Office of Communications

Ofcom logo
Abbreviation Ofcom
Formation 29 December 2003
Type Statutory corporation
Legal status Created by Office of Communications Act 2002[1]
Purpose/focus Regulator and competition authority for broadcasting, postal services, telecommunications and radiocommunications spectrum
Headquarters Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA
Location London, Belfast, Cardiff, Caterham, Glasgow, Newton-le-Willows
Region served United Kingdom
Official languages English, Welsh
Chairman Colette Bowe[2]
Main organ Board
Website http://www.ofcom.org.uk/

Ofcom (officially the Office of Communications; Welsh: Y Swyddfa Gyfathrebiadau) is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002.[1] It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom's focus no longer includes some of the technical standards issues overseen by the previous regulatory agencies.



On 29 December 2003, Ofcom inherited the duties that had previously been the responsibility of five regulatory bodies:

In addition, on 1 October 2011, Ofcom took over responsibility for regulating the postal services industry from the Postal Services Commission (Postcomm).

News International phone hacking scandal

In July 2011, in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, Ofcom came under pressure to launch an inquiry into whether the parent company of News International, News Corporation, was still the "fit and proper" owner of a controlling stake in the satellite broadcasting company British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). On 13 July former Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged Ofcom to launch an investigation.[3][4] On 15 July the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated that the Government would launch a review of laws on what constituted a "fit and proper" owner for broadcasting companies in the United Kingdom, and that anyone found not to meet that standard can be forced to give up their current holdings in a company.[5] On 22 July it was reported that Ofcom had begun an investigation into whether the phone-hacking scandal may have changed BSkyB's status as the "fit and proper" holder of a UK broadcasting licence.[6] On the same day Ed Richards, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, replied to Simon Hughes MP, Don Foster MP and Tim Farron MP following a letter which they had written to him on 8 July concerning News Corporation's shareholding in BSkyB.[7] In the letter Richards confirmed that Ofcom considers that News Corporation’s current shareholding of 39.14% in BSkyB does give it a material influence over the company; that Ofcom is not precluded from acting by ongoing police investigations; and that Ofcom’s process is not dependent upon a criminal conviction being secured.[7]



Ofcom's responsibilities are wide-ranging, covering all types of industries and processes. It has a statutory duty to the interests of citizens and consumers by promoting competition, and protecting consumers from what might be considered harmful or offensive material. Some of the main areas Ofcom presides over are licensing, research, codes and policies, complaints, competition and protect the radio spectrum from abuse. Ofcom has a policy to undertake many consultation processes.


Ofcom consultations are a vital way of helping it to make the correct decisions based upon the evidence presented. Consultation processes begin with publishing documents on its website,[8] asking for views and responses. If the document is perceived to be long and complicated, a plain English summary is usually published as well. A period of ten weeks is allowed for interested persons, companies or organisations to send in their responses to documents.

After this consultation period, Ofcom publishes the responses on their website (excluding any personal or confidential information). When the consultation period has elapsed, Ofcom will prepare a summary of the responses received, and will use this information as a basis for their decisions.[9]

Programme complaints

As the regulatory body for media broadcasts, part of Ofcom's duties are to examine specific complaints by viewers or listeners about programmes broadcast on channels that it has licensed. It does not oversee unlicensed channels broadcast to UK viewers. When Ofcom receives a complaint, it asks the broadcaster for a copy of the programme, it then examines the programme content to see if it is in breach of the broadcasting code. Ofcom requests response from the broadcaster to the complaint. On the basis of this response, Ofcom will mark the complaint as either "upheld" or "not upheld", or alternatively simply "resolved".


Ofcom is responsible for the management, regulation, assignment and licensing of the electromagnetic spectrum in the UK, and licenses portions of it for use in TV and radio broadcasts, mobile phone transmissions, private communications networks, and so on. The process of licensing varies depending on the type of usage required. Some licences simply have to be applied and paid for, other commercial licences are subject to a bidding process. Most of the procedures in place have been inherited from the systems used by the previous regulators. However, Ofcom may change some of these processes in future.


Ofcom protects the radio spectrum in a number of ways:

Working within International organisations (ITU, CEPT and BEREC).

Licencing UK controlled commercial radio spectrum; The Ministry of Defence controls its own spectrum. Within the international frame work for frequency use; Ofcom liaises through the UK Government to produce the UKFAT (UK Frequency Allocation Table). The current table was produced in 2010.

Investigate and, when necessary, carryout enforcement activities to clear interference or illegal use from the spectrum. Until June 2010 Ofcom investigated all interference cases within the UK. However Radio and Television Broadcast interference reporting has reverted to the BBC. So consumers in the UK should report cases of interference to the BBC. However commercial and spectrum licence holders report to Ofcom and in all cases Illegal/Pirate Radio operations are also reported to Ofcom.

Postal services

In October 2010 the UK Government announced plans for Ofcom to inherit the functions of Postcomm as part of a wider set of public service austerity measures.[10] Following the Postal Services Act 2011 regulatory responsibility for postal services transferred to Ofcom on 1 October 2011, with its primary duty to maintain the UK 6-day a week universal postal service.


Colette Bowe was appointed Ofcom Chairman with effect from 11 March 2009.[11][12] She is the founding chairman of the Telecoms Ombudsman Council, and chaired Ofcom’s Consumer Panel from its inception in 2003 to December 2007. The current Chief Executive is Ed Richards, who previously was Chief Operating Officer, and is responsible for Strategy, Market Research, Finance, Human Resources and other functions. Richards was Senior Policy Advisor to the Labour party Prime Minister Tony Blair for Media, telecoms, the internet and e-govt and Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC.[13]

The first chairman of Ofcom was David Currie, Dean of Cass Business School at City University and a life peer under the title Lord Currie of Marylebone. The first chief executive was Stephen Carter, Baron Carter of Barnes, formerly a senior executive of JWT UK and NTL and now Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting.[14]

In June 2009, Conservative party leader, David Cameron said that if his party were elected, they would restructure Ofcom.[15]

Key personnel

Ofcom's key personnel at September 2010 were:[16]

  • Chief Executive, Ed Richards
  • Content, International and Regulatory Development, Christopher Woolard
  • Legal Group, Polly Weitzman (General Counsel)
  • Consumer Group, Claudio Pollack
  • Strategy, Chief Economist and Technology Group, Steve Unger
  • Competition Policy Group, Stuart McIntosh
  • Spectrum Policy Group, ‘H’ Nwana
  • Operational Group, Jill Ainscough (Chief Operating Officer)

Sitefinder database and freedom of information

"Sitefinder" is an Internet database maintained by Ofcom. This was recommended in the "Stewart Report" to the Government in 2000. It is a recommended voluntary scheme which national mobile network operators provide information about the location and operating characteristics of individual mobile phone base stations (or masts).[17]

In September 2007 an Information Tribunal ruled that the public should have access to the database under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.[18] However, as Ofcom has no legal power to enforce mobile phone operators to add information the database, UK mobile phone operators consequently ceased updating it.[17] Ofcom appealed against the Freedom of Information Act ruling, together with one UK mobile operator - T-Mobile.[19] This has led to accusations of the organisation's complicity with the mobile telecommunications industry in keeping information about mast locations secret.[20] Ofcom's stated reasons for the appeal have ranged from "preventing terrorist attacks" on the sites of phone masts to "protecting the intellectual property" of the mobile telecommunications industry.[19]

In April 2008, the High Court found in favour of the Information Commissioner's Office and overruled Ofcom's objections. It is unclear whether Ofcom intends to appeal against this ruling.[21]


Ofcom was criticised for incurring unnecessary expenses to the public purse with the use of "extravagant Thames-side offices" and a "top-heavy salary bill".[22] Also for a "Nero approach" [23] and for "poor service".[24]

In May 2011, Ofcom ruled that Press TV, Iran's English satellite channel, was responsible for a serious breach of UK broadcasting rules and could face a fine for airing an interview with Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek journalist arrested covering the Iranian presidential election in 2009, that was obtained by force while he was held in a Tehran jail.[25]

Upon the release of Ofcom's findings, Press TV launched a campaign against Maziar Bahari and Ofcom. Maziar Bahari was accused of being a "an MI6 contact person"[26] taking guidance from "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, protocol #7".[27] Press TV called Ofcom's ruling "part of an anti-Iranian campaign," and that "A quick look at senior decision makers at OFCOM demonstrates that the regulator is mostly made up of former Channel4 and BBC executives, some of whom are well-linked to and influenced by powerful pro-Israeli politicians."[28] [29]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Office of Communications Act 2002 - 2002 CHAPTER 11". Legislation - UK - Acts - Public Acts 2002. Office of Public Sector Information. 19 March 2002. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2002/ukpga_20020011_en_1. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  2. ^ Functions and Role Ofcom. Retrieved: 2011-07-09.
  3. ^ "Brown Urges Ofcom to Probe News Corp.'s Existing BSkyB Stake". San Fransico Chronicle. 13 July 2011. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/07/13/bloomberg1376-LOAAC60UQVI901-5319LIBGU2PL77S07RDVI9V238.DTL. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "Brown Calls on Regulator to Probe News Corp.’s Existing BSkyB Shareholding". Bloomberg. 14 July 2011. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-13/brown-urges-regulator-to-probe-news-corp-s-existing-bskyb-shareholding.html. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  5. ^ "Phone Hacking: Murdoch's grip on BSkyB may be threatened, warns Clegg". The Telegraph. 15 July 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/phone-hacking/8639225/Phone-Hacking-Rupert-Murdochs-grip-on-BSkyB-may-be-threatened-warns-Nick-Clegg.html. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  6. ^ "UK regulator begins probe into BSkyB’s status". Financial Times. 22 July 2011. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/efce3662-b48a-11e0-a21d-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=rss#axzz1T3mfewdv. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Letter to Simon Hughes, Don Foster and Tim Farron MP from Ed Richards July 22, 2011". Ofcom. http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2011/07/22/letter-to-simon-hughes-don-foster-and-tim-farron-mp-from-ed-richards/. Retrieved 25 July 2011. 
  8. ^ List of Ofcom consultations
  9. ^ "Ofcom - Official Website - Homepage". http://www.ofcom.org.uk/. 
  10. ^ Tim Bradshaw (21 October 2010). "Ofcom to cut staff by a fifth". Financial Times. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/93ac5de2-dd25-11df-9236-00144feabdc0.html. 
  11. ^ Colette Bowe Institute of Competition Law. Retrieved: 2011-07-09.
  12. ^ Colette Bowe appointed as Ofcom chair The Guardian. 2008-12-17.
  13. ^ "Ed Richards - Chief Executive Officer". Ofcom Documents and Information > About Ofcom > Corporate Structure and Governance > Ofcom Board > Membership & Biographies. Ofcom. http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/csg/ofcom_board/biogs/e_richards/. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  14. ^ http://www.berr.gov.uk/aboutus/ministerialteam/page48340.html
  15. ^ Chris Williams (6 July 2009 14:25 GMT). "Ofcom top of Tory deathlist - Quangogeddon". Music and Media. The Register. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/06/cameron_ofcom/. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  16. ^ http://www.ofcom.org.uk/files/2010/09/Org_chart.pdf
  17. ^ a b "'Sitefinder' Mobile Phone Base Station Database". http://www.sitefinder.ofcom.org.uk/. 
  18. ^ "Data row hits mobile mast website". Technology (BBC News). Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 13:35 GMT. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7024206.stm. Retrieved 6 January 2010. 
  19. ^ a b Bill Ray (Thursday, 13 September 2007 10:51 GMT). "Ofcom fails to prevent release of cell locations - But operators might not play ball". Networks. The Register. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/13/sitefinder/. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  20. ^ Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor (Sunday, 27 May 2007). "Phone mast locations kept from public". Life & Style > Health & Families > Health News (London: The Independent). http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/health-news/phone-mast-locations-kept-from-public-450616.html. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  21. ^ "High Court backs ICO over Ofcom in sitefinder dispute". Blog Archive - Case Law, Law, Telecoms. Informationoverlord. 2008-04-17 Thursday. http://www.informationoverlord.co.uk/?p=106. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  22. ^ http://www.davidrowan.com/2003/12/interview-stephen-carter-david-currie.html
  23. ^ Plunkett, John (5 June 2007). "Ofcom accused of 'Nero approach'". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jun/05/radio.ofcom. 
  24. ^ http://www.letsfixbritain.com/ofcomissues.htm
  25. ^ Sweney, Mark (23 May 2011). "Iran's Press TV censured for interview with arrested journalist". London: The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/may/23/iran-press-tv-maziar-bahari. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  26. ^ . http://www.presstv.ir/detail/181242.html. 
  27. ^ . http://www.presstv.ir/detail/181711.html. 
  28. ^ . http://www.presstv.ir/detail/187554.html. 
  29. ^ . http://www.presstv.ir/detail/184355.html. 

External links

Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of ITV
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Channel 4
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Satellite Television
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Independent Television Commission
Regulation of Cable Television
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Radio Authority
Regulation of Independent Local Radio
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Radiocommunications Agency
Regulation of use of the Radio Spectrum
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Broadcasting Standards Commission
Monitoring of 'Taste and Decency'
29 December 2003–present
Succeeded by

Coordinates: 51°30′28″N 0°05′43″W / 51.5079°N 0.0953°W / 51.5079; -0.0953

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