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Ofcom details how it will regulate the BBC

Ofcom has revealed details of how it will regulate the BBC from next April.

The UK communications regulator will have responsibility for key aspects of oversight of the broadcaster activities relating to content standards, competition and performance, including plans to extend its Broadcasting Code to cover BBC iPlayer, implement a new operating licence for the BBC’s UK services and address competition concerns about BBC Worldwide.

Ofcom unveiled its proposals for regulation of the BBC in a document explaining how it would undertake its new regulatory duties ahead of the publication of the broadcaster’s Royal Charger for the 2017-27 period.

The regulator said that its approach would recognise that responsibility for governance of the BBC will lie with the pubcaster’s new board, which will determine how to deliver the mission and purposes defined in the Charter. The Board will set out the BBC’s editorial guidelines, while Ofcom will hold the BBC to account.

The regulator will develop an operating framework for regulation over the next few months.

The previous Charter gave Ofcom shared regulatory oversight of some of the BBC’s content standards with the BBC Trust, which will close when Ofcom takes on its new role.

Under the new arrangement, Ofcom will have responsibility for content standards on BBC broadcasting and on-demand programme services including, for the first time, for the accuracy and impartiality of BBC news and current affairs programmes.

Ofcom said it would update the rules in its Broadcasting Code to fulfil these new responsibilities, and will create procedures for handling complaints.

The Broadcasting Code has not hitherto applied to areas of the BBC’s content regulated by the BBC Trust. Ofcom will consult on extending it to include on-demand programming, including the BBC iPlayer.

Ofcom said it would take a ‘BBC first’ approach to complaints, under which the BBC will handle complaints in the first instance before a complainant can refer their issue to Ofcom. 

The content oversight proposals will be subject to consultation “shortly”, with publication expected in the spring.

Regarding competition, Ofcom said it would impose requirements on the BBC to avoid the relationship between its public-service activities and commercial subsidiaries distorting the market, or creating an unfair competitive advantage for the BBC’s subsidiaries.

Ofcom said it would propose measures to address concerns that BBC Worldwide could receive an unfair advantage over private companies thanks to its relationship with the core BBC public services.

Consultation on the competition aspects of the regime will be opened before Christmas, with publication to follow in the spring.

Regarding performance, the regulator said that it would create a new operating licence for the BBC’s UK public services that could incorporate Ofcom’s own performance measures in addition to those set by the BBC.

Ofcom said it would have a particular focus on assessing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s output. It will also hold the BBC to account to ensure it meets its obligations to serve all four of the UK’s nations as well as meeting diversity obligations.

The performance monitoring regime will be put out to consultation in the spring, with publication to follow next autumn.