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'Ed must go' – pundits round on Ofcom chief after failed Beeb DG bid

Fair and balanced? Bit tricky that one, now

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Comment For months Ofcom chief Ed Richards was the bookies' favourite to run the BBC, but he hasn't got the job he craved. As decision day approached, the prospect of Richards running the BBC sent the Daily Mail newspaper, which had campaigned hard against him, into near meltdown.

But now Richards returns to a job which requires him to remain impartial about Britain's biggest media company – and it's one that has just rebuffed him. And he also must remain neutral about the Daily Mail. Ofcom's role in regulating the press is likely to expand after the Leveson inquiry, whatever the thin-skinned judge decides. This would present difficulties for a saint, and is surely now impossible for Richards, say critics. The calls for him to resign the Ofcom role are loud and clear.

"Logic suggests that Richards will have to move on," writes Mark Lawson in The Guardian, citing "the oddity of dealing with an external regulator – Ed Richards of Ofcom – who also wanted to be [BBC] director general".

"Now perhaps the compromised Ofcom boss Ed Richards should consider his position," says Sky News political editor Adam Boulton.

This won't be easy. As Blair's media policy adviser, Richards designed the apparatus he now presides over: he wrote the 2003 Communications Bill which abolished Oftel and created the uber-regulator.

There are 380,000 other reasons a year he would be reluctant to move on: that's what the Ofcom chief gets paid in pounds sterling each year, more than twice the salary of the Prime Minister - not bad for someone with limited media experience.

(It's not true that Richards has no media experience. He was a runner for Channel 4 and he served as Controller of Corporate Strategy briefly at the BBC. But that's a blue-sky, Strategy Boutique™ job - you really don't have to touch down on Earth to do it, even for refuelling.)

It's amazing, really, that he has survived for two years. Before taking office, the Conservatives vowed to cut Ofcom down to size - a very small size, involving a few white-coated boffins making technical judgments in a room while the rest of its powers were transferred back to the Ministry of Fun.

The Tories revised this plan, on taking office, to simply getting rid of Richards. But they ended up keeping both. However, there are many across several industries who will seize on the chance to show Richards the door.

Britain now lags far behind its economic competitors in rolling out faster mobile broadband services as the regulator dithered over how 4G should be implemented. This has had two effects. LTE is one way to connect rural areas, so the absence of a wireless option allowed fixed-line broadband operators - which means BT - to drag their feet and request more subsidies. Ofcom tried to please everybody, and ended up pleasing nobody.

El Reg mobile man Bill Ray received a hostile response from the industry when a year ago he suggested the only way to break the impasse was with a "see you in court". Time has proved him correct. Since then Everything Everywhere has made a dash for glory - a short-term monopoly - only to be rebuffed.

It's a pig's ear.

The competitive market in TV services looks equally sickly. Without a US cent of taxpayer's subsidy, Verizon has built out a FTTH (Fiber To The Home) network and is kicking the cable operators from pillar to post. Where's BT Vision? It's the most complained-about service in the UK.

As for radio, everybody knows the travails of DAB – Ofcom again dithered, when the industry needed creative policy making.

And as Labour pointed out earlier this week, Ofcom was given the job of enforcing creators' rights in 2010, but the first measures won't be implemented until 2014. Ofcom can rightly blame BT and TalkTalk for their judicial review, but it's hardly put its skates on since that was cleared. France managed to implement the vastly more ambitious (and complex) freetard-whacking agency Hadopi much more quickly.

None of these fiascos can be blamed on Richards' predecessor, Stephen (now Lord) Carter - Richards has been in the seat since 2006.

For Conservatives, Richards probably blotted his copybook most badly over the BSkyB takeover. Richards threw out years of work on defining 'plurality' in exchange for a redefinition supplied by the hysterical anti-Murdoch agitator, Clare Enders.

Enders had consulted a Professor of English, who rifling through her dictionaries, had found a new meaning of the P-word. Amazingly, Ofcom's spreadsheets and models were discarded and Enders semantic gymnastics were integrated into the heart of Ofcom's BSkyB objection.

Ofcom had always treated BSkyB as Murdoch-owned anyway, for the purposes of regulation. The Tories may be wary of Murdoch, but this was blatant politicking.

Always too timid to get their own man installed, it now looks like they have their chance. ®

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