Law, Justice and Journalism

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Is Sky a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a broadcasting licence?

In City University London, Journalism, Law on November 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm

By Professor Lorna Woods

This post originally appeared on the City Legal Research blog.

The Leveson Enquiry is focussing, understandably enough, on the regulation on the press, but there are more general issues which at some point will need to be addressed. One of these is the question of whether Sky, as part of the Murdoch media empire, is a ‘fit and proper person’ for the purposes of the Broadcasting Act (News Corporation holds 39.14% of the shares in BSkyB).  S. 3 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and s. 3 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 impose a duty on Ofcom to ensure that broadcasting licences (whether radio or television) are held by fit and proper persons.

This duty is ongoing and does not apply just at the time of the grant of the licence.  It is therefore possible that a licence may be removed from a person if that person ceases – in Ofcom’s opinion – to be fit and proper.  The person in question is the holder of the licence – so the person may be a corporate body. Ofcom will take into account the actions of controlling directors and shareholders, as well as the actions of the licence-holder itself and any determination could affect all licences held by that body.

While this much is clear from the Acts, the scope of ‘fit and proper’ is much less clear-cut, at least in the broadcasting context (other regulators have come up with their own definitions).  Here, note that it is not defined in the Broadcasting Acts although presumably the categories of persons prohibited from holding a broadcasting licence do not trigger the fit and proper test.  In general, it would seem to be a question for Ofcom – in satisfying itself that the requirements of both s. 3s are fulfilled – that will determine the question.

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James Murdoch before the select committee: The rules on giving evidence

In Comment, Journalism, Law on November 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

By Professor Lorna Woods.

This post also appeared on the City Legal Research blog.

James Murdoch has been called by the select committee to verify the evidence he gave to that committee earlier this year. The problem means that his evidence conflicts with that given by others, so somebody must – at best – be misremembering events. It is timely therefore to recap briefly the rules relating to evidence given to Parliamentary select committees.

Some have noted that none of the people giving evidence have done so on oath; the argument therefore is that such witnesses cannot commit perjury. The implication that seems to be drawn from this is that people are free to lie to Parliament at will. This is not entirely the case. There are two points:

1. It is possible that a witness be required to give evidence on oath. If this were to be done, then the perjury route would be available. Of course, requiring that a witness take the oath rarely occurs. In any event, there is another way.

2. Lying to Parliament, even if you have not taken an oath, constitutes contempt of Parliament. In both cases, the body which would impose a punishment is Parliament and in both instances the punishment would be the same: imprisonment. Parliament has the power to imprison someone for contempt until the end of the Parliamentary term. Despite some claims to the contrary, it seems Parliament does not have the power to impose fines.

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