Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cameron's blunder over Ofcom

Philip Stephens in the FT says that David Cameron has made a basic error in promising to abolish Ofcom:

The problem is that in promising to transfer Ofcom’s work to Whitehall so it is more directly accountable to ministers and parliament, Mr Cameron has shown he has no clear idea of what it does.
The central charge seems to be that Ofcom’s views on public service broadcasting have strayed too far into realms better reserved for ministers. As it happens, I think Mr Cameron is mistaken, but the details of the argument are irrelevant beside the fact that broadcasting policy accounts for only about 5 per cent of Ofcom’s workload. Moving it to Whitehall would scarcely mean “that Ofcom, as we know it, will cease to exist”. Some 90 per cent of Ofcom’s remit comprises unglamorous work such as telecommunications regulation, upholding broadcasting standards, allocating spectrum, and, crucially, policing competition. All this can properly be done only at arms length from civil servants and ministers.
Unless Mr Cameron tears up the rules of independent regulation – or breaks up the organisation into the several quangos from which it was originally created – Ofcom will indeed survive in something much like its present form. It is curious that someone who once worked in broadcasting could miss this point.

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