Former Channel 4 chairman Lord Terry Burns has been approved as the new chairman of Ofcom.
Lord Burns appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today with MPs endorsing his appointment shortly afterwards.
The cross-bench peer begins his four-year tenure at Ofcom in January 2018, replacing outgoing chairman Dame Patricia Hodgson.
At today’s committee hearing, Lord Burns was asked his thoughts on whether social media platforms such as Facebook should be recognised as publishers and therefore regulated.
“I think it’s a very big issue,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between broadcasting and what one is capable of watching on the internet.
“However, I think in many ways the main issue here is in terms of legislation and it is an issue for parliament rather than Ofcom.”
Asked his view, Lord Burns said: “I’ve been following this issue about platforms versus publishers… There must be a question of how sustainable that is.
“I don’t want to take a position on that at this stage. As far as I’m concerned the rules under which we are working at the moment is that they are defined as platforms.
“There will be an ongoing debate about that, for the moment that’s where they are. I find it difficult to believe that over time there isn’t going to be further examination of this issue.”
He said any movement towards regulation of social media platforms “has to come through a process of government, parliament and Ofcom together and Ofcom’s job is then to implement what comes out of that debate”.
Asked whether there was a role for Ofcom to monitor and check social media, Lord Burns said: “I don’t see any reason why if parliament wanted Ofcom to do that it shouldn’t [do so]… I’m not quite sure who else would do it.
“The thing about regulators I’ve noticed, and I don’t want to get into trouble with the company before I start, is that they are very hesitant about taking on new obligations.
“There is always question: will the resources be there, is it practical, without consultation how is it that you will actually do it?
“But following the spirit of what you [Damian Collins MP] have said I’m sure that if there was a requirement to do this that Ofcom would certainly be a suitable vehicle.”
Lord Burns served for six years as Channel 4 chairman before stepping down in January last year.
He has also served as chairman of a number of private and public sector organisations, including the Freedom of Information Commission.