Ofcom Crosses The Rubicon

Author:Mr Tim Hardy
Profession:CMS Cameron McKenna LLP

Earlier this week, Ofcom, the communications industry regulator, fined the BBC £50,000 in relation to a faked winner of a Blue Peter phone-in competition last year. This is the first time that any media regulator has fined the BBC, which has confirmed that payment of the fine will be made from TV licence fees.

Ofcom has issued seven fines in respect of breaches of its Broadcasting Code since it was empowered to do so under the Communications Act 2003, the first of which was levied in June 2006 against the radio station, Kiss 100. The BBC's fine is the second lowest of the seven fines. This reflects, among other things, the fact that the maximum fine that may be levied on the BBC by Ofcom is £250,000, because any such fine will be paid for by the public. By contrast, other broadcasters may be fined up to a maximum of 5% of their qualifying revenue.

One of the seven fines issued by Ofcom related to breaches of the fairness and privacy provisions of Ofcom's Code. The other six fines, including the fine levied on the BBC, related to breaches of the Code provisions covering protection of under-18s, standards to prevent harm and offence and commercial references in programmes.

The fact that Ofcom has previously levied a fine for breaches of the fairness and privacy provisions of its Code, together with its decision this week to fine the BBC for breaches of other provisions of Ofcom's Code, is encouraging for companies who may be treated unfairly or have their or...

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