- Policy Exchange report on Public Service Broadcasting
– BBC Decision Time program on License fee with Nick Robinson
– CCPSB on Daily Politics Show
– Digital Economy Bill – House of Lords Committee Stage reading # 7
– PSB’s suggested to be allowed to reduce amount of advertising
– IFNCs – initial bidding organisations confirmed
– House of Lords Report on state of UK television and film industry
– BBC to start report into the representation of LBG communities in UK media
There was a significant amount of activity with regard to PSB in the first part of 2010. The new year kicked off with a report from the Policy Exchange; ‘Changing The Channel: A Case for Radical Reform of Public Service Broadcasting in the UK’, authored by Mark Oliver. The main themes are not really as radical as the sub-title suggests but tread similar ground to previous investigations about PSB restructure, most notably the Peacock Report. It advocates a wider distribution of the licence fee, the scaling back of the BBC to concentrate on more quality broadcasting rather than ratings chasing, importing shows, high-price presenters and sports rights. It criticised the BBC’s ‘bias towards reach’ as a major downfall of an organisation intended to fill the gap left by the market and not to compete on the same level. The general thread of the report, which seeks to break up the BBC and the license fee, is not supported here.
Some of these arguments were then indirectly discussed in last weeks BBC Decision Time program on Radio 4, hosted by Nick Robinson, that looked at the arguments for and against the License Fee. It was aired at 8pm on the 20th January and the panel included David Graham, David Mellor, Dame Sue Street, Emily Bell and Lord Birt, and they were tasked with discussing the political arguments and the potential implications of getting rid of the BBC license fee. The program was a welcome reflexive piece on the current debates on the regulation of the UK media and the place of public service broadcasting. It concluded that there was far more support for the License Fee as it is seen as good value for money, £12 per month being considerably less than many other subscription channels.
Additionally it has been suggested that the advertising supported PSB’s (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) should be allowed to reduce their amount of advertising by CRR (Contract Rights Renewal), currently at 12 minutes per hour, in order to increase the amount they can charge to advertisers. This was an issue also covered in the Policy Exchange report.
On the 14th of January a member of the CCPSB steering group, Carole Tongue (former MEP), appeared on the Daily Politics Show on BBC 2 and spoke on behalf of CCPSB. Greg Dyke was interviewed alongside Don Foster MP, about the future of the BBC Licence Fee. She argued that the BBC is the core element in the PSB ecology, and the general audio-visual ecology, of the UK and that we should tamper with the license fee ‘at our peril’. The argument that was being put forward against the license fee was a form of direct treasury funding, advocated by former BBC chief Greg Dyke, to which Carole Tongue suggested that that this would cloud the precise nature of citizens having a specific stake in the broadcasting institution. The relevant section of the program can be found here.
The Digital Economy Bill progressed to the Houses of Lords Committee Stage sitting number 7 on the 8th February 2010, in which discussion of amendments to clauses 31 to 44 of the Bill. The first day of the report stage will be on 1st March 2010. A link to some commentary and the transcripts of the meetings can be found here.
This month also saw the finalising of the tenders for the Independently Funded News Consortia (INFC) pilot regions (Wales, Scotland and NE England) which was a commitment of the Digital Britain White Paper published on 16th June 2009.
The companies selected to tender are:
- ITN with Newsquest, Northcliffe Media, Tindle, Boomerang and ITV Wales news staff;
– UTV with NWN Media Ltd.
- Johnston Press with the Herald and Times Group, Tinopolis, and D C Thomson;
– STV with ITN and Bauer Radio
- ITN with Johnston Press, Newsquest, Metro Radio, University of Sunderland and ITV Tyne Tees and Borders news staff;
– Trinity Mirror with the Press Association and Ten Alps;
The process is now in the ‘Dialogue Phase’ where each company’s relevant competency is discussed. On the 19th February there will be an ‘invitation to submit final tender’ with the deadline being the 3rd March, with the tender going to the most ‘economically advantageous tender’ – the best value for money. March will be taken up by discussion of the final bidding organisations with the announcement of the ‘preferred bidders’ being in late March. The winning organisation and DCMS will the enter final ironing-out of the official contract in April with the contract to be awarded in May, with the service to start in late May/ early June. The official summary and time-line of events can be found here. What effect the general election will have on this process is obviously unknown but some commentators have suggested that all this effort will ‘be in vain’ if the Conservatives ‘torpedo the plans’, one interpretation of the Conservative Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s words in which he was explicit in his opposition to the Digital Economy Bill and the pilot schemes: ‘Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we’ll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron enters Number 10. ’ This puts a major spanner in the works for the entire process as it undermines the significant amount of work that has already gone into the scheme and makes any effort on behalf of the organisation a waste of time thus discouraging the necessary engagement with the process. However, the chairman of the DCMS selection committee stated at a recent conference on the Nations & Regions in Salford that the process was still going smoothly.
Additionally the House of Lords Communications Committee recently finished an extensive report on the British Film and Television Industries. It was ordered to be printed on the 14th January 2010 and a link to the report can be followed here. The BBC Trust are also to issue a report on the representation of LGB people in the media, and specifically on the BBC. A link to the outline of the research project can be found here.
In summary it has been a busy start to the year in the world of PSB with a wide variety of different issues being raised. It is therefore necessary that there is a voice to represent those that support the core ideals of PSB without compromising its integrity as a service to both citizens as well as consumers. There are tectonic movements ahead for the UK media ecology either through the implementation of the Digital Economy Bill or the result of the general election both of which will have signification implications for PSB specifically. The CCPSB will continue to remain supportive of the Licence Fee and will uphold the continuation of PSB as a cornerstone of quality and integrity for both the UK media and British society.
Jan/Feb 2010 press & web articles on Public Service Broadcasting and surrounding issues:
Guardian 18/01/10 — Ofcom may let broadcasters sell fewer ads to push up prices
Press Gazette 21/01/10 — Jeremy Hunt: Tories will kill broadcast news pilots
Telegraph 22/01/10 — David Abraham is Channel 4’s new CEO, but why?
All Media Scotland 24/01/10 — All Media INFCs? Already Dead in the Water?
Guardian 25/01/10 — Will Tories and ITV be able to agree on the future of local TV news?
Paid Content: UK 03/02/10 — IFNCs: Bidders Waving Cit-J Pledge, But Timescale Looks Tight
Telegraph 04/02/10 — Competition Commission – It’s anything but.