MEDIA HEADLINER: Puttnam proves he's not a lap dog in the media killing fields - Anna Griffiths investigates Lord Puttnam's response to the Communications Bill

Lord Puttnam's task as the chairman of the Parliamentary committee on the Communications Bill, which last week published its report, was onerous and a far cry from his glamorous days in the film industry. So what qualifications does Puttnam, a Labour peer, possess to allow him to chair such an influential committee?

The producer of films such as Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, he is well-versed in the commercial world. He spent ten years in advertising where he worked his way up from tea boy to the senior account executive at Collett Dickenson Pearce until he left to start up a business as a photographer's agent.

He spent 30 years as an independent film producer and was the only non-American to run a Hollywood film studio, when he was the chairman and chief executive of Columbia Pictures. He's also been a director of Anglia TV and Chrysalis Group. More recently, however, after being appointed to the House of Lords in 1997 as a Labour life peer, Puttnam's strong sense of moral duty has led him to accept the role of president of Unicef UK. In his political guise he has lobbied for training and education as well as government support for the British film industry.

Perhaps this latter point explains why the committee report has been particularly outspoken on its fears of the possible Americanisation of TV through US companies acquiring either Channel 5 or ITV.

Puttnam's appointment to head the committee met with media approval.

Clive Jones, the joint managing director of ITV, says: "He has a good general knowledge of TV and was able to attract a very able and knowledgeable team of people. He's played to his strengths and hasn't been a domineering chairman."

Jim Marshall, the chairman of the IPA's Media Policy Group, says: "From an esoteric programming point of view he's pretty qualified. He's operated in programme making and the commercial world. The problem for us is that although the IPA made a written submission, we weren't called to give evidence. The issue of management control and the assessment of issues relating to the commercial side of media in general has effectively been referred back to Ofcom and the Competition Commission, which is in some ways disappointing."

While Puttnam has been quite outspoken in some areas, there is disappointment that the concerns of advertisers over the inevitability of a single ITV, and its impact on the advertising sales market, have not been addressed.

In the committee's report, concerns raised by the IPA and the advertising trade body ISBA have been referred back to the regulation of competition law and the use of the "plurality test".

However, the suggestion that self-regulation within the advertising industry should be an "early priority for the new regulator, Ofcom, has been welcomed and given Puttnam's decade in advertising it is recognised that this guidance comes from an informed background.

Advice that British media interests should be protected from non-European Union takeovers has had a mixed reception. The committee warned that any such takeover could lead to our TV schedules becoming infiltrated with more US programming.

"US companies tend to focus on a particular market and are quite happy to export their own particular programmes. But the best performing programmes in the UK tend to be local ones - Coronation Street, EastEnders, Big Brother.

Puttnam is raising concerns that programming would get diluted," Marshall says.

Jones dismisses such fears. "If an American owner did move in you wouldn't really notice it. They wouldn't get the bums on seats that they'd need if they ran US programming. We still have very tough licences, there are set quotas for original and regional production, so a US owner couldn't come in and completely change the world."

There is disappointment in the commercial radio world that Puttnam's committee failed to recognise that local radio ownership restrictions need to be reviewed.

Phil Riley, the chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, says: "I feel we've been short-changed by the current draft and haven't made our case strong enough to persuade them that we don't need local radio ownership restrictions while the cross-media ownership rules apply."

Once keen to secure the post of vice-chairman of the BBC, Puttnam's recommendations in terms of regulating the BBC are particularly robust, much to the relief of advertisers and other media owners who have felt that the corporation has managed to evade fair accountability. Puttnam believes Ofcom should be able to fine the BBC for lapses in broadcasting standards and dismisses arguments that this would be taken from licence fees.

Puttnam certainly doesn't appear to be a Blair lap dog, and has sternly warned the Government that "it must satisfy Parliament as a whole that it has responded to our report in the spirit in which it was tendered, as a genuine attempt to make a good bill better".

But there are fears, fuelled by the culture secretary Tessa Jowell's comments about the Government still pursing the relaxation of restrictions on foreign ownership of UK media companies, that many of the recommendations will fall on deaf ears.

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