Tory rage over Ofcom stitch-up

Former culture secretary Chris Smith is tipped to be the first chairman of the super-regulator Ofcom - an idea that infuriates the Opposition

The Conservative party has condemned rumours that former culture secretary Chris Smith is set to become the first chairman of the new communications regulator Ofcom.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that the Labour MP has already been approached about the job, and is thought to have responded enthusiastically. The selection process for the position is not set to begin until next year, and the Tory party has branded the notion of appointing such a highly political figure for an independent watchdog role as "absolutely unacceptable".

"Two months ago Chris Smith thought he should still be secretary of state. This is supposed to be an independent body -- the legislative process is still in a state of flux, and to have the man responsible for this chaos in charge of Ofcom would be laughable," said John Greenway, the Conservative's culture spokesman.

Ofcom is due to take over from Oftel, the Radio Authority, the Independent Television Commission and other regulatory bodies in late 2002 or early 2003. The government decided to merge the roles of these diverse bodies for two reasons: the impact that Internet and interactive TV are having on the regulatory landscape, and the increasing convergence between telecoms, content and television. The head of the super-regulator will need to juggle the interests of both the telecoms industry and the broadcast world, and handle any trade-offs along the way.

"We need someone who has experience, knowledge and understanding of the media," said Greenway.

Smith was sacked from his cabinet position in the last reshuffle, and would need to give up his Islington South seat in order to take the Ofcom job.

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