Will Ofcom's Carter respect the private sector?

The appointment of a former advertising man, Stephen Carter, as the chief executive of Ofcom might have given some advertisers hope that their concerns, especially over self-regulation and the BBC, would be well represented by the super-regulator, writes Ian Darby.

But others remember that by the end of his time at J Walter Thompson, Carter let slip in a newspaper interview that 15 years in advertising had taught him "to recycle my own bullshit".

Would we see this jaded version of Carter at the helm of Ofcom? Well, after an assembly of the advertising great and the good at ISBA's summer lunch last week, there seemed more reason for cheer than despair.

Carter addressed the audience post-lunch and, while the content was essentially heavier than a summer pudding (speeches on regulation rarely trouble drooping eyelids), it was at least tailored for its audience.

Positive words on Ofcom's public service broadcasting review ("the advertising industry will, and should, be an important part") provided some encouragement to those advertisers that believe the BBC might get away with murder under its next Charter review. Advertisers were barely mentioned in the original Communications Bill White Paper, so this was a real step forward.

Perhaps the most important element of Carter's speech, though, was his strong line on establishing Ofcom as a "meeting point between the public and private sectors". His frustration with Lord Puttnam's amendment to the communications bill, which calls for Ofcom to put more effort into representing "citizens", was clear and sources are certain he had clearance from the highest level to blast Puttnam and position Ofcom as a body that will also represent the private sector. Broadcasters may also take heart from this, given Ofcom's role in reporting on any major cross-media mergers.

The issue of self-regulation of broadcast advertising hasn't been resolved yet. Carter touched on it and his use of terms such as "lighter touch" sounded good but members of the joint advertisers/broadcasters task- force on the regulation of broadcast advertising are still concerned that nothing has been resolved in this area.

Task-force sources are "cautiously optimistic" that Ofcom will "outsource" responsibility to the ad industry but nothing is set in stone. And there remain concerns that Ofcom has no formal duty to represent the advertising industry. However, the early words of Carter and the Ofcom chairman, Lord Currie, have reassured many that Ofcom won't be in the pockets of the broadcasters.

For the time being, advertisers view Carter as a friend rather than a wolf in sheep's clothing. Words such as "bright", "articulate" and "robust" were bandied about by trade body representatives. Hopefully this is more than a honeymoon period.

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