Broadcast Watchdog Carter Gets Stuck in to Show the Industry Who's Boss; the CITY Interview

Article excerpt


IT is just over a year since Ofcom began policing Britain's broadcasting and telecoms industries. As chief executive of the regulator, Stephen Carter is the man charged with managing these industries through a period of rapid change.

Carter will have a huge say in turning today's vision of a multi- channel, high- speed, ondemand world into reality.

'If we get things wrong, it will be a bit like the trains,' says Carter, 39, sitting in his glassfronted headquarters looking out on the River Thames. 'In five or 10 years' time, people will be asking, "why isn't our infrastructure very good"?' Big changes are already on the way. The number of homes signed up to multi-channel TV packages with the likes of BSkyB or Freeview is fast catching up with those who have access to just the five terrestrial stations.

Meanwhile, faster broadband internet access and new mobile technologies mean that every phone company now has the capability to pipe music and video into homes and through handsets.

Ofcom is forcing some of Britain's bestknown companies to prepare for the future.

Carter believes that BT can avoid being broken in two by agreeing to give its rivals more access to its UK-wide telephone network.

But he says the venerable BBC will have to bite the bullet and ask viewers to subscribe for its programmes within a decade.

Ofcom's remit is vast. It received 2,800 complaints from TV viewers disgusted by BBC 2's airing of Jerry Springer - The Opera.

But the regulator is also involved in issues that are largely impenetrable to anyone outside the industry - such as the trading of radio spectrum and the next auction of mobile phone licences.

Ofcom has taken on the responsibilities of Oftel, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority, the Radio Communications Agency and the Broadcasting Standards Commission. 'The opportunity to create an organisation from scratch was part of the attraction,' admits Carter.

So far, the work of its 900 staff has been greeted as a measured success by those it governs.

Ofcom weighed in with its views on the merger of Capital Radio and Classic FM owner GWR, which is 29.9pc-owned by Daily Mail parent DMGT.

It has also proposed tough measures to stop fraudsters from hijacking home computers and redirecting modems to connect to the internet via premium-rate phone lines.

'There was real, tangible consumer irritation,' says Carter. 'People were opening their phone bills to discover it was costing them hundreds of pounds.' Now Ofcom wants to tighten up on what TV broadcasters can air before the 9pm watershed.

Views on Carter's performance are mixed. One company calls him 'a class act'. Another says the jury is still out.

Carter's boldest move concerns the fixed-line telecoms industry. …