From the speech made by media secretary Andy Burnham today:
“The old media world has ended – and the sooner we say so the better.
With it must go old thinking.
But the difficulty we all have is this: it doesn’t yet feel like an era of new possibility, and change we can all believe in, but one of threat and decline.
My main message today is: we need to break out of this thinking and we can – but only if we look beyond our own backyards and see the bigger picture.
So here is our collective challenge now: can we articulate a shared vision and forge a path to the future for British public service content, however difficult it may be?
That vision is more likely to stick if it is done with goodwill, holds the broadest possible consensus and, crucially, represents a good deal for the public.
But achieving it means two things for everyone without exception: change and compromise.
In 2009, we will find out what appetite and capacity we each have for both. Whatever happens, this needs to be a year of decision.
This should not be a debate about winners and losers. If we believe in the bigger picture – preserving and building Britain’s creative strength – then everybody should have the courage to stand outside long-held positions.”
That sounds like a warning shot across the bows of broadcasters: they’ve got to reach agreement over issues like the future funding of C4. Supposedly this has always been a “light touch” government, in media at least.
Burnham again: “We will only succeed if at all times we are guided by the viewing and listening public whose voices, at times, are dangerously excluded from fevered and inward-looking industry debates.
In my view, the public reaction to the Ross-Brand episode was a raw articulation of what Ofcom has found: that quality and standards matter in a world of fragmenting media experiences.
Content made primarily for TV in the public mind still stands for quality and higher standards.”
Fair point. What he’s saying is that it doesn’t matter what the TV industry is debating – the future of public service TV, or whatever – viewers and listeners respond to what they see and hear on TV and on the radio. He slipped up by going on to talk about “content made primarily for TV” because, of course, the Ross/Brand row blew up over a Radio 2 Saturday night programme. Once again, it’s convenient to forget just how that original programme was taken out of context and broadcast, online via YouTube and in newspapers, to an audience who decided to get offended.
On with the speech. Burnham welcomes Ofcom’s latest offering on public service broadcasting and “would like to thank Ed Richards and his teams for carefully guiding us through a necessarily exhaustive process and for rooting this entire debate where it needs to be – in the views of the public.” Unbelievable. Where is the evidence that Ofcom’s report reflects the views of the public? In the research I cited yesterday, which shows just how little “the public” know about the funding of TV?
Blah, blah, blah. He re-states the importance of having more than one public service broadcaster (ie, not just the BBC); he says good, impartial regional and national news is important, as is great British content including children’s programming, drama, current affairs and factual stuff.
Good news for indies. Burnham made a point of saying one of his priorities is: “Supporting and promoting independent producers. We don’t celebrate enough these British indies, whose flow of good ideas has made such an impact on viewing in the UK and exports around the world.”
He wants a strong BBC but he wants it to be a “supporting hand under others, rather than build itself ever bigger.” He wants to see the BBC and ITV develop proposed partnerships in regional news. He wants things done locally, helping people get into the media industry.
Then to the meaty stuff. ITV is being let off some of its public service obligations. So C4 should “balance the BBC in core public service programming”. All this we know. He said it’s time for “a new structure” for C4 and “a new more specific remit” (another one?). Then he said all the stuff about it making sense to look at BBC Worldwide.
His conclusion was “that the investment the public already makes in broadcasting can be made to work harder on its behalf”. That means no extra money for the broadcasting industry.
What happens next is that broadcast minister Stephen Carter will publish a report on Digital Britain, which will say a lot more about broadband than was mentioned today. This will be consulted on and a final Digital Britain report will be published by the summer. So, in Burnham’s words “we are only weeks away from clear decisions”. Thank Christ for that.