery mechanism," he said. "So should it continue to be the case that the method of delivery has a significant impact on the method of regulation? Or should we be looking at a more platform-neutral approach?"

"This is not about tweaking the current system, but redesigning it – from scratch if necessary – to make it fit for purpose," said Hunt.

He announced concrete plans for the provision of local television, which he said was "perhaps the only area in which our outstandingly successful media sector has been outstandingly unsuccessful in responding to consumer needs".

Hunt launched an action plan for local television. A channel will be launched on the digital terrestrial network which will have guaranteed local 'opt outs', meaning times in the schedule when content will be shown which has been produced locally.

This plan will require an operator of the central network, or 'spine' as Hunt called it, and a change to the regulatory regime that would license local producers of material.

"What this will mean for consumers is a new channel dedicated to the provision of local news and content," said Hunt. "One that will sit alongside other public service broadcasters, offering a new voice for local communities, with local perspectives that are directly relevant to them."

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