Purnell putting deregulation on table

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CAMBRIDGE, England -- New U.K. Culture Secretary James Purnell will launch a series of government think tanks and public consultations aimed at accelerating the deregulation of the communications market here, he said Thursday.

The move could trigger the moving forward of a new communications act, not currently due until 2012, in a bid to keep pace with the rapidly changing media environment. The act would cover the entire landscape of broadcasting legislation and potentially include changes to restrictions on media ownership by local and overseas buyers.

Delivering the keynote speech at this year's Royal Television Society biennial conference, Purnell said that he will launch a series of government and public debates about how best to secure open markets and empower consumers in the increasingly fast-moving digital world.

"A good rule of thumb for the next decade is that we should open up markets and remove outdated regulations so that consumers and producers can exploit the potential of these new technologies," he told broadcasting executives and policymakers here.

But he warned that market deregulation will have to increase competition and allow more players into the market.

"Of course, deregulation and competition are not synonymous. The example of the American telecoms market, where deregulation has lead to the re-creation of many previous duopolies is a good warning," he said.

"The greater part of our thinking on regulation will, therefore, not be devising the minutiae of guidelines. Instead, it will be the articulation of clearer goals which can then be implemented flexibly.

"Those goals would be first, an open market, perhaps with a greater reliance on principles than on detailed rules. Second, the very best broadcasting should be open to everyone, and third, consumers should be in charge."

Sources close to the minister said that the government's recent decision to bring forward two separate reviews on public service broadcasting came because the speed of convergence had rendered existing legislation outdated.

Purnell also used his speech to warn that broadcasters will face regulatory intervention if they do not resolve the plague of editorial gaffes and phone-in scandals that have hit the industry this year.

"Broadcasters and producers need to respect their audience. You need to put your house in order and if you don't there will be a clamor for (media regulator) Ofcom and the BBC Trust to take further action," he said.
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