Ofcom denies The Times' claims of potential conflict of interest with BBC, plurality

Joseph O'Halloran ©RapidTVNews | 24-06-2012

The chairman of Ofcom, the UK’s broadcast regulator, has severely rebutted claims by The Times newspaper of conflict of interest issues regarding CEO Ed Richards’s application for the role of BBC Director General.

Richards announced his official candidature for the forthcoming vacancy as BBC Director General in May 2012 and in a statement confirming the application, Ofcom said that given the significant level of speculation surrounding potential applicants for the BBC Director General role, it was necessary to state clearly that its CEO had indeed made an application.

Yet weeks later The Times newspaper ran an ‘Ofcom chief’s bid for top job at the BBC raises questions over conflict of interest’ questioning how Richards could balance his ambition to lead the BBC with his duty to regulate the broadcast market with objectivity, in particular the very thorny issue of media plurality in the UK.

In a letter to the newspaper, Colette Bowe, Ofcom Chairman (sic) rebutted the claims, asserting that “robust procedures” agreed by the Ofcom Board had been put in place to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

She added: “Ed Richards made the decision to apply on the weekend before the deadline because this was a major personal decision. It is untrue that the reason was “in order to stay involved in BBC matters. As Ofcom has explained to The Times, the Ofcom Board agreed and finalised the contents of the report on measuring media plurality and Ed Richards was not involved in this. The article’s claim that Ofcom’s report on media plurality ‘largely accepted the BBC’s proposals, including that the corporation should not itself be a trigger for a plurality review ‘ is also wide of the mark. Ofcom’s report recommends that no organisation should be a trigger for a periodic plurality review. Specifically, the report clearly advises that the BBC should be ‘fully included’ in any review of plurality, in contrast to the position put to us by the BBC. “

Bowe also stressed that the BBC Trust should consider establishing a new framework for assessing internal and external plurality at the BBC, which she argued was in contrast to the BBC’s position.