Media Perspective: Ofcom's light-touch approach sends out the rightsignals

FA Cup third-round weekend is fantastic. Not because of the football, which is generally third-rate, but because it's one of the few occasions when you get to hear shockingly foul language on primetime, pre-watershed BBC1.

More used to Songs of Praise at 6.30pm on a Sunday, I spluttered on my tea and crumpet at the sound of Leicester City fans in full cry with the classic urban hymns "You're shit ahhhhh!" and "Two-nil and you fucked it up" as they beat Spurs.

In any other context, such language would land the broadcaster in trouble with the regulator, but football matches, and the canvas they provide for thousands of deranged nutters to scream "fuck off bollocks you're a c**t" at the tops of their voices, seem to be exempt from the usual standards.

I, for one, applaud such a light-touch approach and it's a way of working that, thankfully, seems to apply to other areas of broadcast regulation.

Ofcom's willingness to get involved in the TV trading market, for example, seems to have waned. While it's rolling up its sleeves on matters such as food advertising to children and the TV production market, in December it cancelled a proposed investigation of the trading market.

In a revealing interview this week, Stephen Carter said he understands why critics perceive Ofcom to be in ITV's pocket. However, its decision not to push ahead with the review sends out the right message and means ITV could now be forced to turn to the Office of Fair Trading to lobby for any relaxation of the Contract Rights Renewal system.

One man directly affected by the decision not to press ahead with the review is David Connolly, who announced his decision to step down as the CRR adjudicator at the same time as Ofcom announced its decision. Connolly, for whom a review of the trading market would have presented a new challenge, leaves in March and will not quite have completed the three years he was initially contracted for.

However, he did oversee three trading seasons and is generally reckoned to have done a good job. In his last report (for the April to September 2005 period), Connolly recorded no official complaints but outlined involvement in 28 cases of offering guidance (mainly on the minutiae of applying CRR to new contracts).

Having handled several full-on disputes in his first year, it seems Connolly's decision to seek pastures new coincides with the adjudicator's role becoming more advisory than judicial. Agencies believe, though, that his replacement (interviews start this month) will still play a vital role in policing the airtime market, especially with the creeping suspicion that conditional selling is to become a major issue. Diplomacy and tact will have to be key qualities in the locker of the successful candidate. Starcom's Chris Locke, anyone?