Media Lifeline: Ofcom

For the sake of commercial broadcasters, the regulatory body may yet end up reining in the BBC.

December 2003: Ofcom, a super-regulator created to replace five bodies (the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, Oftel, the Radiocommunications Agency and the Radio Authority) opens the doors of its lavish offices at Riverside House on London's South Bank. Its chief executive is Stephen Carter, previously a chief executive of J. Walter Thompson and the managing director of ntl.

January 2004: During the handover period, the ITC and Ofcom had devised an airtime sales remedy to allow Carlton and Granada to merge - Contract Rights Renewal. It kicks in as 2004 begins, overseen by the newly appointed airtime adjudicator, David Connolly (pictured).

June 2005: Ofcom receives a major blow to its ambitions as the Government decides against giving it any say in overseeing the BBC. Ofcom had been arguing that in order to create a level playing field across the whole UK broadcast economy, the commercial and state sectors should operate under the same set of rules. Meanwhile, ITV begins laying the groundwork for lobbying to scrap CRR.

December 2005: Connolly announces that he is to stand down as the airtime adjudicator. ITV lobbying on CRR has fallen on deaf ears and Ofcom has decided not to take its investigation into airtime trading practices any further. It is believed that, during his tenure, Connolly had to deal with only three formal complaints and guidance inquiries had been dwindling too. Ofcom lines up Robert Ditcham as Connolly's successor.

May 2006: Carter (pictured) announces he is to stand down - and plans to leave Ofcom in October. It is understood that he covets a senior role in the media sector. He believes that his task - establishing Ofcom and setting it on the right lines - is now done.

Fast forward ...

January 2007: Following the bankruptcy of one newspaper, three digital television networks and a handful of radio stations over Christmas, tighter regulation of the BBC is back on the agenda. Rumours abound that the Government is preparing emergency legislation to hand governance of the BBC to Ofcom. Carter, who has been working as a consultant in the City, offers to return as Ofcom's BBC tsar.

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