To save you all rushing to consult your tattered dictionaries (what do you mean, you don’t even own one?), I’ll give you the definition from my Concise Oxford English dictionary which says: “brinkmanship, art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it”.
I used this word this week in an article for Thursday’s edition of Broadcast magazine about a speech by ITV chairman Michael Grade in which he said the media regulator Ofcom must either give ITV what it wants or face the possibility that ITV will no longer be a public service broadcaster in future. Instead it would operate purely commercially like Sky, for instance.
Specifically, ITV is discussing changes on advertising, arrangements for network programming and regional news and something technical called the CRR – a mechanism by which it gets paid less for advertising if its ratings go down.
To me, the suggestion that ITV might just throw in the public service broadcasting towel if it doesn’t get what it wants looks very like brinkmanship. Advancing to the point of all out war with Ofcom, without actually declaring war. A declaration of war in this context would presumably be to simply hand back the public service broadcasting licence, without faffing about on the brink first.
Anyway, the word was ruled too inflammatory or something or other and we chose another form of words to question how serious Grade is about ITV becoming fully commercial in future, with no obligation to air particular amounts of UK-originated programming or news from the various nations and English regions. You’ll have to read Broadcast later this week to see just how scintillating this is all panning out to be.
Suffice to say here, that various broadcasters – ITV as described above and Channel 4, which last week ditched plans to launch new digital radio stations – are turning up the pressure on Ofcom to act quickly and spell out what it expects of so-called public service broadcasters in future. The whole subject (PSB, to policy wonks) is under review by Ofcom and two government departments. Pronouncements are expected early in the new year. But with advertising dropping like a stone as the economy apparently ploughs head-forth into recession, broadcasters who earn their living from advertising (principally ITV and C4) are panicking somewhat.
As C4 Andy Duncan told a special edition of the MediaGuardian podcast last week: “This is not a time for dithering. This is a time for action.” Sounds like he’s on the brink, too.