Jowell 'dithering' over digital switch-off

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The Independent Online

The Government was accused of "constant dithering" yesterday after the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell indicated to the House of Commons that the date for switch-over to digital television was likely be delayed by 24 months to 2012.

The Government was accused of "constant dithering" yesterday after the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell indicated to the House of Commons that the date for switch-over to digital television was likely be delayed by 24 months to 2012.

In a statement to Parliament, Ms Jowell acknowledged that several broadcasters had expressed the view that the Government's planned switch-over in 2010 was unworkable and that a postponement of two years was more achievable. She said: "While the broadcasters have not reached a full consensus on the optimum timetable, some - including the BBC - have suggested that 2012 may be the most appropriate date for the completion of switch-over."

Ms Jowell said a date of 2012 would be "subject to agreement on a detailed plan" but would mean that the switch-over process could begin in 2007, a year later than the date originally proposed by the former culture secretary, Chris Smith, in a speech in 1999.

The postponement prompted the opposition to accuse Ms Jowell of "dragging her heels" and creating uncertainty.

Julie Kirkbride, shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said yesterday: "The move towards digital switch-over is crucial to the future of broadcasting, but the Government's constant dithering is putting it in jeopardy. Ministers have maintained for years that 2010 was attainable and this latest climbdown is an admission of defeat. Ofcom criticised them earlier this year for failing to name a firm date, and today's statement just adds more uncertainty. It is time for Tessa Jowell to stop dragging her heels and give the industry the lead it wants."

Ms Jowell said the Government communications watchdog, Ofcom, was looking to make reference to the timetable for switch-over to digital television in draft digital licences for channels 3, 4, 5 and Teletext "which they expect to publish for consultation later this summer".

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