“Going Local”: Communications Law Reform

Government to overhaul UK media regulations with a new Communications Act.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Oxford Media Convention that a new law was needed “to create regulatory certainty”, announcing “a thorough review of media and communications” and that the seven years since the last act is “a long time in today’s fast-paced environment”.

Mr Hunt also outlined “radical” content-focused plans for a network of local television stations in at least 15 of the UK’s cities in a move that would involve a loosening of regulatory controls that force ITV companies to produce regional news; “Public service broadcasters (PSBs) will have a much freer hand over what they thought was appropriate for the future for their regional services. I would leave it to the PSBs what to do.”

A new law was essential in the UK, according to Mr Hunt, to ensure that the rapidly converging worlds of traditionally broadcast and internet-distributed content were given the ability to develop. This would ensure that Britain has “…the most modern, innovation and investment-friendly legal structure in place. One that will allow our digital and creative industries to move to the next stage, and to play their fullest possible role in promoting competition, innovation and economic growth.”

Hunts action plan for local television involves a channel being launched on the digital terrestrial network which will have guaranteed local ‘opt outs’, meaning times in the schedule when content will be shown which has been produced locally. This plan requires an operator of the central network, or ‘spine’, and a change to the regulatory regime that would license local producers of material.