Magazine article Soundings

Media Prospects: Georgina Henry, Simon Bucks and Julian Petley Talk to Joy Johnson about What the Future Holds for the Media

Magazine article Soundings

Media Prospects: Georgina Henry, Simon Bucks and Julian Petley Talk to Joy Johnson about What the Future Holds for the Media

Article excerpt

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What kind of political changes do you think are on the horizon?

Julian One major problem is the threat that a future Conservative government will abolish Ofcom-which may have its faults, but is nonetheless a useful arms-length organisation. Abolishing Ofcom will extend direct political power over the broadcasters, and this poses a great threat to public service broadcasting, and particularly to the BBC. At one point the Tories were saying they wanted to rip up the BBC charter and license. They also have a unhealthily close relationship with Rupert Murdoch, which works to their mutual advantage. And because the BBC is a major competitor to Sky, Rupert Murdoch wants to see its wings clipped.

Simon I don't feel competent to talk about the closeness of the relationship, but I think it is pretty clear that we at BSkyB believe two fundamental things. First, that BBC digital expansionism has dislocated the media market in this country to a point where it is very difficult for commercial players to compete. And second, that Ofcom as a regulator has the potential to inhibit the way in which all broadcasters-commercial broadcasters-behave. In an environment where the media is spreading its opportunities, and its platforms, Ofcom is looking increasingly anachronistic-in terms of what it is meant to do now, but also in its ambitions for the future. The newspaper industry has shown that it is possible to operate in a self-regulated environment very successfully. I am dubious that an imposed regulatory environment in the media is going to go on working in the future.

Georgina The BBC is a really big and important competitor, but I just don't buy the idea that we would all be doing absolutely brilliantly if it wasn't for the BBC. Obviously there is a very deep recession on, and all of us face problems with our business models, but those problems would still be there without the BBC. They are there in America where there is no BBC competition. As for newspapers' self-regulation, I think it would be a really bad thing if television was as under-regulated as newspapers.

Simon Would you like newspapers to be regulated in the same way as broadcasters?

Georgina No, I am not saying that. I just don't think self-regulation is the answer.

Simon So it's okay for us but not for you?

Georgina We know why it was that newspapers were traditionally self-regulated andwhy broadcasters were regulated-because of spectrum scarcity and its nature as a medium with very high entry-costs.

Simon But we are not in that position now, with multi-digital channels.

Georgina Be honest-what is Sky's problem with Ofcom at the moment? Ofcom is looking into your business and you would rather they weren't. We all have our self interests. We ought to be honest about what is on our agenda.

Simon That is part of it, but I am looking at in a much broader way. And it does seem that in the future it will be unsustainable for Ofcom to satisfactorily regulate the media as a whole.

Julian I am no fan of Ofcom for a number of reasons, but that is not because I am against regulation. Ofcom has let down public service broadcasting badly, particularly when it comes to the future of news on ITV; and it has allowed ITV to completely slough off its education programmes. ITV has now become an almost purely commercial broadcaster, with virtually no public service broadcasting obligations at all. And it is very important to have competition between public service broadcasters rather than just one public service broadcaster-which is what we are heading towards now, or perhaps two with Channel Four. As ITV used to say, the BBC keeps us honest.

Georgina It seems to me that ITV has been a lost cause for some time now, and that Channel Four and the BBC should now be the twin pillars of public service broadcasting-though Channel Four has lost its way over the last few years. …

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