OPINION: Billett represents a risk to impartiality

Being employed in the pernicious world of media auditing, John Billett must be used to being on the receiving end of criticism, fair or otherwise.

But his involvement in the recruitment process for the position of adjudicator has attracted heavier flak than usual and prompted an angry letter from both the IPA and ISBA to Stephen Carter, the chief executive of Ofcom.

It is easy to understand why. You may remember it was Billett who broke ranks with the rest of the advertising community and suggested that a regulator be appointed to oversee ITV airtime deals in the event of a merger.

ISBA and the IPA had consistently argued that a structural remedy involving two ITV sales houses, rather than a behavioural remedy that allowed a merged one, was necessary for the ITV merger to go ahead.

As it happened, and to everyone's surprise, the Competition Commission largely ignored the wishes of ISBA and the IPA, opting instead to implement Billett's proposal. Now it turns out that Billett was invited to sit alongside Carter, Sean Williams, Nicola Ford and the Independent Television Commission's Patricia Hodgson on the panel interviewing candidates for the position, while the IPA and ISBA's views were not sought.

While no-one doubts that during his 30-odd-year career Billett has picked up a thing or two about media, it seems strange that he has been invited to play a part in this. After all, while his company may have a very impressive client list, he cannot claim to represent the views of all advertisers. He will also be privy to sensitive, and potentially useful, information. As the owner of a company that derives most of its revenues from auditing clients' TV spends, there is the inevitable whiff of a vested interest. There is a compelling argument that it would be in Billett's interest for TV trading to be made as complicated as possible.

Already complex enough, demands for the services of auditors would soar as advertisers try to make sense of the new arrangement. This could make very nice business for Billett and the likes.

Given that the appointment of the adjudicator is the first major task undertaken by Ofcom, this has not been the most auspicious of starts.

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