My Media Day: Alan Stewart, regulatory affairs manager, Ofcom (Scotland)

ALAN Stewart is a regulatory affairs manager with the Office of Communications (Ofcom) Scotland; in particular, he leads on broadcasting issues in relation to the role of the regulator in Scotland.

He moved to Ofcom from the Independent Television Commission (ITC) where he was head of its office in Scotland from September 2000 to the end of 2003. He was with the ITC for more than nine years and had spells running its offices in Belfast and Manchester.

He submitted this on Thursday, November 29.

What exactly is it you do?

As one of Ofcom Scotland’s team of four, I play a part in meeting Ofcom’s public service broadcasting responsibilities in Scotland. This could involve discussions with other Ofcom colleagues about programming obligations for viewers in Scotland. It could also mean helping to ensure broadcasters comply with the relevant Ofcom codes. So I may be consulted about a programme for Scottish viewers, which has generated complaints.

In addition, I manage Ofcom’s Gaelic broadcasting responsibilities, including our approval of MG ALBA’s operational plan, which outlines its future activities and objectives. I also keep up to date with any issues and developments in the commercial and community radio sectors. The job also has a strong public affairs component and liaising with UK and Scottish political institutions and their representatives who are interested in Ofcom’s role.

We work hard to ensure that when Ofcom consults over major plans, there is an awareness of the implications among our stakeholders here. We will occasionally organise events in Scotland so that people can debate Ofcom’s proposals and listen to our stakeholders.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Yesterday started off by preparing a piece of analysis on aspects of TV programming in Scotland. Ofcom is working towards issuing new, ten-year licences for the ‘Channel 3’ licensees – ITV, STV and UTV – and Channel 5. I then checked various sources of news on the internet for anything of relevance to Ofcom in Scotland and shared relevant information with colleagues.

I then dealt with a media query about our announcement that we had formally agreed the ITV networking arrangements, which now give STV affiliate membership of the network.

Next on the agenda was dealing with arrangements for a seminar we are planning in the New Year about regulation in a converged world for media plurality.

The morning finished off with follow-up actions from recent meetings with political and broadcaster stakeholders. I checked we had supplied enough information to civil servants on a broadcasting issue that had been raised with them.

The afternoon consisted of a meeting with a licensee and finished off reading up on research about an area of regulation relevant to Ofcom.

How different or similar was it to your average working day?

An average working day is quite hard to define once you get past the point of catching up with internal communications and news.

Briefing people both in and outside of Ofcom is a constant part in the job as does working on projects that involve different Ofcom groups – each with their own area of expertise. However, this was an office-based day and this is not always the case. The job involves travel for example to meetings at the Scottish Parliament or to events organised by others at which Ofcom is expected to be represented, or occasionally to London for meetings.

How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in post?

I think of starting in post in 1994 with the Independent Television Commission as most of my role there carried on into Ofcom. It is a cliché for anyone working in communications, but the advent of emails and online content has made a considerable difference. When I first started working for the ITC, carefully-drafted memos arrived in our office by post in a large envelope.

After sifting, they were then passed on to staff in the office for action or information.

The working day now has a faster pace to it with instant messaging and alerts of both internal and external news.

In the past, we monitored content on TV by watching VHS videos and if you had predicted that, in the not too distant future people, would be viewing programmes on laptops or mobile devices you would have probably been ridiculed.

At that time, in the mid-1990s, there were only six main terrestrial channels whereas now there is tremendous range, including more 24-hour news outlets.

How do you see the job evolving?

The nature of broadcasting regulation depends on what is in the appropriate legislation and Ofcom’s role is defined in statute.

The UK Government is working towards introducing new communications regulation, which could have a bearing on the sectors we regulate.

We obviously have a keen interest with this and work with Government on these issues.

In a Scottish context, the future broadcasting landscape will depend to a significant extent on the outcome of the independence referendum as the Scottish Government has plans for changes it would like to see if Scotland becomes an independent nation.

What is pretty certain is that over the next couple of years the debate about the future of broadcasting will become more complex. The sector will continue to grapple with the perennial issues of retaining viewers, securing advertising and future funding models, as well as understanding the impact of new technology and non-linear viewing.

What gives you most job satisfaction?

I enjoy working in the communications sector. There are always new and sometimes unexpected developments with remarkable innovation in how people access content.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interest in the media and, in this respect, the job as a whole more than satisfies.

The difficulty of defining an average working day is a sign that there is considerable variety. I remember this being referred to in the advertisement for my first job in the ITC and it has remained a characteristic of the job through my time at Ofcom.