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Ofcom's Impartiality Questioned (Read 2,151 times)
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Ofcom's Impartiality Questioned
Apr 1st, 2007 at 9:29am
Ofcom execs 'wined and dined'
By Juliette Garside, Sunday Telegraph

Last Updated: 12:13am BST 01/04/2007


The impartiality of communications industry watchdog Ofcom was being questioned last night, after it emerged that its two most senior radio executives attended a dinner party at the Hilton hotel in Dallas hosted by a company which weeks later won a bid to operate a UK radio station.

Ofcom's director of radio, Peter Davies, and its head of radio planning and licensing, Neil Stock, were among some 20 guests entertained by Absolute Radio International while attending a conference in Dallas last September.

At the time, Absolute was one of five companies bidding to operate a new station covering Oxford and South Oxfordshire. Davies and Stock both sit on Ofcom's radio licensing committee, and on October 12 that committee announced that Absolute had triumphed.

After complaints from rival bidder South Central Media and a letter from Boris Johnson, the MP for nearby Henley, Ofcom conducted a discreet internal investigation.

The officers were found to have broken a purdah rule which bars staff from visiting or socialising with licence bidders. But the breach was interpreted as an honest mistake and no further action was taken. The two have since rejoined the panel, awarding four further licences with more to come this year.

An Ofcom spokesman said: "In advance of one local radio award decision last year, two licensing committee members mistakenly attended an industry dinner organised by an applicant, during an industry conference.

"Ofcom carefully considered the matter at that time and concluded while technically this attendance did not follow Ofcom's guidance on best practice it had not affected the subsequent award process."

Steve Cannon, who co-ordinated the South Central Media bid, said he was waiting for Ofcom to respond to a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. "We want all the internal documents that show how and why this licence was awarded. [It] should be re-awarded, and I'm not happy Peter Davies and Neil Stock are still on the licensing committee."

Last night local radio consultant Tony Grundy, who led a 100,000 investment in one of the rival bids, said he had not been made aware of the Ofcom investigation.

"If there were two people on that panel who felt Absolute should have the licence, others could have been swayed by that," he said. "It puts a question mark on their judgment. It's not a level playing field."

Grundy also raised questions about the fact that last June, the day before applications were due in, Absolute paid 300,000 to acquire a loss-making station in the city called Passion FM.

Ofcom stressed when announcing the winning bid that Absolute's ability to share resources by co-locating Passion and the new station was a deciding factor.

Clive Dickens, operations director at Absolute, said the company had a track record in turning around failing stations.

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« Last Edit: Apr 1st, 2007 at 10:07am by kk »  

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