To understand how fundamentally Tessa Jowell has messed up her digital TV policy, you should obtain a transcript of her statement to the House of Commons on Friday. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said: "Carlton and Granada, the owners of ITV Digital, were assisted by a rebate on the tax levy on their analogue Channel 3 licences for every household to which they provided digital services. This rebate - the so-called digital dividend - was worth tens of millions of pounds."
We should be grateful that Ms Jowell has actually said something. The ITV Digital debacle goes to the heart of two-thirds of her bailiwick - both media and sport - yet she has maintained what might be called a cultured silence while the saga has dragged on.
Yesterday she claimed credit for the success of digital TV, with no word of thanks to BSkyB, Telewest and NTL for investing over pounds 3bn in the technology, but took no responsibility for the failure of ITV Digital. Even if you swallow that, she got her facts in a twist.
Carlton and Granada do indeed get a reduction in their Channel 3 (that's ITV to you and me) levy, and it is indeed worth tens of millions of pounds (close to pounds 40m over the past 30 months). But it is not for the homes "to which they provide digital service" (ie flog ITV Digital). It's for a more convoluted and bizarre reason altogether.
Part of the annual levy paid by the four ITV companies (Carlton, Granada, Scottish Media and Ulster) is for use of the analogue spectrum (that's the old technology which the Government wants to get rid of). When a household goes digital, it is assumed they are not using the analogue spectrum (a theory I can disprove by reference to my home, where our living room TV is connected to a Sky Digital service, and our bedroom set gets terrestrial TV via the analogue method). So the ITV companies get a rebate of about pounds 10 a year for the "unused" spectrum.
Fans of the writings of Joseph Heller will see there is a marvellous further contradiction. Carlton and Granada get a discount, even if customers shun ITV Digital in favour of Sky, NTL or Telewest. …