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Meeting with Stephen Carter, Chief Executive of Ofcom

Date & Time: Wednesday 12 January 2005, 4.00 - 5.00pm.
Location: Committee Room 7, Committee Corridor, Palace of Westminster
Chair: Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair, APPG on Deafness
Contact: Jonathan Isaac, Director UK Council on Deafness and Clerk to the APPG on Deafness


Attendees

APPG on Deafness Members
Baroness Howe
Malcolm Bruce MP
Annabelle Ewing MP
James Gray MP
Peter Pike MP

Staff in attendance
Jonathan Isaac - Clerk
Susie Romeo - Palantypist
Karen Green - BSL/English Interpreter
Sherratt Rowan - BSL/English Interpreter

Guests
Mark Morris - RNID
Patrick Claydon - RB Kensington Chelsea
Ruth Myers - TAG
Richard Vaughan - NDCS
Asif Iqbal - UK Council on Deafness
Chris Underwood - RNID
Katie Hanson - Sense
Jeff McWhinney - Significant UK Ltd
Christopher Jones - Teletec Ltd
Penny Beschizza - DBC
Gerry Stallard
Roger Hewitt - DBC
Ian Croft - BSHAA
Veronika Karailieva - RNID
Stephen Carter - Ofcom
Roger Lowry - Ofcom
Peter Bourton - Ofcom

Minutes

The meeting started at 4.00pm

1. Apologies received from


Lord Ashley of Stoke
David Amess
Harry Barnes
Anne Begg
Joe Benton
Sir Paul Beresford
Graham Brady
Tom Brake
Alistair Burt
Ross Cranston
Tony Cunningham
Jim Cunningham
Claire Curtis-Thomas
John Denham
David Drew
Gwyneth Dunwoody
Bill Eterington
Michael Fabricant
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
Adrian Flook
Cheryl Gillan
Jane Griffiths
Evan Harris
Lord Harris of Haringey
John Healey
Kim Howells
Andrew Lansley
Helen Liddell
David Lidington
Rob Marris
Kevin McNamara
Michael Moore
Eddie O'Hara
Sandra Osborne
Syd Rapson
Marion Roe
David Ruffley
Bob Russell
Alex Salmond
Ian Stewart
Hugo Swire
Sir Teddy Taylor
John Thurso
Jenny Tonge
Dennis Turner
Bill Tynan
Robert Walter

2. Presentation by Stephen Carter, Chief Executive of Ofcom

Stephen Carter started his presentation with a brief overview of the remit of Ofcom as the independent regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services and their activities since receiving statutory authority in December 2003.

Moving on to issues specifically relating to access for deaf people, details were given of Ofcom's Code on Television Access Services published in July 2004, specifically subtitles and sign language interpretation, and Ofcom's Universal Service Obligation for Telecommunications Review published on 10th January 2005, specifically relay services.

3. Questions to Stephen Carter

Penny Beschizza pointed out that many more than just deaf people used subtitles. This was acknowledged.

Mark Morris asked how consumers could find out what the performance of broadcasters was to enable them to make an informed choice at the point of purchase. This would also raise awareness of the services offered and encourage suppliers to meet their targets. It was confirmed that broadcasters will be required to publish actual output.

Annabelle Ewing asked whether Ofcom had sufficient resources to monitor the implementation of the code and what sanctions were available for non-compliance. It was acknowledged that resources were limited but that Ofcom would be working with the broadcasters to help them meet their targets, and publicising their findings. The ultimate sanction is withdrawal of licence but 'naming and shaming' was a very powerful process.

Malcolm Bruce asked for an explanation for the serious error made in claiming that live subtitling, widely available for at least 15 years, was not possible. It was acknowledged that mistakes had been made during the period of handover from the previous regulatory bodies.

Lady Howe commented that there were concerns that the quality of subtitling was falling and asked if this would also be monitored. It was confirmed that Ofcom would work with viewers and their representative bodies to review standards of subtitling.

Christopher Jones pointed out that the telephone relay system in the UK lagged behind that available in other countries and that the utilisation of new technologies such as Voice over IP and Voice Recognition Software etc would be encouraged if competition was encouraged. It was confirmed that Ofcom welcomed these developments and would encourage different technologies to be used but acknowledged that insufficient competition in telecommunications generally also had an impact on the lack of competitive supply in relay services.

There being no further time, Stephen Carter agreed to respond to written questions.

4. Any other business

Members were informed that the next meeting would be with Maria Eagle MP, Minister for Disabled People.

The meeting ended at 5.10pm

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