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Ofcom: The new 'super-regulator' [View chart]
Ofcom - the Office of Communications - is the UK's new 'super-regulator' or 'super-watchdog', called this because it replaces five previous regulators, amalgamating them under one new organisational umbrella. The previous regulators were the Independent Television Commission (ITC), the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC), the Radio Authority, the Radiocommunications Agency (RA), and the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel). Ofcom has been created as a result of the UK government's Communications Act. This Act of Parliament takes as its basis the idea that the UK is part of a global media market and therefore must have larger, merged communications companies, and
far less regulation. According to the public statements of its remit and intent, Ofcom is meant to focus on free markets and competition, carrying forwards the government's deregulatory policies built into the Communications Act. Because various media are converging, Ofcom does not organise its regulation by industry. In the view of the Media
Guardian's commentator, this arrangement is a world first.
This, clearly, is a major development in the UK's communications industry and public life. Yet Ofcom was officially launched in the week between Christmas and New Year, and many citizens have not heard of it, never mind are familiar with what changes the government is introducing via its creation. The Media Guardian report that 'Virtually every industry code is going to be revised, making the coming months a lobbyist's heaven' and quotes one senior Ofcom partner as comparing Ofcom's role to white-water rafting.
So what of Ofcom's chart? Does it support or contradict the official statements about 'light-touch' regulation and public interest?
For a communications (Mercury) industry regulator (Saturn) it is intriguing how both of those planets are, in this chart, the only planets that are retrograde. Retrograde planets intensify the experience of the 'archetypal' or essential qualities of the planet, so both communication and regulation are emphasised within Ofcom, as if there are ten lights in a room but two of them are turned up brighter than the others producing a more intense beam. The chart is littered with squares and oppositions, representing dilemmas and expressions of will, with the possibility of conflicts both internally and externally. There is a grand cross involving the Ascendant axis, with Saturn, Sun, and Mars, and there is another t-square involving Jupiter, the Moon, and Pluto. There is a grand trine involving Jupiter, Chiron and the Moon's North node, however other than this and two sextiles between the Moon and Chiron and the Moon and the North node there are no 'soft' aspects. This is therefore an institution that is likely to be quite combative and forceful, relying on culturally masculine ways of going about its business. It is likely to be an assertive organisation, not a passive one, determined to make its mark and express its will dynamically, energetically, actively. From this alone, the idea of 'light-touch' regulation already seems unlikely, but let us look deeper before drawing a firm conclusion.
Libra on the Ascendant means that Venus is the chart ruler, and Venus is in Aquarius conjunct Neptune. Mars is in Aries in the 7th house directly opposite the Ascendant, highlighting competition and monopolies. This is then an organisation that seeks to brand itself as fair and impartial, universal in outlook and taking a broad, strategic perspective of competition issues, which it addresses directly and as part of its primary function. Ofcom's website refers to their duty to 'foster plurality' whilst balancing this with 'the promotion of choice and competition', and refers to 'markets driven by full and fair competition between all providers.' These phrases sum up the astrological factors well. With chart-ruler Venus in quincunx to Saturn we can expect this organisation to feel internally frustrated in relation to its regulatory role; inner conflict and ambivalence
about its functioning will be present from day one of its operations. This organisation is not in harmony with its role, and that disharmony is likely to be at a level that will annoy and frustrate yet which is unlikely to rise to a level sufficient to provoke a crisis that brings resolution. It is therefore probable that it will accompany Ofcom throughout its life. The fact that Venus only makes two conventional aspects to other planets indicates that there is a poor level of integration within the organisation that needs to be addressed if it is to achieve its aims and be efficient.
The Sun in Capricorn at the IC, alongside Mercury in the 3rd house, describe the central purpose of regulating the communication industry, however this configuration would not be uncommon. The Sun in opposition to Saturn, however, with Saturn retrograde, locks in a strong pattern of regulation, the setting of industry frameworks and guidelines through codes of practice and complaint-processing, and so forth. This is an intense configuration, with the Cancer-Capricorn sign polarity expressing the need to protect and regulate, in square to the Libra-Aries polarity on the Ascendant axis expressing the potentially contradictory need to ensure fairness whilst promoting fierce competition. This is
further reinforced by the involvement of the 4th-10th house polarity in square to the 1st-7th house polarity. This cardinal cross therefore defines the nature of this organisation and describes its focus, function, and values.
In this chart, Scorpio is on the cusp of the 3rd house and Pluto is located there too, intercepted in Sagittarius. Pluto represents the use of power. It is the power to create life yet bring about death, and Ofcom as a regulator wields this power in the 3rd house of communication. Again, this is not an indicator of a 'light-touch' regulator. With Pluto as the midpoint of a t-square involving Moon and Jupiter, there is an expression of this power in relation to the public (the Moon) and those who broadcast (Jupiter). The t-square falls in the cadent houses, 3rd, 6th and 12th, and is therefore about dissemination of information and content. Jupiter-Moon also functions in its capacity as protector, so the power of Ofcom is meant to serve the purpose of public protection and public interest - Ofcom refers on its website to the 'citizen-consumer', blending social/political terms of reference with capitalism - but Pluto can also refer to investors and investments, so this t-square could also legitimiately be interpreted as a potential conflict between investors/vested interests and the general public. Jupiter-Pluto symbolises corporate power and capitalism, and the Moon stands in opposition and square-on to these drives. It seems that the government has created a powerful public body intended to be a big enough hitter to be able to cope with multinational media conglomerates without being intimidated or pressured. However the danger is not that this organisation will be unable to match those heavyweights pound for pound, but that the 'citizen-consumer' may be unable to wield influence within Ofcom, shaping the organisation to serve their interests rather than imposing their interests upon them. It is a double-edged sword.
Interestingly, Uranus is unaspected in Ofcom's chart. Is it realistic then for this organisation to achieve its stated purpose: 'Ofcom exists to further the interests of citizen-consumers as the communications industries enter the digital age.' Elaborating on this purpose, to do this Ofcom says that it will 'support the need for innovators, creators and investors to flourish within markets driven by full and fair competition between all providers' and 'encourage the evolution of electronic media and communications networks to the greater benefit of all who live in the United Kingdom.' All these statements contain a hefty dose of Uranian qualities, yet Ofcom is unable to integrate the Uranus function within its operation, so there is some serious internal work to be done for this organisation to have the skills and perspectives necessary to realise its objectives. Whilst the chart ruler is placed in Aquarius, it is itself largely unaspected, so there is little in the way of Aquarius for the institution to draw upon. We can speculate from this that over the future decades of Ofcom's life (assuming it survives that long) it will face many challenges in relation to fostering innovation, plurality, free markets, fairness, impartiality, networks, citizenship, modernisation, and switching over to the digital system from the analogue.
Ofcom & the UK's chart
Ofcom's nodal axis links directly with the UK's Neptune in Scorpio in the 2nd house, reflecting the financial impact that the super-regulator is meant to have. It also suggests that Ofcom could undermine the UK's assets, and indeed following Ofcom's launch the UK's communications industry assets are available for foreign purchase, and the government wants to encourage mergers (Neptune) and globalisation in the industry. This liberalisation - removing boundaries - is further emphasised by Ofcom's Neptune being in square to the UK's Mars in Taurus in the 8th house, which represents (amongst other things) the UK's strong financial industries that lead the world. Here again there is the possibility of undermining (Neptune) the UK's independence (Mars). There is an introduction of permeability into the UK's assets and finances. Will fraud and corruption crop up at some point in Ofcom's future? Will it undermine (Neptune) the UK's economic strength (Mars)?
Saturn is in the UK's 10th house close to the MC, in almost exact opposite to the UK's Sun, showing a development at the top of society that involves business executives and public authorities. This is a government initiative, highly ambitious and relating to big business. Ofcom's grand cross links closely with the UK's MC and Ascendant axes,
showing that, like the BBC, this is a regulator with national reach and of national importance, drawing on state power to wield clout throughout the land. In short, astrologically-speaking Ofcom is very strongly connected with the government, for good or ill.
Ofcom's unaspected Uranus is on the midpoint of the UK's Mercury and Mars, and in quintile to them both. This therefore shows where Ofcom is likely to be provoked into using Uranian qualities and holding Uranian values. Mercury-Mars is competition in the broadcasting industry. The quintile aspect has a connection with Mercury, and is associated with information, education, knowledge, and connections. This unaspected Uranus was, in terms of transits, making its way back towards the UK's Pluto in the 5th house of the entertainment industry at the time that Ofcom launched. Ofcom therefore has locked in this transit in relation to the UK, and holds the potential for massive revolution in the creative industry. This is another indicator to add to the list that suggests Ofcom is unlikely to be referred to as a 'light-touch' regulator by anyone
other than its PR department and its creator (the current government). This Uranus transit, as discussed in the BBC section above, relates to the use and abuse of power in the UK's, and has coincided so far with the revealing of secrets, death and suicide, accusations of corruption and vested interests, and so on. The cautionary note for the government and for Ofcom then is to be careful not to seed these themes into the institution and organisational processes created during this time.
To close on a more hopeful note, Ofcom's Moon is closely trine the UK's Moon, so there is a resonance with the general public that could bode well. This links with Ofcom's Jupiter too, so the protective side of the organisation is in harmony with the UK people. It is up to Ofcom then to ensure that the Pluto quincunx to the UK's Moon is constructively resolved to the public's advantage, and that this public-attuned facet of the regulator comes to the fore so that it is genuinely citizen-led.
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