Monday, June 22, 2009

Responses to "Digital Britain"

Lord Carter has complained today about the media response to Digital Britain:

"I think 90% of the people that are writing these articles have not read the report. But that does not stop them producing 2,500 pieces of copy, almost all of which are inaccurate."

Carter has a number of complaints, and seems particularly exercised by Sir Michael Lyons' (the head of the BBC Trust) habit of calling the television licence fee 'the BBC licence fee'. And it is certainly true that in the masses of coverage of the report I have seen, the proposals for contestable funds for regional and local journalism have been either entirely absent, downplayed or else have suggested that the new funds would go to already established commercial operations. Here's Oliver Luft in the Guardian, for example:

"Each consortium is likely to be made up of existing TV news providers, regional newspaper groups and other media organisations, several of which – including Guardian Media Group, STV and the Press Association – have already expressed an interest in the scheme."

This claim seems to run somewhat counter to what Digital Britain actually says:

"It is clear that additional funding could achieve substantially more per pound of input in the hands of new operators using new media than to sustain a legacy broadcast network and studios for regional news ..." (page 142)

The prose is a little opaque, but it isn't obvious that the authors of the report think it likely that the news consortia proposed will be made up of existing media operators. And indeed if they were it might look like an extra treat for shareholders and senior executives rather than a way of defending and promoting journalism as a civic resource.*

The established media operations have no great interest in promoting the idea of public commissioning. Only the public can promote an idea that cuts across of some many institutional interests.

I wonder if such a public exists in Britain?

*I have finally finished Digital Britain, and the Guardian gloss is in line with its comments on New Consortia on page 156 of the report. These comments do seem to contradict the spirit of the section of the report quoted above. They also sit uneasily with Ofcom's comments earlier this year about the likely costs of replicating ITV's regional news coverage. I explore these and related issues in a summary of the implications of Digital Britain for public service content.

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