OurBeeb https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/11024/all cached version 20/06/2018 15:21:45 en John Tusa: a thoroughly enjoyable noise https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/francis-ghil-s/john-tusa-thoroughly-enjoyable-noise <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>London is the theatre where John Tusa has been “making a noise” ever since he arrived, at the tender age of six, in 1939, from his native Zlin. Book review.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Sir_John_Tusa.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Sir_John_Tusa.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sir John Tusa welcomes people to #clore10, 2010. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>John Tusa first made his name as a radio and television presenter, most notably on Newsnight which he helped launch in 1980. He then moved into management, and thoroughly reformed the BBC World Service between 1986 and 1992. </p> <p>Another career switch took him to rescue the Barbican, which during its first decade was probably the most reviled building in Britain. He turned it into a huge international success. He then chaired the University of the Arts and Clore Leadership programmes. Nine unlikely months as president of Wolfson College, Cambridge, exposed the absurd shenanigans of donnish politics worthy of the satirical show Beyond the Fringe.&nbsp; </p> <p>By any standards, his was an exceptional career and one fully shared with his wife Ann. A noted historian of the Nuremberg Trials, with a crystal sharp wit, professionalism and sense of the absurd, she must have helped her husband navigate shoals of BBC boardroom politics worthy of serious study by an anthropologist.</p> <p><strong>Baffling to outsiders</strong></p> <p>Putting down <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Noise-Getting-Right-Broadcasting/dp/147460708X">John Tusa’s book</a> – <em>Making a Noise, Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong in Life, the Arts and Broadcasting</em> (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2018) – I am reminded of why English social mores are so baffling to outsiders, especially those who do not know British history or master the English language well. The socially grotesque sits side by side with a brilliant free spirit and inventiveness; penny pinching conservatism vies with dedication and lack of interest in money; worldliness born of empire and the might of the City of London mix with narrow provincialism to create a stage unlike any other – London is the theatre where John Tusa has been “making a noise” ever since he arrived, at the tender age of six, in 1939, from his native Zlin in what was then Czechoslovakia. </p> <p><strong>John and me</strong></p> <p>I must declare an interest here as I have known John and his wife on and off for nearly forty years. Being interviewed on Radio 4 and Newsnight were akin to a fast game of tennis whose only purpose was to dazzle the onlookers – in my case with a passion to explain North African politics. The programme specialised in proper line-and-length interviewing rather than the egotism of some of the later occupants of his Newsnight chair.</p> <p>With John I learned, as I had a little earlier with William Hardcastle, that other legendary BBC broadcaster, that in order to achieve a really good interview, the questioner has to be as good as the person he interviews.&nbsp; Both were complicit but the purpose was, intellectually, a deeply serious one. Journalism is in trouble today because a rush of personal conviction, for reasons of economic necessity, has overwhelmed the essential dynamics of professional doubt. I was never afraid to voice my doubts and never had the slightest respect for the politically correct. When I first started going to the studios in Broadcasting House and Bush House, the headquarters of the World Service, I was delighted to find far more experienced journalists who shared my conviction that this was what journalism was about. </p> <p><strong>Revolutionary Newsnight</strong></p> <p>When I first met John Tusa and Peter Snow, I quickly appreciated how revolutionary Newsnight was. The Falklands War was a gift to the new programme. Its coverage of the conflict succeeded in brilliantly counterpointing the Ministry of Defence’s spokesman Ian McDonald and his dictation-speed bulletins. </p> <p>Newsnight broke new ground by calling upon retired military officers to analyse what was going on in the distant South Atlantic. The coverage was accurate, objective and, to the establishment, very subversive. It only reinforced the notorious Thatcher-era conviction that the BBC was run by a bunch of pinkos, John’s Czech origins saw to that. John was not strictly apolitical but he distrusted ideology masking self-interest, and grandstanding masking an axe to grind. </p> <p>The impact was all the greater because in our era of 24/7 news it is hard to remember that, in the 1980s, the agenda, and not just in the United Kingdom, was set by the BBC. Working at the Financial Times, I will never forget the impact. A well-researched article published in the FT, followed up by a World Service broadcast, more than once resulted in a senior Algerian or Moroccan minister scolding me on the phone. The same happened to many of my FT colleagues. Politicians were respected but as Tusa has noted elsewhere so too were journalists, at least serious ones.</p> <p><strong>BBC World Service</strong></p> <p>The BBC World Service was a very stimulating place to contribute to. John Tusa, who as a freshly minted history graduate from Cambridge had in 1960 got his first job at the External Services as they were then called, introduced many changes into a slightly stuffy Bush House, “which much of my heart never left” he says, after he quit in 1992. </p> <p>He quickly discovered that “the joy of Bush House lay in its canteen. Set in the basement, it linked the lower parts of the two main broadcasting areas –&nbsp;Centre Block, home of the English, African, Asian and Caribbean broadcasters – with the South-east Wing, home of the newsroom and the Europeans. It was the umbilical cord, the connecting path between Bush House’s various inhabitants. There was no senior dining room.” </p> <p>I often thought when lunching at the canteen that no architect could have designed such an inclusive space where conversations roamed across every topic of international affairs and every dish you could imagine from Kerala to the Caribbean. It was the true heart of Bush House which brought together the “lovely, motley, raucous, passionate, straggly caravan that was Bush House with its sixty cultures (languages), dozens of tongues, hundreds of personalities and millions of connections with the world” and their many guests. </p> <p>The cameo of Mrs Thatcher’s visit to Bush House on 1 June 1990, to give an interview on the eve of her visit to Kiev, is one of many gems in this book. The BBC coverage of the unfolding of the first free elections in Poland is history. When, shortly before the results were officially announced, a senior Communist Party Politburo member, Stanislas Ciosek, admitted to the author that his party had lost the election, Tusa recalled “I counted myself lucky to be one of the first people to hear a communist leader concede defeat in an open democratic election.” </p> <p>John Tusa’s description of the arguments about translating from English into sixty foreign languages in Bush House is encapsulated in the view of Cervantes who thought that “a translation was inevitably the wrong side of a tapestry.” Tusa quotes a Hungarian journalist who raised “the difficulty of rendering opacity convincingly and of providing an equivalent to waffle.” As a practitioner of broadcasting in French and English, friends have often asked why my two broadcasts on the same subject in English and French seem so different. Well, as Tusa explains: ”The English language emerged as misty as its landscape, the emanation of a people who had created a language perfectly adapted to suit their own refusal to say what they mean.” This probably explains why British humour is such a powerful weapon, a skill not easily translated into other languages.</p> <p><strong>Tusa’s early years</strong></p> <p>John arrived in England thanks to his father’s posting to the Bata Estate in East Tillbury, Essex. His description of the Blitz, as lived through in Essex, his years at Gresham’s and Cambridge are vividly drawn. In Cambridge he indulged his growing passion for theatre and was lucky to live through an explosion of creative talent which reshaped theatre and the arts in Britain. Treated to a first reading of Harold Pinter’s <em>The Room and the Dumb Waiter </em>at Peterhouse he comments: “How did one react to words that sounded normal, sentences that sounded like sentences but ordered in such a way that meaning slipped away into a different meaning?” That summed up exactly my experience of watching Harold Pinter play one of his characters at the Almeida Theatre in London in the early 1990s. However much Cambridge was “a place and environment draped in powerful and seductive myth” it was a “beguiling” myth which in the late 1950s went through extraordinary times. He remarks, probably rightly a “heretical thought”, that Cambridge had no Drama Faculty; nowhere where the world of theatre could be subjected to theories, ideologies and dogmatic interpretations. “Pragmatism, intelligence, passion, adventure, curiosity were the unacknowledged watchword of Cambridge theatre in the 1950s. The result was a remarkable flowering which enriched Britain’s theatre scene for two generations.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/mw210985.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/mw210985.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p><strong>Change for the worse</strong></p> <p>Tusa’s most trenchant criticism is of the changes made in the BBC under John Birt (Director General) and Marmaduke Hussey (Chairman of the Governors, particularly the introduction of authoritarian management to an organisation whose values were liberal, humanist and pluralist. </p> <p>Led by Hussey the Governors made two cardinal errors. They extended the position of one director, Michael Checkland, while appointing John Birt then to succeed him eighteen months later. Having two chief executives was bad enough. Checkland was an efficient pragmatist, Birt a managerialist ideologue. For two years the BBC leadership fought itself to a standstill. It was amazing it survived. </p> <p>The BBC was being run by self-serving mandarins who forgot a cardinal principle of management, which is that you cannot reform an organisation – and no one doubted the BBC needed reform – if you do not love it and respect it. John Birt’s appointment as Director-General can only be described as an act of cultural vandalism which makes the Taliban look like the National Trust. The author is unflinching in his criticism but always generous to his detractors. Yes I have personally heard him dismissed as a Johnny Foreigner with ideas above his station. </p> <p><strong>The Barbican</strong></p> <p>To conclude his career and his love of the arts by turning the Barbican into one of London’s most vital cultural assets, and its most confidently cosmopolitan, was as inspiring to those who respected him as anything he has done in an exceptional career. Tusa has no regrets but finds it dispiriting that the fight for arts funding has to be fought again and again. The value of the arts and their impact should be self-evident but the lack of interests in the arts from the philistinism of both Tory and Labour is a sad fact of British political life. </p> <p>His career is maybe best summed up by what the army taught him: “think with your head, feel with your heart, but know with your stomach.”</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb UK Conflict Culture Ideas International politics Francis Ghilès Wed, 13 Jun 2018 07:44:22 +0000 Francis Ghilès 118369 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fox/Sky: here comes the crunch https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-elstein/foxsky-here-comes-crunch <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Fox acquisition of the other 61% of Sky may ‘act against the public interest, reducing media plurality’. Yet Sky shares rose when the ruling was published. What is going on?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34388493.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34388493.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Matt Hancock arriving in Downing Street, London, for the first Cabinet meeting following the reshuffle, January 9. Stefan Rousseau/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The initial verdict of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the Fox/Sky deal was delayed by a month, as it was snowed under with submissions arguing that the deal should be blocked, primarily on the grounds that Fox’s many problems in the US showed it was not genuinely committed to high standards in broadcasting.</p> <p>The opportunity to flood the CMA with anti-Fox material was provided by Karen Bradley, then Secretary of State for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport (and recently switched to Northern Ireland). She over-rode the Ofcom conclusion that there was no need to refer the merger to the CMA on broadcasting quality grounds. If that was a gamble – designed to nail down firmly the issue of whether Fox (as controlled by the Murdoch Family Trust, or MFT) was fit and proper to own Sky News – it certainly worked. The CMA endorsed the Ofcom verdict, largely by working through the available material in the same way as Ofcom had done.</p> <p>This was no surprise: it is very rare for one competition authority to squelch another, and the CMA has chosen to remain as close to Ofcom as possible in its approach to the issues. So it was also no surprise that it ruled against the merger on media plurality grounds, thereby backing up an Ofcom judgment that was deficient in all kinds of ways.</p> <h2><strong>Side-stepping basic media plurality tests</strong></h2> <p>I set out in a letter to Karen Bradley the crass errors committed by Ofcom, and forwarded a copy to the CMA. That they have slavishly repeated those errors confirms that our regulatory processes are deeply inadequate. Even the most basic and straightforward tests of media plurality – seemingly obligatory in Ofcom’s investigation of the bid, but inexplicably omitted – have again been side-stepped by the CMA.</p> <p>Instead of measuring actual consumption of news and current affairs – which is not that difficult, and for which I demonstrated the methodology in an article for the Journal of Applied Journalism and Media Studies five years ago – the CMA has opted to focus primarily on two metrics selected by Ofcom, despite their being both misleading and unreliable. As I told the CMA in a face to face meeting about the drawbacks of these metrics, we must conclude that the CMA is far more committed to supporting its fellow regulator than in investigating the actual significance of the proposed transaction. <span class="mag-quote-center">We must conclude that the CMA is far more committed to supporting its fellow regulator than in investigating the actual significance of the proposed transaction.</span></p> <h2><strong>Reach</strong></h2> <p>The first metric is reach. Reach is notoriously unreliable as a measure of influence. A news outlet can “reach” millions of consumers, but if they only spend a few seconds with that outlet, the impact is insignificant. Ofcom and the CMA were very impressed by the “fact” that one measure of online activity found that 29 million people “read” The Sun online. But such “scores” are extracted from surveys covering as few as 40 respondents. No one knows if those “readers” spent any time at all with the material, let alone any significant time, let alone that anything they might have read constituted news (as opposed to horoscopes, gardening advice, racing tips and crossword puzzles). </p> <p>Certainly, the owners of The Sun (News UK, owned by NewsCorp, itself 39% owned by the MFT, and effectively controlled by the Murdochs) are almost entirely unable to monetize this supposed readership. The measurable daily readership of The Sun newspaper is about 3.8 million people, with the recognized industry readership research organisation estimating that online readership enlarges that by about 10%.&nbsp; </p> <p>In fact, <em>all</em> News UK newspapers <em>combined</em> (The Sun, The Sun on Sunday, The Times and The Sunday Times) account for less than 5% of actual news consumption by UK adults, including their online versions. The BBC accounts for over 60%. For the record, the average UK adult spends less than two minutes a day reading Murdoch newspapers, and watches Sky News (part of Sky plc, owned 39% by Fox, which itself is owned 39% by the MFT) for less than a minute a day. <span class="mag-quote-center">The BBC accounts for over 60% of actual news consumption by UK adults. For the record, the average UK adult spends less than two minutes a day reading Murdoch newspapers.</span></p> <p>The CMA compounds its erroneous reliance on reach data by claiming that the Daily Mail Group’s “reach” is barely half (17%) the combined reach of News UK and Sky News (31%), which gives it grounds – so it claims – for taking seriously the “threat” to media plurality that might arise from the merger (in solidifying a pre-existing third place, far behind the BBC and ITN, which might in normal circumstances not be seen as grounds for intervention).</p> <p>But the Daily Mail score is a serious underestimate: for reasons never explained, Ofcom (and now the CMA) excluded local and regional news sources from the calculation of significance, as if those sources – which carry national and international news as well as local and regional items – were irrelevant. </p> <p>Perhaps the Ofcom board never reads the Yorkshire Post, or imagines that the Daily Star has much more significance than The Scotsman or the Western Mail. If the Daily Mail Group’s regional newspapers were included (News UK has none – there’s a clue as to why this category was excluded), its reach would be around 30%: Metro alone would add about 8%.</p> <p>The artificial and prejudicial exclusion of regional and local news consumption allows the CMA to repeat Ofcom’s tendentious claim that a combination of News UK and Sky would give the MFT “unique” access to “all four” distribution media: newspapers, television, radio and online. If we – as a full consideration of the matter requires – include local and regional television, radio and newspapers, then we have seven platforms, with the BBC dominating all five in which it is active, a combination of News UK and Sky active on four, and many other news suppliers active on three.</p> <p>Even the “unique access to all four” media conceit is a calculated deception. The benefit to News UK/Sky of the fourth platform – which is not available to the BBC – is trivial: Kantar reported to Ofcom that just 1% of consumers of news relied solely on newspapers (and even there News UK accounts for just 30% of users). It is extremely hard to take such a flimsy and partial analysis seriously, especially when the super-dominant position of the BBC – with a vastly larger share of news consumption than Sky News and News UK combined – is airily dismissed as unimportant, because of its “unique funding structure and governance”. </p> <p>Nowhere does the CMA explain why the licence fee, or the existence of BBC Governors, the BBC Trust or BBC non-executive directors, should make the BBC more likely to observe rules on due accuracy and impartiality. The BBC’s Charter places great emphasis on these values, but in practice the BBC is just as likely as any major commercial broadcaster to face complaints to Ofcom on those grounds. Indeed, successive internal reports have shown that the BBC’s reporting of key issues like the EU and immigration has been biased. <span class="mag-quote-center">Successive internal reports have shown that the BBC’s reporting of key issues like the EU and immigration has been biased.</span></p><h2><strong>Owners and viewpoints – who, which, what? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p>The second metric favoured by Ofcom and the CMA is the bespoke Kantar Research estimate of “shares of references” in news outlets, which tries to track stories back to their source, so as to establish influence. No other research organisation has undertaken a comparable exercise, so the validity of the findings is at best suggestive rather than conclusive (why the CMA believes it to be preferable to measuring actual consumption remains a mystery: the best that the CMA can offer is that the Kantar study is the “most detailed” piece of research available in terms of establishing a “common currency” of consumption – but that is demonstrably untrue).</p> <p>The main thrust of this particular Kantar exercise is actually unhelpful to the CMA case: it shows, in particular, that far from the BBC being reliant on newspapers for stories, newspapers source more stories from the BBC than the BBC sources from them. The CMA claims that this research shows that Sky News and News UK together “represent at least 10% of total news consumption” – but fails to explain how News UK’s 3% and Sky News’ 6% as per Kantar add up to 10% (let alone the “as much as 14%” that the CMA, following Ofcom again, imagine the total might be). </p> <p>All of this so-called analysis is anyway based on a fundamental mis-reading of the relevant legislation. The CMA – following on, again, from Ofcom – constantly refers to “viewpoints” in television and radio news. The legislation is quite clear: the requirement in newspapers is for there to be a sufficiency of viewpoints available to consumers in all parts of the UK, but with media enterprises engaged in broadcasting the requirement is for a sufficiency of owners, not “viewpoints”. </p> <p>The reason for this differentiation is that Ofcom-licensed broadcasters are not allowed to offer their own “viewpoints” in news and current affairs programmes: they must abide by the Broadcasting Code, which imposes a duty of due accuracy and impartiality. The freedom enjoyed by newspapers to express political opinions is explicitly denied to broadcasters.</p> <p>It follows that the entire line of reasoning in the CMA report is based on a false assumption: that Sky News has a current “viewpoint”, and that if the MFN – through its control of Fox – gained control of Sky News, it might “align” that “viewpoint” with those of one or more of the newspapers published by News UK (which is owned by NewsCorp, not by Fox, but in which the MFN also has a controlling interest). </p> <p>Oddly enough, the CMA’s lurid imaginings do not run as far as worrying about “alignment” of Sky News with The Wall Street Journal or any of the dozens of local freesheets published by NewsCorp, such as those in Long Island or upstate Queensland. &nbsp;</p> <p>The first test of this false premise is easy: please, CMA, tell us what the current “viewpoint” of Sky News is. There will, of course, be no answer to this: if the CMA could detect such a “viewpoint”, it would be obliged to report Sky News to Ofcom for breaching the Broadcasting Code, which forbids “viewpoints”.</p> <p>Like Ofcom, the CMA has tried to wriggle round this difficulty by claiming that different broadcasters have different news agendas and different editorial lines: but that is a banal observation and certainly does not mean they therefore have “viewpoints”, let alone identifiable ones. Clearly, there is no single news agenda that every single broadcaster follows, delivering stories in precisely the same order, length and fashion. Editors decide what events or subjects are of most importance in allocating their scarce resources and airtime, and even the designated public service news programmes offer very different running orders without in any way breaching Broadcasting Code requirements – <em>these running orders do not constitute “viewpoints”, otherwise Ofcom would be required to intervene.</em></p> <p>The CMA posits a situation where a story in The Sun might – after the transaction – be “more influential” by also being carried by Sky News. But if it were broadcast by the BBC, would it be similarly “more influential”? – and would such a broadcast be indicative of “alignment” between News UK and the BBC? Of course not. Indeed, currently the Sunday Times and Channel 4 are working on an investigative feature involving former ministers allegedly taking paid advisory jobs for foreign interests. Would that constitute Channel 4 making a Sunday Times story “more influential” (or vice versa)? Or be evidence of “alignment”? <span class="mag-quote-center">Currently the Sunday Times and Channel 4 are working on an investigative feature involving former ministers allegedly taking paid advisory jobs for foreign interests. Would that&nbsp; … be evidence of “alignment”?</span></p> <p>This crass and ignorant approach to the way journalism works is simply embarrassing. It also ignores the fact that the Murdoch newspapers encompass a wide array of opinions, often deliberately clashing. Can the CMA identify the stories in the four UK Murdoch newspapers which exemplify the Murdoch “viewpoint”? Just as Ofcom foolishly speculated on whether a Fox-owned Sky News might use News UK journalists to push unidentifiable MFN “viewpoints”, so the CMA report wonders whether the transaction would allow the MFT to induce Sky News to “push certain stories and downplay others”. But this is entirely speculative. </p> <p>If the news agenda at Sky News were to change – now or in the future – how would we know? What difference would it make? Would that change be compliant with the Broadcasting Code? If not, presumably Ofcom could intervene. If it was code-compliant, what would be the problem?</p> <h2><strong>Fox control</strong></h2> <p>Over the 30 years that Sky News has been on air, during which time the MFT-controlled NewsCorp has had 100% ownership for some years, and 50% ownership for other years, can the CMA point to any examples of attempted influence on the news agenda for Sky News? The clear implication of the CMA approach is that, if that news agenda were to change, in a measurable fashion, even if such change were perfectly legal and code-compliant, it would be contrary to the public interest if it happened under Fox control – even if it were impossible to demonstrate any “alignment” with News UK “viewpoints” (whatever they might be) – but not if it happened under anyone else’s control.</p> <p>Despite the glaring weaknesses in its argument, the CMA nonetheless concludes that the proposed transaction “may be expected to result in an insufficient plurality of persons with control of media enterprises”. Yet nowhere does the CMA attempt to define what a “sufficient plurality” would be. If there were 100 such enterprises, and a merger reduced that number to 99, would that result in “an insufficient plurality”? When Northern and Shell bought Channel 5, or when News UK bought The Wireless Group, in both cases resulting in a measurable reduction in the “plurality of persons with control of media enterprises”, was there any intervention? Did either acquisition result in “an insufficient plurality”. This is a verdict with no attempt at an argument.</p> <p>The CMA compounds its errors by postulating that it is unlikely that any other cross-platform news provider could emerge if this transaction were allowed. Yet Trinity Mirror is currently planning to buy Northern and Shell, the publishers of Express Newspapers (presumably thereby radically re-positioning their editorial stance, but nobody seems concerned about that); Trinity Mirror has a major position in local newspapers, and has previously owned a TV channel; Northern and Shell previously owned Channel 5; and there is nothing to stop the enlarged group buying one of the major commercial radio operations – so a cross-platform provider almost as large as News UK and Sky News combined is certainly imaginable (other than by the CMA). <span class="mag-quote-center">Trinity Mirror is currently planning to buy Northern and Shell, the publishers of Express Newspapers (presumably thereby radically re-positioning their editorial stance, but nobody seems concerned about that).</span></p> <h2><strong>That jump in the share price</strong></h2> <p>To give credit where it is due, the CMA report does provide an exhaustive set of possible remedies which might persuade it to advise the Secretary of State (now Matt Hancock) to approve the Fox/Sky merger. Indeed, it was the range of options listed, and the assumption that somewhere along the line the CMA and Fox could strike a deal, that presumably triggered the 25p jump in the Sky share price the day the report was published.</p> <p>The remedies paper starts, however, with the option of straight prohibition of the deal as “a comprehensive solution” to the imagined problem, and one posing “relatively few risks”. This is a particularly daft assessment. The majority shareholders of Sky have already made clear that, if closing Sky News would remove an obstacle to the planned transaction, they were willing to do that. As even the CMA recognizes that such closure would be the worst possible outcome in terms of media plurality, it is hard to understand why such an explicit warning, in writing to Ofcom, should be ignored.</p> <p>The CMA correctly notes that such a closure is not permitted in the midst of the regulatory process (which is why it has not yet happened), and opines that the continued supply of Sky News should not be an inhibition to the current Disney bid to buy most of Fox (including its holding in Sky, whether 39% or 100%) – indeed, the CMA says that ownership of Sky News by Disney would allow its media plurality concerns to “fall away”.</p> <p>But this lazy logic misses the point. Fox cannot know for certain that the Disney bid will pass regulatory muster in the US. If the current Fox bid for Sky were blocked, the obvious course of action would be for Sky News to be closed immediately, and a renewed bid for Sky then to be launched (as soon as the Takeover Panel rules allow), this time with no risk of regulatory intervention. Indeed, given the length of time the current process is likely to take, Fox might be better advised to abandon the bid now, allow the majority shareholders in Sky to close Sky News, and then re-instate the bid, with a predictable timetable, unaffected by politicians or regulators. <span class="mag-quote-center">Fox might be better advised to abandon the bid now, allow the majority shareholders in Sky to close Sky News, and then re-instate the bid, with a predictable timetable.</span></p> <p>Paradoxically, there would be nothing to stop Sky News being re-launched <em>after</em> Fox completed the purchase of Sky: the <em>only </em>time the regulatory machinery can be invoked is in the course of a transaction. Indeed, one of the advantages of this course of action would be that all the remedies considered in the CMA paper could be ignored in the context of a re-launch. </p><h2><strong>Remedies</strong></h2><p>These remedies fall into two categories: structural and behavioural. A structural remedy removes Sky News from the Sky business, either by a sale or by a spin-off process. It was just such a remedy that Ofcom negotiated with the Murdochs in 2011 in order to push through their previous bid for Sky (which they then abandoned in the aftermath of the Milly Dowler revelations). </p> <p>However, Ofcom has now recognized (as I argued in 2011) that, not only is there little prospect of an actual sale of a loss-making news channel, but that operational independence is too risky in the medium to long term. That is why it recommended a behavioural remedy (ring-fencing the editorial independence of Sky News within a Fox-owned Sky) in its report last year on the transaction.</p> <p>Karen Bradley rejected as inadequate the tentative formula suggested by Ofcom, presumably on the assumption that a CMA process would induce Fox to offer greater guarantees of independence (for instance, by eliminating all Fox representatives from the proposed Sky News editorial board, and offering longer-term financial commitments). The CMA paper canvasses some options, but also manages to undercut them – perhaps inadvertently – by noting two issues that will not be resolved by any remedy.</p> <p>The first is that Sky will still remain by far the largest customer for Sky News. Even if the budget for the news service were guaranteed, along with its EPG slot, room would remain for Fox to put pressure on Sky News editorially (in the world of the fevered imagination of the CMA, where the MFT is still trying to “align” Sky News editorially with one or more of the newspapers it controls). That pressure might be subtle: failure to promote the channel, or distribute it internationally, or sell its airtime in a way that gives confidence of a continuing existence. The CMA even floats the notion, in its report, of “members of the Murdoch family” going “directly to editorial staff” to give “clear expression” of their views – which, of course, would by-pass all the elaborate firewalls discussed in the remedies paper as a means of preserving editorial independence.</p> <p>One notion floated is that Fox might sell Sky News directly to Disney now, in advance of completing the rest of the Disney transaction. At one level, this might remove concerns about Fox involvement in the channel. But as Disney has no interest in Sky News as such, it is hard to see why it would engage in the kind of fail-safe discussions with Fox that would be needed to guard against the possibility of the full Disney bid being blocked or dropped before the end of 2019.</p> <p>More ominously, the CMA also notes that the Disney deal would leave Fox as the second largest shareholder in Disney (even at the 5% level), with a possibility of a Murdoch joining the Disney board. </p> <p>It would seem that the Disney transaction does not allow <em>all </em>the CMA concerns to fall away. Indeed, if I were Bob Iger – Disney’s CEO – reading this report, I would urge the Murdochs to shut the channel down now, to avoid any danger of his bid for Fox being sucked into the UK’s regulatory grasp: there are enough problems in the US.</p> <h2><strong>Political resistance</strong></h2> <p>Of course, if the Murdochs had had any sense, they would have closed Sky News before launching the current bid. They were ill-advised in imagining that the split that they executed five years ago, between NewsCorp (owning the UK newspaper company) and Fox (owning the entertainment assets, including the Sky shareholding), would eliminate the political resistance that bogged down the last bid.</p> <p>This bid still has months of hassle ahead of it: the current CMA consultation period, the final CMA report (which may not be delivered by the promised May 1st deadline), then a period for the Secretary of State to reflect, with a possible further consultation on a potential remedy, and then further iterations of that process. The opponents of the bid have nothing to lose in dragging the process out indefinitely. </p> <p>Fox has said it will continue to engage with the CMA: but it is easy to see why abandoning the bid has its attractions, especially as any remedy agreed with the Secretary of State to get the deal done would remain a political bone for Murdoch’s enemies to gnaw on for years to come, whereas closing and then re-launching Sky News would eliminate all of that headache. Ominously, asked the direct question at this week’s announcement of Sky’s (excellent) results, CEO Jeremy Darroch explicitly acknowledged that Sky News was less important in brand terms now than when Sky launched 30 years ago.</p> <p>Fox has already announced it will pay a special dividend to non-Fox Sky shareholders as the penalty for failing to close the transaction in 2017. Another penalty for abandoning the bid would be a small price to pay for eliminating a hostile regulatory and political process, buying all of Sky without having to make any regulatory concessions, and smoothing the way to the planned Disney deal, by not re-launching Sky News till after that deal is completed. In theory, Disney should be quite relaxed about dealing with the UK’s Mickey Mouse regulators: but if you can avoid the hassle altogether, why not?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/david-elstein/foxsky-more-twists-and-turns">Fox/Sky: more twists and turns</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/david-elstein/analysis-of-content-of-15-weekday-evening-bulletins-of-itv-bbc-and-channel-4-october-2">Fox/Sky: more twists and turns: news monitor</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/david-elstein/sky-bid-battle-commences">The Sky bid: battle commences</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk UK Conflict Culture Economics International politics David Elstein Fri, 26 Jan 2018 08:15:41 +0000 David Elstein 115832 at https://www.opendemocracy.net BBC's Sir David Clementi or Channel Four's Charles Gurassa - Who will lead on tv diversity? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/bbcs-sir-david-clementi-or-channel-fours-charles-gurassa-who-will-lead-on-tv-di <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why it seems likely, going into 2018, that we should expect more Ofcom reports saying “The BBC should be leading the way, but its performance is behind that of Channel 4”.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34377808.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-34377808.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Carrie Gracie speaks to the media outside BBC Broadcasting House in London after turning down what she described as a botched solution to the problem of unequal pay at the BBC. Dominic Lipinski/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>14 September 2017 was not a good day for the BBC.<br />&nbsp;<br />In the morning, Ofcom released its first Diversity Monitoring Report. Ofcom said:</p><blockquote><p>“As the UK’s largest broadcaster, the BBC’s position on diversity is likely to have a disproportionate effect on the wider industry. The BBC should be leading the way, but today’s report shows its performance on most characteristics is behind that of Channel 4.”</p></blockquote><p>In the afternoon, Karen Bradley, the DCMS Secretary of State, told the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention:</p><blockquote><p>“Diversity is not merely a buzzword.…… the BBC should be leading the way with both on- and off-screen diversity…… just because something is hard does not mean that we shouldn’t try.”</p></blockquote><h2>BBC resists change</h2><p>Bradley included some positive words about the new BBC structure, telling the Conference, “The new BBC Board brings effective, modern governance and will deliver further transparency and efficiency.”<br />&nbsp;<br />Before the month was out, it became clear that the Secretary of State’s optimism about the new BBC Board delivering transparency was badly misplaced. The new BBC Board had been captured by the siege mentality of the old BBC management – defending its customs and actuality, right or wrong.<br />&nbsp;<br />The matter in question was BBC complaints. ITV and C4 were required to report on complaints every two weeks. Ofcom asked the BBC to bring its complaints reporting in line. </p><p>The BBC told Ofcom to get lost, explaining that while it accepted the principle of transparency, it thought that, in practice, the actual transparency provided by the BBC under clause 56 (8) of the BBC Agreement should be limited. This was an extraordinary assertion given that clause 56 (8) couldn’t be clearer:</p><blockquote><p>“The BBC must publish information about the operation and effectiveness of the procedures in relation to relevant complaints in such form and at such intervals as Ofcom may determine.”</p></blockquote><p>Notwithstanding this clause, the BBC also argued that Ofcom’s powers to require greater public transparency of the BBC were restricted and it took issue with Ofcom’s proposed use of them.<br />&nbsp;<br />Ofcom is very reluctant to take enforcement action. It strongly prefers persuasion but on 29 September, Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director of the Content Media Policy Group, wrote to the BBC, telling the Corporation,&nbsp; Ofcom had “determined” the BBC should do as it was told, publish complaints every two weeks, and that:</p><blockquote><p>“We continue to consider that the greater transparency we proposed is necessary to build and maintain public confidence in the operation of the BBC under the new framework and to provide public accountability."</p></blockquote><h2>Is the old BBC management tail wagging the new BBC dog, the Board?</h2><p>The new BBC Chair, Sir David Clementi, also speaking at September’s RTS Cambridge Convention was clear that “the new BBC structure with one unitary board allows the BBC to speak, perhaps for the first time, with a single voice. And to get behind one clear strategy, with accountability for the BBC resting unambiguously in one set of hands.”<br />&nbsp;<br />Nobody in this new unified structure had thought to tell Clementi that Ofcom’s Diversity Monitoring Report, in the morning, might require a change in his prepared text for the late afternoon. At 6pm, Clementi rose to tell the delegates “the BBC is one of the most diverse workforces in the UK” – an old BBC assertion for which no evidence has ever been adduced. This rang hollow after Ofcom had revealed that the BBC trailed so poorly behind C4 on diversity.<br />&nbsp;<br />On complaints, the BBC had also argued that it shouldn’t need to report fortnightly on it because this meant changing BBC systems and more regular reporting would require too much work from senior executives and the press office. In Karen Bradley’s terms, fortnightly reporting was too hard and the BBC wasn’t prepared to try.<br />&nbsp;<br />The task of addressing diversity is much harder than addressing more regular reporting of complaints. Will the Board take diversity more seriously?</p><h2>Tanni Grey-Thompson, Tom Ilube, Ashley Steel</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-17511491_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-17511491_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson poses in front of the Olympic Stadium in London, 2013. Geoff Caddick/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The new BBC Board includes at least three diversity champions who know how boards work. Will they be able to overcome the BBC’s reluctance to change?<br />&nbsp;<br />Of these, Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Paralympian who won 16 medals in five Paralympic Games is the best known. Now a Crossbench Peer, Baroness Grey-Thomson has been a fierce diversity advocate. Two years ago, speaking on diversity to the Royal Television Society, she said:</p><blockquote><p>"We need to do things much quicker than we have done in the past and the BBC should be leading the way. If the BBC is not doing it, it gives every other organisation an excuse not to do it as well."</p></blockquote><p>Grey-Thompson has sat on the boards of the National Disability Council, the Sports Council for Wales and UK Sport, and currently sits on the boards of TfL and the London Legacy Development Corporation.<br />&nbsp;<br />Tom Ilube, founder of the African Gifted Foundation and the African Science Academy, was named the most influential black person in the UK in Powerlist 2017. His 30-year career in the UK technology sector includes roles at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Goldman Sachs and the London Stock Exchange. Ilube is currently CEO of cyber security firm Crossword Cybersecurity plc and has previously founded several start up technology businesses. Ilube’s TED talks on “<a href="//www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYagMTtLXIc">Why Africa’s girls will engineer the future</a>” and from “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf59lrDXYHM">From Artificial Intelligence to Intelligent Africa</a>” reveal him to be a deft and persuasive speaker.<br />&nbsp;<br />Ashley Steel, too, has been a strong diversity advocate asking:</p><blockquote><p>&nbsp;"If there is a war of talent going on, then why on earth would you want to put people off who are gay or black or female?” It simply doesn't make business sense. And I think clients want to see a diverse workforce."</p></blockquote><p>Steel was Vice Chairman at professional services firm, KPMG. During her time with the firm she worked in over 40 countries advising both listed companies and national governments and, while based in the USA, led its global technology and media practice. As well as the BBC, Steel is a non executive director on the boards of National Express plc, the Civil Aviation Authority and the international law firm, Ince &amp; Co. She has also appeared in the Pride Power List, the World Pride Power List and was a founding member of the global advisory board for Out Leadership which promotes the idea of “the Return on Equality”. </p><h2>Urgent issue - BBC Diversity Code of Practice</h2><p>Clementi who, as Chair, must have had a decisive role in board appointments, should be congratulated on these formidable choices, but will he and they be able to overcome the management on which the board is so dependent for data, information and implementation – a management which has been so determined to resist change and whose record on diversity is so poor?<br />&nbsp;<br />By April, the BBC must publish a Code of Practice. It will cover on-screen portrayal and casting, workforce diversity and the production and commissioning decision process. The Code should apply to the £1billion of BBC external supply, set clear minimum requirements with penalties for non-compliance and require suppliers to implement Ofcom's "<a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/108100/guidance-diversity-broadcasting.pdf">Guidance: Diversity in Broadcasting</a>". The Code’s terms and scope will provide the first clear signal of whether or not the new BBC Board is taking diversity seriously.<br />&nbsp;<br />Later, the Board must produce the 2018 BBC Annual Plan. The 2017 plan received a pasting at Ofcom’s diversity stakeholder event on 13 July. Critics pointed out that the section on diversity was strong on assertions for which no source or evidence had been provided, and a former ITV company board director said that such a threadbare annual plan for diversity would never have passed muster even in a small ITV broadcaster. Ofcom offered to circulate, later that day, the relevant sources and methodological basis from the BBC, on which some of the BBC assertions were based. That information never came.<br />&nbsp;<br />In November, when Sir David Clementi appeared before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he told the MPs that while he took responsibility for it, the Annual Plan was “pretty much baked by the time this Board was put in place.”<br />&nbsp;<br />The 2018 plan, will be baked at an away day this month and finalized in February or March. It will give the new board an opportunity to show it can do better on diversity. The plan is important because much of Ofcom’s regulation is based on monitoring the BBC’s progress towards meeting its own goals in the Annual Plan.</p><h2>Charles Gurassa and Channel 4</h2><p>There is, as yet, no gold standard in public service broadcasting for driving diversity but Channel 4 has done more than any other broadcaster as the positive outcome from Ofcom’s first Diversity Monitoring Report shows.<br />&nbsp;<br />Channel 4’s “360-degrees Diversity Charter” sets out 30 initiatives and every year the channel reports on each of them stating the Objective, the Result and the Lessons learnt. At C4, on diversity, there has been no split between the tail and the dog. This approach was developed under the old board and the old management, led by Oona King who has now left and Executive Director Dan Brooke who remains.<br />&nbsp;<br />Channel 4’s new board and management is even more committed. In October 2017, Alex Mahon became the new CEO.<br />&nbsp;<br />The November 2013 Broadcast Diversify Conference marked the turning point in the diversity debate. Alex Mahon, then CEO of the Shine Group spoke from the floor and followed with an article, “<a href="https://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/diversity-time-to-act-not-talk/5063825.article">Diversity: time to act, not talk</a>”, in Broadcast.<br />&nbsp;<br />Mahon reported, “Frustration was evident that our industry has made incremental progress over the past decade and has merely played a blame and pass-the-parcel game. All of us within the industry have a moral and social obligation to change the status quo .…..For anyone not swayed by the social imperative, there is a clear, positive commercial impact of making change.”<br />&nbsp;<br />In March 2014, at the Enders Analysis Creative UK Conference, Mahon proposed that the top ten programmes by ratings/year should be representative of the UK and suggested that this would be widespread enough to make a substantive difference and simple enough to measure.<br />&nbsp;<br />Heading the RTS Programme Awards, in 2016, Mahon ensured juries were 27% BAME and 52% female. She found “Talking to the Chairs it was clear that the tone of the conversations in the jury room changed for the better. Making this change was relatively simple because the high quality talent we need was easy to find and in plentiful supply.”<br />&nbsp;<br />Coming clean, last December, on the negative outcomes in C4’s BAME staff experience research marks Mahon out as a trailblazer.<br />&nbsp;<br />C4 now needs to require its suppliers to implement Ofcom's "Guidance: Diversity in Broadcasting" and demonstrate that its Commissioning guidelines actually drive diversity. They look good on paper but do they actually work? We don’t know.<br />&nbsp;<br />Charles Gurassa, the Channel 4 Chair, was in the audience for the channel's last diversity conference and kicked up a fuss when Karen Bradley refused to allow the diversity champion Althea Efunshile to be appointed to the board in 2016, quibbling over the criteria. A year later Efunshile has finally been appointed with Bradley’s blessing. There she joins another diversity champ and Paralympian medal winning Peer, Chris Holmes. With Mahon at the helm, it is unlikely that this team will rest on its laurels.</p><h2>Will Clementi or Gurassa lead on tv diversity?</h2><p>Sir David Clementi is widely admired in the City and in Westminster. He was the architect of the BBC’s new unitary structure but designing a structure and making it work effectively are two different tasks. It is said that when Eisenhower was elected US President in 1952, his predecessor, Truman remarked, “When Ike gets his hands on the levers of power, he’ll find they aren’t attached to anything.” Clementi may find himself in the Ike position. Despite his own talents and the commitment of his formidable non-execs, it is improbable that in 2018 he will be able to overcome the BBC’s deeply embedded resistance to change. The unitary structure is most unlikely to be united on the radical changes needed to advance diversity in the BBC and its suppliers.<br />&nbsp;<br />Charles Gurassa, by contrast, has shown that on diversity he can fight and win as he did with the Efunshile appointment. At C4, he finds himself with a CEO and management which is fully committed on diversity and should be determined to do even better.<br />&nbsp;<br />This week the BBC China Editor, Carrie Gracie, resigned over pay discrimination – unequal pay for the same job. Gracie would be bound to win any tribunal or legal challenge, unless the BBC is able to demonstrate that the male international editors have unique characteristics which entitle them to be better paid than their female counterparts with the same job title. This seems unlikely.<br />&nbsp;<br />In July 2017, the BBC Director General, Tony Hall said that closing the gender pay gap had been “a personal priority over the last four years.” It is clear that the inflexible BBC culture can thwart even a Director General when he wishes to address diversity issues – even when they carry a legal risk.<br />&nbsp;<br />Sir David Clementi’s experience of the rationale commercial world may not equip him to get a grip on the inflexible culture of the BBC. It seems likely that we should expect many more Ofcom reports that say “The BBC should be leading the way, but its performance is behind that of Channel 4”.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/diversity-ofcom-and-bbc-1-billion-gap">&quot;Diversity, Ofcom and the BBC: the £1 billion gap&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc">Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/amy-hawkins-phoebe-arnold/bbc-must-improve-how-it-reports-statistics">The BBC must improve how it reports statistics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb UK Simon Albury Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:05:26 +0000 Simon Albury 115551 at https://www.opendemocracy.net "Diversity, Ofcom and the BBC: the £1 billion gap" https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/diversity-ofcom-and-bbc-1-billion-gap <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Next year, will the BBC Chair Sir David Clementi get a grip on diversity and close the BBC's £1 billion diversity gap?<strong></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 20.17.17.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 20.17.17.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot: Sir David Clementi giving the keynote speech at the BBC/RTS Cambridge Convention, 2017. Youtube.</span></span></span>In his “ I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington”1963, Martin Luther King declared that the American constitution was a promissory note that had been returned marked “insufficient funds”. For diversity, the BBC Charter has become a promissory note that has been returned marked insufficient commitment and inadequate regulation. </p> <p>Two years ago, Sir Peter Bazalgette, then Chair of the Arts Council, told the Lords Communications Committee inquiry on the BBC: </p> <blockquote><p>“The fundamental principle here should be that public money should be spent for the benefit of everybody, and the products of that public money – programming, arts events, whatever they happen to be – should draw on all the talents of the country, not only to reflect the country but to bring forward those people for their personal fulfilment as well.”</p></blockquote> <p>Last year the new BBC Charter appeared to deliver this. It came with a new clause, Article 14 which had the word “Diversity” attached to it. Article 14 promised diversity in both internal and external supply of BBC “output and services.” &nbsp;</p> <p>BBC external supply amounts to £1 billion annually. Last year, £433 million was spent with the independent production sector, and hundreds of millions more with rights holders, performers, talent directors, production resources and musicians.</p> <p>Ofcom has now announced its final plans for regulating the BBC and nothing is being done by Ofcom to hold the BBC to account for employment diversity in this £1 billion expenditure and there are no signs that the BBC Board is doing anything either.</p> <h2><strong>Baffling</strong></h2> <p>Ofcom specifically excluded the Diversity Article 14 from its consultation on BBC regulation. Equality experts remain baffled by this and Ofcom has never explained why. </p> <p>Ofcom was reluctant to take on regulation of the BBC and it didn’t want to get involved in regulating off-screen employment diversity. </p> <p>Ofcom’s original draft proposals published in March 2017 didn’t address off-screen diversity at all. Sustained campaigning by Sir Lenny Henry, Campaign for Broadcasting Equality, Directors UK, NUJ, Stonewall and powerful interventions from the DCMS Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, Digital Minister, Matt Hancock, with Baroness Bonham-Carter, MPs David Lammy, Helen Grant and others caused Ofcom to move a little.</p> <p>Last month Ofcom published its final version of its arrangements for regulating the BBC. It included a passing reference to Article 14:</p> <blockquote><p>“In setting the conditions in the finalised Licence, we have also had regard to the requirement for the BBC to comply with its duties under the Charter, including its general duties (set out in articles 9-18). In particular, we have had regard to the requirement for the BBC to comply with its general diversity duty under article 14 of the Charter, and with its duty to make arrangements for promoting equality of opportunity under paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 to the Agreement.1” </p></blockquote> <p>Ofcom is now requiring the BBC to introduce a Code of Practice by April 2018 which will include “workforce diversity of commissioned production teams”. But there are no requirements to measure diversity in BBC external supply. Ofcom claims it has no powers to do this. If Ofcom believes it has no such powers, it should be seeking to get them.</p> <h2><strong>Indie resistance</strong></h2> <p>Diversity campaigners, seeking to advance this issue, could face significant hurdles. The “indie” sector will not want it. The “indie” sector is represented by PACT, a trade association. PACT’s Chief Executive, John McVay, is a tough, shrewd, effective politician who has done well for his members. In particular, he negotiated elements in the last Charter which saw a larger proportion of BBC spend go to independents, and in the new Charter he has ensured that all BBC programming will become open to independents. McVay headed the diversity working group on the DCMS Creative Industries Council and is Chair of the Creative Diversity Network (CDN). McVay is well placed to resist such change.</p> <p>We do not know the view of Ministers but people who have their ear say they don't think that extending the regulatory perimeter to include independent production companies that work with the BBC is a feasible approach. They argue that indies are commercial companies that work with a range of other public and commercial providers beyond the BBC and that introducing regulatory requirements and performance measures to secure greater diversity in external supply would risk undermining a well-functioning competitive market.&nbsp;</p> <p>This projects a fragility onto the indie sector which is very far from the robust reality. Last year the top 100 indies had a combined turnover of £1.94 billion and this is growing fast thanks to the demand from companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix. In the commercial market suppliers are required to meet different specifications for different projects. There is no reason why some specific diversity requirement should not be part of the spec from the BBC. It is part of the spec from Channel 4.</p> <h2><strong>Diverse Channel 4</strong></h2> <p>Channel 4, which does not receive public funds, is far ahead of the BBC and other broadcasters on diversity. Unlike the BBC, C4 has specific % diversity requirements, including off-screen, for independent commissions. These were met for 83% of commissions in 2016. </p> <p>Although C4 publishes an exemplary annual assessment of each of its thirty diversity initiatives, the impact of its Commissioning Diversity Guidelines requirements remains opaque. Channel 4 should now advance to publishing granular data on what has been achieved in employment diversity through these guidelines, as well as diversity data on the top ten programmes in each genre. </p> <p>Setting and implementing BBC diversity requirements for external supply may be a complex challenge but as Karen Bradley told the RTS Cambridge Convention, “The BBC should be leading the way with both on and off-screen diversity………It will not be straightforward but just because something is hard does not mean that we shouldn’t try.” It is time for the BBC and Ofcom to address the £1billion diversity gap. The BBC should not be trailing so far behind Channel 4.</p> <h2><strong>Not me guv</strong></h2> <p>We shall have to wait until next year to see what progress BBC and Ofcom can make. A lot will rest on the terms of the new BBC Code of Practice, the associated enforcement procedures and penalties for falling short – and also on the provisions in the new Annual Plan.</p> <p>This month, appearing before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the BBC Chair, Sir David Clementi, distanced himself deftly from the current BBC Report and Accounts saying, “The 17/18 budget was pretty much baked by the time this Board was put in place in April of this year.” Clementi added, ”The set of accounts that you have in front of you, we have published and do take responsibility for, but essentially relate to a year when the new Board was not in place and the old arrangements were.” This justifiable “not me guv” approach must also apply to the current BBC Annual Plan. </p> <p>The BBC Annual Plan provides a basis on which Ofcom monitors the BBC’s progress towards meeting its own goals. The BBC Annual Plan for 2017/18 section on diversity was based on unreliable assertions and was limited in scope. When the 2018/19 Annual Plan and the diversity Code of Practice are published we will see if the BBC Board plans to deliver effectively on internal and external diversity of employment. </p> <p>With no grounds for optimism, we can only hope that the £1 billion of public money spent on BBC external supply will be spent for the benefit of everybody, drawing on all the talents of the country and that Article 14 Diversity will prove to be worth the paper on which it is written. As ever, in this, the seventeenth year since the first comprehensive BBC Diversity Action Plan, we continue to live with diversity deferred.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 1)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-2">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 2)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK Culture Democracy and government Economics Simon Albury Thu, 16 Nov 2017 20:01:26 +0000 Simon Albury 114710 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who's paying for these 'reports' on BBC Brexit coverage? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/whos-paying-for-these-reports-on-bbc-brexit-coverage <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why do newspapers parrot 'reports' about BBC bias from organisations funded by hardline Brexiters?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/arron banks.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/arron banks.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arron Banks on Newsnight. Image: BBC, fair use.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Brexiters often accuse the British media of being biased towards remaining in the European Union. Especially the BBC. In July, a cross-party group of 70 MPs wrote to the corporation complaining that it was heavily "in favour of those who wish to water down or even reverse the referendum decision.” Earlier this month, would be Conservative leadership hopeful Jacob Rees Mogg said the BBC had a “deep-seated anti-Brexit bias”.</p><p dir="ltr">Research would appear to back up these accusations. In recent months, a flurry of studies have been reported showing everything from a bias towards Remain on the <a href="https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/865340/Jacob-Rees-Mogg-BBC-bias-Brexit-Remain-Andrew-Marr-Sunday-Politics">Andrew Marr show</a> to a supposed deluge of anti-Brexit voices on Radio 4’s <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/26/bbc-radio-4s-today-programme-business-slot-has-three-times-remainers/">Today Programme</a>. No wonder International Trade Secretary Liam Fox <a href="https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/politics/brexiteers-declare-war-bbc-accusing-pro-remain-bias/">declared that</a> “it does appear that some elements of our media would rather see Britain fail than see Brexit succeed.” </p><p dir="ltr">But we have looked a bit closer at these studies and noticed a pattern – all the research is produced by a single tiny company that is explicitly anti-EU and whose funders include <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/how-did-arron-banks-afford-brexit">controversial businessman Arron Banks</a>’s Leave.EU. These studies are almost always reported uncritically by major newspapers with little or no mention of how the research was compiled and interpreted, or who paid for it.</p><p dir="ltr">Take yesterday, October 22. In <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/22/bbc-invited-third-pro-eu-eurosceptic-speakers-appear-election/">a story</a> entitled “BBC invited a third more pro-EU than Eurosceptic speakers to appear during election campaign, report claims”, the Sunday Telegraph reported claims that “BBC correspondents and presenters one-sidedly emphasised the difficulties of Brexit" and that the BBC Reality Check team "put further undue weight on the disadvantages of leaving the EU". The research, the paper reported, was carried out by “media analysts News-watch”. </p><p dir="ltr">News-watch style themselves as “media analysts” but seem mainly interested in one outlet and one story – the BBC and Brexit. Since being founded in 1999 by former BBC producer <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/David_Keighley">David Keighley</a>, News-watch has published <a href="http://news-watch.co.uk/monitoring-projects-and-reports/">dozens of reports</a>, pretty much all of them on the BBC’s coverage of the EU. Every story on News-watch’s <a href="http://news-watch.co.uk/">home page</a> is avowedly pro-Brexit. As far as we can tell, all of the newspaper stories of BBC anti-Brexit bias are based on reports written by News-watch. Kathy Gyngell, who helped <a href="http://news-watch.co.uk/author/kathy-gyngell/">set up News-watch</a>, runs Conservative Women, a prominent pro-Leave blog site, and is the widow of ‘<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/sep/09/guardianobituaries.maggiebrown">Thatcher’s favourite broadcaster</a>’, Bruce Gyngell, for whom Keighley used to work.</p><p dir="ltr">Last year, Keighley was keynote speaker at the Traditional Britain Group <a href="http://traditionalbritain.org/events/traditional-britain-conference-2016/">annual conference</a>. In 2013, Conservative MP Jacob Ress-Mogg was <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23617555">forced to apologise</a> for addressing the organisation’s annual dinner when <a href="http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/08/08/exclusive-william-rees-mogg-and-the-right-wing-group-that-wants-black-britons-to-leave-the-uk/">it transpired</a> that it has called for Doreen Lawrence and other black people to be ‘requested to return to their natural homelands’, and has referred to Labour MP Chuka Umunna as “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/traditionalbritaingroup/posts/515919895128675">a Nigerian</a>” and Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi as “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/traditionalbritaingroup/posts/519842988069699">foreign</a>“.</p><p dir="ltr">News-watch has been connected with right-wing Eurosceptic think tanks, politicians and journalists for almost twenty years. Under its previous name, <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Minotaur_Media_Tracking">Minotaur Media Tracking</a>, it produced a number of reports for the dark-money funded Eurosceptic think-tank <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Global_Britain">Global Britain</a> and the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Centre_for_Policy_Studies">Centre for Policy Studies</a>, (with whom Kathy Gyngell is now <a href="https://uk.linkedin.com/in/kathy-gyngell-81313834">a fellow</a>). In 2004 News-watch wrote a report of the BBC’s coverage of asylum issues for the right wing think tank Migration Watch, whose income source is also unclear and which is chaired by the former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Newswatch UK Ltd was dissolved in 2009 and it is not clear what News-watch’s current corporate structure is. </p><p dir="ltr">David Keighley, who describes himself as a ‘psychotherapist’ as well as a media consultant, used to sit on the board of the company ‘<a href="https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08916948/officers">the Mindful Policy Experts Group Ltd</a>’. Another board member was Tim Loughton, the pro-Brexit Conservative MP who chaired Andrea Leadsom’s leadership campaign in 2016. The company was dissolved in April of this year, according to filings with Companies House.</p><p dir="ltr">Keighley has appeared before select committees in the Commons talking about the BBC’s EU coverage, including the <a href="https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/130313.htm">European Scrutiny Committee</a> in 2013 when Tory Eurosceptic Bill Cash was chair. In 2016, News-watch received £65,000 from the right-wing Institute for Policy Research, according to <a href="http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends43/0000285143_AC_20160930_E_C.pdf">accounts filed with the Charity Commission</a>. The Institute for Policy Research also provides funding for Migration Watch, the Tax Payer’s Alliance and other right-wing lobbying groups. IPR’s payments to these groups were possible because of donations worth £682,000 in 2016. The source of this money isn’t clear.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 16.17.56.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 16.17.56.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Institute for Policy Research 2016 accounts.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Some of News-watch’s recent work has been paid for by pro-Brexit MPs. The Sunday Telegraph notes that the recent report was commissioned by MPs Kate Hoey, Philip Davies, Kelvin Hopkins, Philip Hollobone, Ian Paisley and Graham Stringer, as well as former Ukip leader Malcolm Pearson. But openDemocracy has also discovered that News-watch has received funding from Arron Banks’ Leave.EU.</p><p dir="ltr">On its own website <a href="https://leave.eu/news-watch/">Leave.EU</a> has a page for donations to News-watch, which it describes as “an independent organisation providing much needed scrutiny of the politically skewed BBC”. Leave.EU say: “We’re raising money to help <a href="https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__news-2Dwatch.co.uk_&amp;d=DQMFaQ&amp;c=euGZstcaTDllvimEN8b7jXrwqOf-v5A_CdpgnVfiiMM&amp;r=vtViBQipetEvnViOVAqHBcCPss7q0mZES0gKDfPArEWlYX_-RXVno8JsiPxbp0K6&amp;m=xpD2DS8y8OnLo2gisfa6OFN45kgZEVAG1WkC9Rmze5Y&amp;s=ffTI5b0BE75CjdhBF4PlvAVaI4L4j-F677yOeHiEshg&amp;e=">News-watch</a> continue its essential work analysing the output of the BBC. Please consider a monthly donation or one-off contribution and help keep this vital service going.” <br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Leave.EU suggest sending donations for News-watch direct to Leave.EU, with an address at Lysander House, Catbrain Lane in Bristol. According to documents filed with companies house, Lysander House is the correspondence address for a number of companies linked to Arron Banks, including insurance company, Go Skippy, the news site Westmonster and Better for the Country Limited. Better for the Country donated <a href="http://search.electoralcommission.org.uk/?currentPage=1&amp;rows=10&amp;query=better%20for%20the%20country%20limited&amp;sort=AcceptedDate&amp;order=desc&amp;tab=1&amp;et=pp&amp;et=ppm&amp;et=tp&amp;et=perpar&amp;et=rd&amp;prePoll=false&amp;postPoll=true&amp;optCols=CampaigningName&amp;optCols=AccountingUnitsAsCentralParty&amp;optCols=IsSponsorship&amp;optCols=RegulatedDoneeType&amp;optCols=CompanyRegistrationNumber&amp;optCols=Postcode&amp;optCols=NatureOfDonation&amp;optCols=PurposeOfVisit&amp;optCols=DonationAction&amp;optCols=ReportedDate&amp;optCols=IsReportedPrePoll&amp;optCols=ReportingPeriodName&amp;optCols=IsBequest&amp;optCols=IsAggregation">£100,000</a> to the Brexit campaign and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/how-did-arron-banks-afford-brexit">bought almost £2m</a> of merchandise for the Leave.EU campaign. </p><p dir="ltr">In May 2016, Better for the Country was <a href="https://ico.org.uk/action-weve-taken/enforcement/better-for-the-country-ltd/">fined by the Information Commssioner’s Office</a> for sending half a million pro-Leave texts. Banks says he <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/8cddfeea-5c02-11e7-b553-e2df1b0c3220">contributed almost £9m </a>in cash, loans and services to pro-Brexit causes. MP Ben Bradshaw has called for an investigation into ‘dark money’ and Brexit in the wake of recent stories on openDemocracy about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/how-did-arron-banks-afford-brexit">Banks’s spending</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">News-watch also runs a spin-off site called <a href="http://bbccomplaints.com/">“BBC Complaints”</a> (Indeed it is one of the first hits that appears when you Google ‘BBC Complaints’). Despite the title is it is only interested in a single issue – complaints about the corporation’s coverage of Brexit. “Despite the vote for Brexit,” the website states, “the BBC output remains massively opposed to withdrawal from the EU. It is required by law to be impartial, but is not.”. The website invites readers to send in examples of anti-Brexit coverage on the BBC.</p><p dir="ltr">It was the previous efforts of News-watch and its allies which led the BBC Board of Governors to set up an independent panel to examine BBC reporting on the EU, and subsequently to introduce greater monitoring of output for ‘balance’.</p><p dir="ltr">News-watch reports are picked up by a small group of major newspaper titles – the Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph and the Express have all heavily featured News-watch reports on putative BBC bias in recent months. Often the same reports are used by pro-Brexit newspaper commentators to argue that the media is biased against leaving the EU. Senior politicians often respond, too: during the summer Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, urged the BBC to “address” its coverage of Brexit in the wake of a News-watch report. </p><p dir="ltr">Academic research on media coverage of Brexit has reported rather different results. A <a href="https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/our-research/uk-press-coverage-eu-referendum">major study</a> on the press conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford found a pronounced tendency to favour pro-Leave voices in the run-up to last June’s referendum. <a href="https://blog.lboro.ac.uk/crcc/eu-referendum/uk-news-coverage-2016-eu-referendum-report-5-6-may-22-june-2016/">Research by Loughborough University suggested </a>the BBC achieved a good balance between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps during the referendum.</p><p dir="ltr">‘News-watch and other pro-Leave lobbyists are obviously trying to influence debates around Brexit in certain interests,’ says Tom Mills, lecturer in sociology at Aston University and author of The BBC: Myth of a Public Service, ‘and they are doing that through what looks like a rather crude coding framework. The problem with dividing everything into pro and anti camps is that it makes a substantive and informed discussion of the issues at stake very difficult.’<br class="kix-line-break" />‘If the evidence makes one side of an argument look worse, then what is it the duty of the BBC to report? There’s a tension here between accuracy and balance. And that is a grey area that lobby groups are always trying to exploit. News-watch do analyse a lot of reports, which is good. But what’s lacking is a clear and transparent methodology that can deal with how the underlying issues are dealt with, rather than the question of how much time is given to two sides of a political argument.’</p><p dir="ltr">Academic researchers are required to be transparent about both their sources of funding, and their methodology.</p><p dir="ltr">News-watch managing director David Keighley said:</p><p dir="ltr">"News-watch is funded by a variety of sources but works independently and has never been under any pressure from any funding source to modify any of its findings. University departments &nbsp;which provide similar work have been funded by bodies such as the EU and the BBC. Does that influence their findings?</p><p dir="ltr">"Our methodology is rigorously robust and is clearly displayed on our website. All our reports since 1999 are posted on our website. It is the largest corpus of work about the media’s handling of EU coverage ever undertaken. Anyone wishing to challenge our methodology or findings is very welcome to do so but they should do so by being specific rather than making generalised and unfounded &nbsp;statements that our work is influenced by our funding, or that News-watch is ‘right-wing’ .</p><p dir="ltr">"Such ‘ad hominem’ attacks are sadly all too common in the academic world these days; those making them should properly back up their allegations. The source you quote most certainly does not. An example of our own robustness of approach can be found in a <a href="http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/impartialityatthebbc.pdf">Civitas </a>paper in which we challenged - on rigorous academic grounds -the work of a Cardiff University report commissioned by the BBC in connection with the Prebble report which purported to give its EU-related output a clean bill of health. It did no such thing.”</p><p dir="ltr">News-watch are not the only pro-Leave lobby group that have found column inches in major newspapers easy to come by. Back in 2015, Matthew Elliott – Vote Leave boss – produce a 1,000 long, anti-EU dossier called “<a href="http://brexitcentral.com/dr-lee-rotherham-change-go-dispels-pernicious-myth-no-work-done-brexit/">Change or Go</a>”. The report was particularly well received by the Daily Telegraph which, in a single week, featured “Change or Go” four times on its front page, and wrote a glowing editorial in praise of the “genuinely open-minded” report.</p><p>But openDemocracy has found that the Telegraph’s coverage omitted to mention that it had sponsored Elliott’s report. Change or Go was jointly funded by “generous sponsorship” from Telegraph Media Group and the Politics and Economics Research Trust, a charity that Elliott himself had established in 2006. Earlier this year, Elliott was forced to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/09/vote-leave-chief-matthew-elliott-repays-charitable-grant-anti-eu-dossier-charity-commission">repay the £50,000 grant</a> for writing the Change or Go report to the Politics and Economics Research Trust after the Charity Commission found that the trust should not have been supporting groups to undertake research that takes a political position on a contested topic like EU membership.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement">Mystery deepens over secret source of Brexit &#039;dark money&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/secretive-dup-brexit-donor-links-to-saudi-intelligence-service">Secretive DUP Brexit donor links to the Saudi intelligence service</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/key-poll-which-boosted-leadsom-s-leadership-bid-funded-by-d">Key poll which boosted Leadsom’s leadership bid funded by DUP’s dark-money donors</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">The new Brexit minister, the arms industry, the American hard right… and Equatorial Guinea</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/mysterious-dup-brexit-donation-plot-thickens">The strange link between the DUP Brexit donation and a notorious Indian gun running trial</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk EU UK World Forum for Democracy 2017 Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money Adam Ramsay Peter Geoghegan Mon, 23 Oct 2017 18:04:09 +0000 Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay 114221 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The national conversation: free, open and broad debate https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/tom-mills/national-conversation-free-open-and-broad-debate <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the UK, do we see political polarisation facilitated by politically partisan websites and social media, or the disintegration of a governing consensus?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1024px-Future_of_No_10_Communications_panel_(5514108479).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/1024px-Future_of_No_10_Communications_panel_(5514108479).jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Nick Robinson (second from right) on a panel at the Institute for Government's Future of No 10 Communications event, 2011. Wikicommons/Institute for Government. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>There have been a spate of reflections on the state of British broadcast journalism in recent months, including widely publicised lectures from two of its most illustrious figures: first Channel 4 News’s Jon Snow, then the BBC’s Nick Robinson.</p> <p>Those two interventions were in some ways very different. Snow, who delivered the annual MacTaggart <a href="https://www.channel4.com/news/by/jon-snow/blogs/mactaggart-lecture-edinburgh-2017">lecture</a> at the Edinburgh television festival in August, spoke movingly of the Grenfell fire, and not only of the social distance between journalists and the residents of Grenfell, but also the former’s proximity to the rich and powerful.&nbsp; </p> <p>He worried that broadcasters were on the ‘wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present day society’, having lined up ‘comfortably with the élite, with little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite’. Snow also criticised Facebook and Google in his lecture, noting that the multinationals were profiting from journalism, but not contributing, and were thereby undermining the profession. ‘Facebook,’ he said, ‘feasts on our products and pays all but nothing’. </p> <p>Nick Robinson’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41439172">lecture</a> – the first Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture delivered a month later – struck a rather different tone. The BBC <em>Today</em> presenter did not discuss the power of Facebook or Google, though he mentioned both companies. Nor was his focus on the relationship between journalists and Britain’s élite, though he touched on this when referring to Snow’s earlier lecture. Rather Robinson focused on the declining levels of trust in journalism, and outlined how he thought this problem could be addressed. He noted that trust in the UK media had declined by 7% over the last year, and mentioned an older survey that had found Wikipedia considered at least as trustworthy as the BBC.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Robinson’s diagnosis</strong></h2> <p>Before getting onto&nbsp;Robinson’s&nbsp;proposed solutions,&nbsp;let’s first consider&nbsp;his&nbsp;diagnosis. Here is what he says about what lies behind of this decline in trust:</p> <p>It is due, I believe, to two main factors – the increased polarization of our society and our national debate and the increased use, particularly by the most committed &amp; most partisan, of social media and alternatives to what they call MSM – the mainstream media.</p> <p>Starting with the second factor, Robinson named Wings over Scotland, the <em>New European</em>, Novara Media, Skwawkbox, Evolve Politics, The Canary and Westmonster in the <em>Guardian</em> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/28/alternative-news-sites-waging-guerrilla-war-on-bbc-says-nick-robinson">article</a> trailing his lecture, although Novara Media, Skwawkbox and Evolve Politics did not make the final cut. Essentially, his argument is that people don’t trust the media because websites such as these have put about the idea that it is untrustworthy – a belief that is then disseminated and reinforced in insular political networks on social media.&nbsp; </p> <p>Now, for sure, there are real issues here in terms of the structure and political economy of online media, and these are problems any reform agenda needs to take seriously. But is this a useful starting point for this debate? What to me is most striking is that having identified the lack of trust in the BBC and other major journalistic organisations as the key problem to be addressed, Robinson starts not with a critical analysis of those same institutions – for example, their record on reporting and their relationship with powerful persons and institutions – but with ‘alternative media sites’. &nbsp;</p> <p>Robinson’s formulation to my mind puts the cart before the horse, leaving two further questions unasked: (1) Why do these independent media organisations make these claims about the BBC?, and (2) Why do people believe them? Robinson doesn’t really address (2), and his answer to (1) is rather vague and kind of odd. It is, he surmises, ‘part of their political strategy. In order to succeed,’ he says, ‘they need to convince people not to believe “the news”.’</p> <p>It’s not completely clear here whether this is a strategy being pursued by the ‘alternative media websites’ themselves, or the political movements with which they are aligned, or both. Neither is it clear what success would look like for either, since Robinson claims that unlike previous claims of bias levelled at the BBC, the aim is not to influence its reporting or ‘to the raise the morale’ of supporters. His argument in any case seems to be that independent media organisations claim the BBC is biased either because it gets them clicks, and/or because it forms part of some covert political strategy, which according to Robinson is part of a ‘guerrilla war’.</p> <p>What is omitted altogether from this picture is the actual politics of the BBC itself. Is there a chance that the BBC’s reporting may have some influence on how people perceive its political biases? </p> <h2><strong>Political contestation: another way of looking at it </strong></h2> <p>Here’s an alternative theory to Robinson’s: people see the BBC as biased because it is; because it is politically and ideologically aligned with a political consensus they, in different ways and for different reasons, oppose. In the case of supporters of Labour and the Greens, the BBC is recognised as being aligned with a politically discredited, and socially and environmentally harmful, economic model. In the case of those in favour of Scottish independence, it is recognised as being aligned with the British state.&nbsp; And in the case of the hard right it is recognised as exhibiting (for the most part, and less so in recent years), a certain social liberalism posing for them certain structural disadvantages – especially in comparison to the overtly propagandistic conservative press – given its commitment to accuracy.&nbsp; </p> <p>These various political movements are not necessarily equally correct in their claims about the BBC, and neither is each and every claim they make of bias, sound. But despite what you often hear, nor does it &nbsp;follow from the fact that the BBC is criticised from different quarters that it probably achieves a fair political balance. That’s like saying that if two people who disagree with each other think you’re wrong, then you’re probably right.</p> <p>What about Robinson’s other ‘factor’: political polarisation? In my view this is not completely wrong, but not quite right either. There has certainly been an increase in political contestation arising out of the Scottish independence referendum, the Labour leadership elections, and the EU referendum, in particular. But at the level of public attitudes, whilst there is some evidence of greater political polarisation around immigration, for example, there hasn’t been much of a shift towards political extremes.&nbsp; </p> <p>The real change in the UK in recent years has not been in public political preferences, but in the trajectory of formal politics – which for the Nick Robinsons of this world is the ‘national conversation’.&nbsp; The longstanding commitment to moderate social democratic policies amongst large sections of the public has found political expression through the Labour Party – and arguably did earlier through the campaign for Scottish independence – whilst a longstanding Euroscepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment has found expression first through UKIP and then through the campaign to leave the EU.&nbsp; What we are seeing, then, is not so much a political polarisation facilitated by social media and politically partisan websites, but the disintegration of a governing consensus and a series of dramatic political flashpoints, in which social and alternative media certainly played an important role.</p> <p>The BBC, then, is under pressure not because people have been brainwashed by the communists over at Novara Media, or have deluded themselves in social media echo chambers, but because the Establishment of which the BBC is part, is experiencing something of a crisis.</p> <h2><strong>Impartiality today</strong></h2> <p>If this is the situation, what is the solution? Let’s start with Robinson’s proposals, some of which are sound and uncontroversial. Journalists, he suggests, should be more challenging of ‘conventional wisdom’, and there should be much greater diversity within the British media. Hard to disagree with that.&nbsp; More central to Robinson’s lecture, though, is his call ‘to re-make the case for impartiality’. This badly misconstrues what is at stake. Having made some bizarre accusations about independent media organisations, Robinson simply asserts that the BBC reports impartially without thinking to consult the evidence on this, assuming rather presumptuously that all that is required is to better convince others of this societal value for the BBC’s journalism.</p> <p>Impartiality – a central concept in Robinson’s lecture, which interestingly appeared nowhere in Snow’s – is a fairly vague concept that overlaps with a cluster of other journalistic values such as balance and accuracy. It is understood in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines as <a href="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/pdfs/Section_04_Impartiality.pdf">mandating</a> that the BBC should not only be ‘fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts’, but should accurately reflect a wide range of opinion on public issues ‘so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented’.&nbsp; </p> <p>The implication in Robinson’s lecture is that the BBC’s critics are seeking to undermine this principle and practice. But the claim from the more serious of the BBC’s critics is not so much that impartiality is ‘an establishment plot to limit debate’, as Robinson puts it, but that the BBC has in fact not been able to deliver on this promise; that it has <em>not</em> been able to facilitate ‘a free, open and broad debate about the issues confronting the country’.</p> <p>This isn’t a political fantasy propagated in online subcultures. As historical accounts of the BBC often note – including Robinson’s own – the limits of the principle of impartiality were illustrated very early on when the BBC’s founding father John Reith famously remarked during the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/tom-mills/general-strike-to-corbyn-90-years-of-bbc-establishment-bias">1926 General Strike</a> that the Conservative Government ‘can trust us not to be really impartial’.&nbsp; </p> <p>But the problem is not only that impartiality is inevitably abandoned when elites feel threatened, or when they claim some national interest is at stake. The real issue is that the BBC routinely fails to put this principle substantively into practice. We know from scholarly research that its output is overwhelmingly skewed towards élite opinion, and behind these reporting patterns, as I describe in some detail in <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2243-the-bbc">my book</a>, 'The BBC: Myth of a&nbsp;Public Service' – are a set of formal and informal relationships with the people and institutions that comprise the Establishment.&nbsp; </p> <p>What this has meant is that rather than reflecting a range of opinion in society, the BBC has tended to defer to the range of élite opinion, particularly in and around Westminster, Whitehall and the City, and there is, moreover, evidence that in the last decade the BBC’s reporting has drifted to the right.&nbsp; This should be the starting point for any discussion of the politics of the British broadcast media, as it was at least to some extent in Jon Snow’s lecture. Yet for Nick Robinson the problem is not the BBC’s relationship with powerful interests in society, but rather the growth of an emotive and insular online space. This complacency will not do.&nbsp; </p> <p>Change is certainly needed, but it won’t come from impassioned public proclamations and pep talks. If the BBC is to live up to its proclaimed values, real <a href="https://www.ippr.org/juncture-item/tom-mills-the-future-of-the-bbc">structural reform</a> is needed – change which will not only allow the BBC to operate with substantive independence from the state and commercial interests, but also to compete with the media and tech giants that plainly pose a much more serious threat to our democracy than anything discussed in Robinson’s lecture.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/whos-paying-for-these-reports-on-bbc-brexit-coverage">Who&#039;s paying for these &#039;reports&#039; on BBC Brexit coverage?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/tom-mills/general-strike-to-corbyn-90-years-of-bbc-establishment-bias">The General Strike to Corbyn: 90 years of BBC establishment bias</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/digitaliberties/mitchell-labiak/what-does-mainstream-media-bias-mean-in-digital-age">What does ‘mainstream media bias’ mean in a digital age?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb Can Europe make it? OurBeeb uk UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Internet World Forum for Democracy 2017 Tom Mills Sun, 22 Oct 2017 09:48:54 +0000 Tom Mills 114183 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is the BBC hideously middle class? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/dermot-feenan/is-bbc-hideously-middle-class <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>And, if it is, why is this a problem, and what can be done about it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/BBC_Manchester,_Oxford_Road.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/BBC_Manchester,_Oxford_Road.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BBC Manchester, Oxford Road by night. Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-2.0.</span></span></span>Do television and radio in the UK have a problem with social class? There is increasing concern that they do – in content, staffing, and corporate management. Tim Hincks, former President of Endemol Shine Group, said in the <a href="http://www.bafta.org/television/features/tim-hincks-television-lecture">BAFTA Television Lecture in 2015</a> that television in the UK was “hideously middle class”. Sharon White, Chief Executive of Ofcom, the industry regulator, <a href="https://www.ippr.org/media-item/sharon-white-at-the-oxford-media-convention-2017">reported</a> last year that many people felt the BBC was "overly focused on middle-aged, middle-class audiences". <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc">Rhian Jones</a> has argued that the BBC needs to care about class. The industry is beginning to respond, but it faces significant challenges.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiVx76_GjKc">panel</a> at the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge this year revealed a broad range of concerns regarding class in television. Ofcom released a <a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/106343/diversity-television-report-2017.pdf">report</a> coincident with the Convention reporting on diversity and equal opportunities in television. While Ofcom focused on race, gender and disability, it also reported on broadcasters’ initiatives to promote social mobility. Ofcom added that it will explore what new information can be provided on social background.</p><p dir="ltr">Broadcasters, including the BBC, have recently begun to address social class in terms of diversity. Undoubtedly, this has been aided by existing initiatives on diversity with reference principally to gender, race, disability, age and sexual orientation. Much of this engagement with class seems tentative and in development. Some commentators are concerned variously with ‘class’, ‘socioeconomic background’, or ‘social mobility’. Different variables are proposed to measure class. Proponents tend to rely exclusively on a metrics-based approach.</p><p dir="ltr">At this stage, key issues must be addressed: what is the problem against which these initiatives are directed? Is ‘class’ a valid category for analysis and, if so, how might class be monitored? If class is insufficient as a category to address the diagnosed problem, what other categories and interventions might be warranted? I will explore these questions with particular reference to the BBC. I do so in part because the BBC is a public service broadcaster whose duties raise distinctive issues regarding class.</p><h2>Class at the BBC</h2><p dir="ltr">James Purnell, director of radio and education at the BBC, <a href="blank">revealed</a> at the Royal Television Society Convention data on the ‘class or socio-economic background’ of BBC employees. 17% of staff, and 25% of the BBC management team, went to private school – significantly above the UK average of 7%. 61% of the workforce came from families in which the main earner had a higher managerial and professional job.</p><p dir="ltr">The BBC is alert to the need to expand its recruitment strategies in ways that overcome certain socio-economic advantages. It has banned unpaid internships, which tended to favour children from well-off families. It removes names and degrees from applications for internships and traineeships, which militates against unconscious biases and the tendency to appoint those ‘like us’. At senior levels this tendency to appoint those ‘like us’ favours the white middle-class who have been educated in private schools or at Oxbridge. The majority of the current BBC Executive Committee have been educated in private schools or at Oxbridge. Over 63% of the BBC Trust, before it was replaced by the BBC Board in April 2017, were educated in private schools or at Oxbridge. Oxbridge graduates feature prominently in the new board.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">There is a risk that diversity can become a box-ticking exercise, a risk compounded when those commissioning tend to be white middle-class men who favour those in their own image.</p><p dir="ltr">Purnell said that the BBC is considering introducing targets regarding the class of its workforce. On the same date, the BBC launched its <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/radio-diversity-commissioning-guidelines">Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines for Radio</a>, which complement the existing similar <a href="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/site/diversity-inclusion-commissioning-guidelines-bbc-content.pdf">guidelines</a> for TV. The guidelines state that the BBC is "deeply committed to improving representation of all socio-economic backgrounds, as we strive for a wider range of voices to be heard on and off air." The BBC asks that producers encourage their researchers to look to accurately reflect all communities in the UK, including the nations and regions and all socio-economic backgrounds. It also asks that they "promote incidental casting across the diversity spectrum" and consider artists from all backgrounds regardless of, amongst other grounds, socio-economic background.</p><p dir="ltr">The BBC’s <a href="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/site/Commissioning_Specification.pdf">Commissioning Specification</a> requires the BBC and supplier to confirm that "a formal conversation about Diversity on this programme/series [has] taken place... to help address under-representation and/or the BBC’s aims to promote Diversity". All suppliers have been required since 2016 to have a diversity and inclusion policy. There is no formal requirement, however, to record the substance of any discussion, and there is no indication of enforcement or sanction. There is a risk that this can become a box-ticking exercise, a risk compounded especially when those commissioning tend to be white middle-class men who favour those in their own image.</p><p dir="ltr">The BBC already has a <a href="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/diversity/pdf/diversity-and-inclusion-strategy-2016.pdf">Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020</a> which includes social class within its definition of diversity. The strategy notes also that diversity is "about social inclusion and making sure that the BBC is open to all – no matter what your background or where you went to school." The BBC aims to drive social diversity through its apprenticeship and intern programmes. It says that through its ‘Creative Access Intern Programme’ it "will focus particularly on young people from socially diverse backgrounds, as a way of adding impetus to [its] support for social mobility". It does not say how it will do so with reference to class or socio-economic background.</p><p dir="ltr">The BBC says that it will, through apprenticeship, build on its partnership with job centres to ensure roles are actively promoted "to those who need them most", including a guarantee that 25% of all its work-experience applicants will be sourced from those who are unemployed. The delimitation to apprenticeships and to job centres is an unnecessary constraint on opportunity and access. Promoting social inclusion through targeted outreach for all posts is necessary. Socioeconomic disadvantage is experienced not only by those signing-on through Jobcentre Plus. The effect of repeated welfare cuts in recent years means that many socially excluded and disadvantaged persons fall between the gaps in state support, and as a result may miss out on an opportunity at the BBC.</p><h2>Reflect, represent and serve</h2><p dir="ltr">The BBC is required under its revamped <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bbc-charter-and-framework-agreement">Charter</a> of December 2016, to ensure principally that it "reflects the diverse communities of the whole of the United Kingdom in the content of its output... and in the organisation and management of the BBC". This ‘diversity’ requirement followed the unprecedented <a href="https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-04-14/debates/16041436000002/BBCDiversity">debate</a> in Parliament in April 2016 regarding the lack of diversity, including with reference to class, in the BBC.</p><p dir="ltr">In addition to its specific principal diversity obligation, the BBC is required to "reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions" and in doing so "accurately and authentically represent and portray the lives of people of the United Kingdom". On this basis, it might be argued that class must not only be reflected but must also be represented and accurately and authentically portrayed.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">There is no specific reference in the Charter to ‘socio-economic’ status (or indeed class or social mobility).</p><p dir="ltr">Similarly, the Charter provides that the mission of the BBC includes "serving all audiences". There is no specific reference in the Charter to ‘socio-economic’ status (or indeed class or social mobility) as stated in the BBC’s Commissioning Guidelines. However, the ‘diversity’ section of the Charter also insists on a further threefold set of obligations, those being: that the BBC ensure that its output and services overall provide a duly accurate and authentic portrayal and representation of the diverse communities of the whole of the UK; that the BBC ensure that it assesses and meets the needs of the diverse communities of the whole of the UK, and; that the BBC must have particular regard to the need to reflect underrepresented communities.</p><p dir="ltr">Ofcom’s responsibilities are set out in the <a href="https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/3">Communications Act 2003</a>. A principal duty is to "further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters". This must be achieved, in part, by securing the "availability throughout the United Kingdom of a wide range of television and radio services which (taken as a whole) are both of high quality and calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests".</p><p dir="ltr">The Act makes clear that there is a citizen interest in communications. Commercial interests alone are insufficient. While the requirement of "appeal to a variety of tastes and interests" is broad, it may reasonably be argued that this should include people from different socioeconomic backgrounds given the extent of social stratification within the UK and associated, though not necessarily correlated, variation in tastes and interests.</p><p dir="ltr">Ofcom also has specific duties in relation to the BBC, principally to regulate the provision of the BBC’s services and the carrying on by the BBC of other activities for purposes connected with the provision of those services. These are broad duties.</p><h2>Defining the problem</h2><p dir="ltr">A key challenge is to define the nature of the problem under consideration. Unfortunately, while people often use the terms ‘middle’ and ‘working’ class these are often ill-defined not only in social research but also, and as importantly, by the members of the classes themselves. Crude assumptions can come into play. Setting measures can be difficult.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">New categories vie for attention, including the ‘Precariat’ and ‘squeezed middle’.</p><p>These challenges are not unique to broadcasting. Social class is an increasingly contested concept sociologically: the traditional categories are questioned. While concern is expressed regarding one of the traditional accompaniments to class difference, inequality, increasing attention is being paid to the difference between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ alone, the ‘1%’ and ‘99%’, the ‘elite’ and the unexplicated remainder. New categories vie for attention, including the ‘Precariat’ and ‘squeezed middle’. Professor Mike Savage said after the Great British Class Survey in 2013 that classes were ‘being fundamentally remade’.</p><p dir="ltr">The BBC has made a useful start in measuring class and socio-economic background with reference to private education and occupational background of parents. These measures are often used as indicators of class and may be salient indicators of socioeconomic background, but they cannot be sufficient to explain or measure class. Class also operates through what Pierre Bourdieu termed social (or cultural) capital, that can operate to disadvantage others. This form of capital tends to be highly prevalent among privately-schooled and Oxbridge-educated people.</p><p dir="ltr">Notwithstanding the challenge of precise definition, social class remains significant in shaping opportunity within society.</p><h2>Why class is important</h2><p dir="ltr">There are a number of reasons why it is important to address class, certainly within the BBC. First, the BBC arguably has a duty under its Charter to do so (and Ofcom is required to regulate that duty). This public service responsibility distinguishes the BBC. This privileged position arguably carries with it broader responsibilities. The BBC also has a significant share of the market. It is accorded substantial respect nationally and globally. What the BBC does matters. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/culture-secretarys-speech-at-rts-cambridge-convention-2017">informed</a> Ofcom of the government’s view that the BBC should be leading the way with both on- and off-screen diversity.</p><p dir="ltr">Secondly, the BBC should reflect society. This has two main components: in one sense the BBC should hold a mirror up to society – presenting publicly an image that shows in its programming content the society within which it operates. In the second sense, it should reflect in its staffing, especially those who are publicly visible, the demographic profile of all social classes in the UK. There is a further perhaps ancillary component, alluded to by Karen Bradley in her speech to the Royal Television Society. The diversity of the BBC is important because it projects an image of the UK abroad.</p><p dir="ltr">Thirdly, diversity with reference to class is important for voice. This recognises that those from different classes or socio-economic backgrounds can have different voices, and that people in each class are best placed to express their distinctive voice. To give an illustration, those from the middle class may be ill-suited to seeking to represent the voice of those from the working class. The well-off, privately-schooled, Oxbridge-educated executive living in an affluent part of London or in the Home Counties that sends his or her children to private school may be incapable of understanding the experience of significant numbers of the poor or struggling-to-make-ends-meet rural or inner-city manual workers.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">If there are no working class journalists it would mean that there was no media representation from within a class that, more than any other, requires a voice.</p><p dir="ltr">The point was made by Roy Greenslade, former editor of The Sunday Times, when he <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2009/jul/23/cityuniversity-downturn">wrote</a>: "if there are no working class journalists it would mean that there was no media representation from within a class that, more than any other, requires a voice."&nbsp;Class can also determine the ability to see a problem distinctively.</p><p dir="ltr">Sarah O’Connell <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/sarah-oconnell/bbc-has-lost-touch">reported</a> in May 2016 that after working as a researcher in parliament where she witnessed with horror politicians’ expenses claims, including for £150 lunches, she informed BBC Newsdesk who replied: "this isn't a story, MPs have to eat". It was, she said, "exactly the kind of thing BBC news executives might be doing as well". Social background and inability to regard expensive tastes or habits may have affected journalistic judgement. O’Connell added: "not many national BBC news journalists see enough of life at the “bottom” of society to report on it properly or accurately".</p><p dir="ltr">A fourth reason for addressing social class is that securing its diversity promotes equality of opportunity. Even if social class is not currently recognised as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act there is increasing recognition that social class can be associated with social exclusion, disadvantage and discrimination. The European Convention on Human Rights protects against discrimination on the basis of ‘social origin’ or ‘property, birth or other status’. Though it remains to be tested whether this encompasses social class, a number of European countries prohibit discrimination on the basis of social standing.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A fifth reason, which perhaps tends not to feature much in debate, is that social class diversity in broadcasting is a democratic necessity. It is consistent with the democratic values of plurality of viewpoint and egalitarianism. Moreover, as Professor James Curran argues in his book Media and Democracy, a "democracy needs to be properly briefed to be effectively self-governing". Those who are able to see, investigate and report not only accurately and impartiality but also to the fullest extent possible what happens in society to sustain democracy.</p><h2>What measures?</h2><p dir="ltr">If it is accepted that something should be done about social class, it follows that measures will be needed to assess progress. Class difference in the UK is often a function of stubborn historical inequality, of tectonic power shaping fundamental social relations, and yet also sometimes operates imperceptibly. Metrics will go only so far in addressing class. Complex analysis needs to be given to how class relates to power within organisations and how it manifests sometimes subtly in interpersonal relations.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">Social class diversity in broadcasting is a democratic necessity.</p><p dir="ltr">Quantitative measures of class may need to be augmented with qualitative measures, including stories and focus groups. Singular focus on a protected characteristic may neglect intersectional disadvantage.</p><p dir="ltr">It also makes sense to have industry-wide metrics to enable organisational and regulatory comparisons. Design of the metrics would be best informed by sociologists experienced in social research, socio-legal scholars, socially-aware lawyers, experts in organisational studies, and, certainly, those members of the industry who can reasonably be seen to speak from different and diverse socio-economic backgrounds.</p><p dir="ltr">Social class or socio-economic background is increasingly being seen as a&nbsp;category that should be embraced in diversity initiatives. There are good reasons to do so, not least in broadcasting – and especially in the BBC. Yet, the overwhelming impression is that middle-class insiders talk about or moderate working-class voices. There are few challenging working-class voices. Independent, law-backed intervention probably represents one of the most productive ways forward to tackle the stubborn effects of class disadvantage. A complex analysis of class as suggested above will likely inform successful initiatives.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openDemocracy will be at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the impact of populism on our media, political parties and democracy (see the <a href="https://www.coe.int/en/web/world-forum-democracy/programme-2017">programme</a> for more details).</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc">Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 1)</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc">Re-shaping Britain must include the BBC</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-2">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 2)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk World Forum for Democracy 2017 Dermot Feenan Tue, 17 Oct 2017 16:05:15 +0000 Dermot Feenan 114073 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 2) https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-2 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If Ofcom ignores the Secretary of State and the evidence it has been sent, then the diversity debate may need to shift from the political arena to the courts. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-9553302.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-9553302.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Members of the legal profession make their way from Westminster Abbey to the Palaces of Westminster for the Judges' Procession. Lewis Whyte/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></a></p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1">Part 1 ended</a> with Ofcom proposing a “Wait and see” approach to the regulation of off-screen diversity employment for the BBC and its suppliers; politicians including Digital Minister, Matt Hancock, Lady Bonham Carter (LibDem Shadow Minister), Helen Grant MP (Conservative), and David Lammy MP (Labour) united in the view that Ofcom should introduce rules and regulations to address off-screen diversity; and Ofcom demonstrating a less fastidious approach to information and a febrile atmosphere. </p> <p>Whatever next?</p> <h2><strong>Ofcom excludes </strong><strong>Article 14 Diversity</strong></h2> <p>We have seen some of what Ofcom said at its diversity stakeholders meeting. What Ofcom didn’t tell the meeting, and no one had spotted, was that Ofcom had specifically excluded Article 14 Diversity from its Consultation on the Draft BBC Operating Framework. Ofcom had hidden this exclusion away in footnote 66 to paragraph 4.123 in the consultation document.</p> <p>Article 14 is a key clause about <span>off-screen</span> diversity. This Article was given greatest prominence in the DCMS Information Sheet on diversity which leads with a section on “The government’s policy.” Its first words: </p> <blockquote><p>“Over the next Charter period, the government wants the BBC to be the leading broadcaster in addressing diversity issues on and <span>off-screen</span>..”</p></blockquote> <p>Charter Article 14 Diversity says this:<span></span></p> <p class="Default">(1) The BBC must ensure it reflects the diverse communities of the whole of the United Kingdom in the content of its output, the means by which its output and services are delivered (including where its activities are carried out and by whom) and in the organisation and management of the BBC. </p> <p>This is emphasised and repeated again in the Article</p> <p class="Default">(4) In complying with this article, the BBC must have particular regard to the need to reflect underrepresented communities. </p> <p>- “the means” must mean all suppliers of programmes within and outside the BBC including independent producers </p><p>- the “by whom” must include those with a diversity of protected characteristics</p> <p>Article 14 means that BAME people must no longer be under-represented in the suppliers of content and services or in the organisation and management of the BBC.</p> <p>The word on the street had Ofcom saying Article 14 was just a matter for the BBC.</p> <p>Advice was needed. The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality (CBE) turned to Goodman Derrick. Goodman Derrick had been the Granada Television lawyers when it produced the legendary investigative series World In Action. Goodman Derrick’s robust and reliable advice had enabled Granada to stand firm behind the many investigations exposing corruption by guilty men and well resourced companies. One of its partners is Stephen Hornsby, an expert on regulatory matters. Hornsby has written about Ofcom, taken it on and won. </p> <p>Hornsby’s analysis was clear: </p><blockquote><p>“Article 45 of the Charter provides that in carrying out its functions under the Framework Agreement, Ofcom must have regard to the BBC’s duties under Article 14.&nbsp; Section 5.4 of the Agreement with the BBC goes further and requires the Operating Framework to set out how compliance with General Duties (such as Article 14) can be enforced. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>It is very surprising, to say the least, that Ofcom says that Article 14 is a “matter for the BBC” when Schedule 3 paragraph 12 of the Agreement with the BBC gives effect to Article 14 and makes employment diversity a “specific requirement” that Ofcom has the power and duty to enforce. “</p></blockquote> <p>Hornsby’s detailed exposition of the law concluded: “It follows that any idea that diversity is essentially a “matter for the BBC” is very wide of the mark.&nbsp; It does not reflect the seriousness with which diversity in employment is treated both within the Charter, Article 14 and, in particular, in the Schedule 3 paragraph 12 and the published enforcement procedures which make the general duty in Article 14 a “specific requirement”. “&nbsp; </p><p>The legal advice said Ofcom was wrong. It also pointed to legal action that could be taken if the BBC were to breach the employment diversity part of Article 14.</p> <h2><strong>Karen Bradley, DCMS Secretary of State</strong></h2> <p>CBE has been no fan of Karen Bradley. It was an active and aggressive critic when Bradley blocked the appointment of Althea Efunshile to the board of C4. Now Karen Bradley has become an unlikely hero of the revolution.</p> <p class="Default">On 25 July, one week after the Lenny Henry event in Parliament, Karen Bradley wrote to Ofcom and said, “The government’s position is clear that the BBC should be leading the way on both on and off-screen diversity in equal measure.” Bradley also told Ofcom, “I expect both the BBC Board and Ofcom as the regulator to hold them to account for delivering in this important area.”</p> <p class="Default">Ofcom published <a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/105340/Secretary-of-State-Rt-Hon-Karen-Bradley-MP.pdf">the Secretary of State’s letter</a> together <a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/105338/Reply-to-Secretary-of-State-from-Dame-Patricia-Hodgson.pdf">with replies</a> from Ofcom’s CEO, Sharon White, and its Chair, Dame Patricia Hodgson.</p> <p>In a distinguished career, Dame Patricia has served as Principal of a Cambridge college, CEO of the Independent Television Commission, on the BBC Trust, and earlier, as the BBC’s Director of Policy, was the BBC’s gladiator in the Charter and Licence negotiations on1995 and 2000. Her reply to the Secretary of State was rather frosty, saying the Charter was now “sealed”. </p> <p>The correspondence between Bradley and Hodgson came under the spotlight when the Guardian <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/aug/17/labour-accuses-culture-secretary-over-bbc-and-ofcom-interference">published</a> “Labour accuses culture secretary over BBC and Ofcom 'interference'”.</p> <p>As well as addressing off-screen diversity, Bradley had also been seeking&nbsp;safeguards to protect&nbsp;news &amp; current affairs, arts &amp; music,&nbsp;new &amp; emerging UK artists, and social action programmes.&nbsp;Tom Watson, Bradley’s Labour Shadow, was quoted saying “For a secretary of state to try to influence Ofcom in such a heavy-handed way is a serious mistake. I hope Karen Bradley will realise, on reflection, that she should let&nbsp;Ofcom get on with its job and get on with her own.”</p> <p>It seemed to me the world was going topsy-turvy. In 1989-90, I was Director of the Campaign for Quality Television, seeking to persuade a Conservative government to include just such safeguards in the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Now, a week after the Lenny Henry meeting where politicians of all parties had wanted Karen Bradley to write to Ofcom about off-screen diversity, Bradley had done so, and now she was being attacked by the Labour Culture spokesman for doing so.</p> <h2><strong>Strong ground</strong></h2> <p>Was Dame Patricia right to be so frosty, was Watson on strong ground attacking Bradley, was Karen Bradley’s letter to Ofcom inappropriate because it infringed Ofcom’s independence? </p><p>Back to Goodman Derrick. CBE was advised, “Though the Charter is “sealed”, this is immaterial from a legal perspective as both the Charter and the more detailed Agreement of December 2016 between the DCMS and the BBC (“The Agreement”) provides for a continuing role for the DCMS and other government departments in areas covered by the Agreement.”&nbsp; </p> <p>Stephen Hornsby explained that provisions in the Communications Act 2003 Section 9 meant Ofcom is subject to statutory oversight “designed to prevent “regulatory capture” of the sectoral regulator; any suggestion that it has carte blanche as BBC regulator would be misconceived.” <span class="mag-quote-center">Was Dame Patricia right to be so frosty, was Watson on strong ground attacking Bradley, was Karen Bradley’s letter to Ofcom inappropriate because it infringed Ofcom’s independence?</span></p> <p>The legal advice concluded: “the impression given in the Hodgson letter of total Ofcom autonomy is contradicted on the specific issue of diversity. In the Appendix to the Agreement in Schedule 3, paragraph 12, sub-section 3, the Secretary of State may make a “direction” to the BBC to amend paragraphs dealing with equality of opportunity and require the BBC to make further arrangements for the guaranteeing of diversity. The power to issue a “direction” could arise if there is some defect in how the regulatory arrangements are working. In responding to the consultation on the draft operating framework as she did in her letter of July 25, the Secretary of State was simply flagging the existence of this particular General Duty under the Charter which Ofcom has a duty to enforce amongst many others in Sections 9-18 of the Charter. The Charter is an agreement in many respects and so is the Agreement; the BBC can be sued in the normal way as it owes duties to those affected by the exercise of these. </p> <p>The notion therefore that it was somehow illegitimate for the DCMS to write to Ofcom in the terms that it did is unjustified. DCMS had the right to do so under the Charter and the Agreement. DCMS was not interfering in Ofcom’s independence: it was merely exercising its legal rights.” </p> <h2><strong>Whatever next?</strong></h2> <p>As economists know, only the future is difficult to predict. If Ofcom ignores the Secretary of State and the evidence it has been sent from a range of organisations about the need for regulatory requirements and performance measures for BBC off-screen diversity of employment, then the diversity debate may need to shift from the political arena to the courts. If a judicial review were to be necessary it could cost £100,000. A lot of money, but with generous philanthropists committed to diversity, it might not be an impossible sum to raise. </p> <p>By chance, I met the Digital Minister, Matt Hancock, at a Natural History Museum event after he’d had his meeting with Sharon White. He said Sharon White had told him she had an open mind on diversity. Ofcom announcements are expected this month. Fingers crossed.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 1)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc">Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb Simon Albury Wed, 06 Sep 2017 06:42:03 +0000 Simon Albury 113187 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 1) https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-1 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If Ofcom is to gain the confidence of BAME people in broadcasting, it needs to climb down from its ivory tower and listen to what they have to say.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Matt Hancock speaking to camera 3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Matt Hancock speaking to camera 3.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Screenshot from Hancock video: Digital Minister Matt Hancock joins Lenny Henry and guests to discuss diversity in broadcasting.</span></span></span>For broadcasting diversity in the UK, it has been a hot and topsy-turvy summer. The big issue has been Ofcom’s failure to introduce regulatory requirements and performance measures for off-screen employment diversity for the BBC and its suppliers. Ofcom’s meeting for diversity stakeholders on 13 July is the place to start. </p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>Who are the diversity stakeholders?</strong></h2> <p>Ofcom has had a statutory duty to promote equal opportunities since December 2003. It has been so neglectful of its equality duties over the past thirteen years that when it came to sending out invitations to diversity stakeholders, Ofcom didn’t appear to know who many of the key players were. If it did, it didn’t want to hear from them. </p> <p>The aggressively noisy Campaign for Broadcasting Equality (CBE) wasn’t missed out but organisations like Act for Change and DirectorsUK were – so was the TV Collective until CBE suggested that Simone Pennant, who had given evidence, by invitation, to the Lords on broadcasting diversity, should be sent an invitation too.&nbsp; </p> <p>Ofcom should have remembered the TV Collective. In May 2016, CBE and the TV Collective had sent an invitation to the Ofcom CEO, Sharon White. It was to speak “at an event about Ofcom and Diversity, with a mutually agreed format, at a time convenient to you.” We explained: </p> <blockquote><p>“As you will understand, diversity goes beyond protected characteristics and should also include social inclusion. The Ofcom CEO has usually spoken to restricted elite gatherings or at high price events which have been socially exclusive. We would like to produce an event, in Central London, which would cost no more than £10 a head. This would put it within reach of a wide range of BAME people and others with an interest in the issue.” </p></blockquote> <p>The invitation, which still stands, fell on deaf ears. Little wonder that when Ofcom held its stakeholder meeting, it had no sense of the importance and urgency which BAME people working in television attach to effective regulation. Sharon White, like her predecessors, favours events with carefully filtered guests or steeper price barriers.</p> <p>Next week, the Ofcom CEO will be making her third annual visit to speak to the Royal Television Society, this time at the biennial Cambridge Convention - delegate fee £2,220.</p> <p>Ofcom has been an ivory tower regulator with no appetite for engaging with the BAME people, other than through the cold distance of opinion polls and surveys and highly selective closed meetings. How any member of the public gets to hear about Ofcom’s annual public meetings also remains a mystery. Ofcom is an elitist organisation, most comfortable mixing with well-heeled employers. </p> <p>If Ofcom is to gain the confidence of BAME people in broadcasting, it needs to climb down from its ivory tower and listen to what they have to say. When there was a meeting in Parliament where BAME people spoke out, as we shall see, Ofcom lied about it.</p> <h2><strong>Ofcom stacks the deck</strong></h2> <p>When Ofcom sent out the agenda for its diversity stakeholder meeting, it attempted to stack the deck against discussion of off-screen employment diversity. The only clause to which Ofcom referred was Article 6 (4) “Public Purpose” which deals with on-screen representation. That Article was set out in full. </p> <p>Ignored completely were Article 14 Diversity, the only Article in the BBC Charter that has the word “Diversity” attached to it, and Schedule 3 Clause 12 Equal Opportunities. Both of these require off-screen diversity of employment – and as we shall see when we come to “lawyers” (In Part 2), they are crucial.</p> <p>The Ofcom diversity meeting was held under “Chatham House” rules. These rules do enable a more open discussion because they limit what can be reported. I was there. Under the rules, I can tell you this.</p> <h2><strong>Wait and see regulation</strong></h2> <p>When it came to off-screen employment diversity, Ofcom told the meeting it wanted to wait and see how the BBC responds to the new statutory responsibilities on diversity and to monitor the BBC’s progress towards meeting its own goals.</p> <p>The BBC’s “own goals” are to be found in the BBC Annual Plan for 2017/18. Critics pointed out that the section on diversity was strong on assertions for which no source or evidence had been provided. Ofcom offered to circulate, later in the day, the relevant sources and evidence from the BBC, on which some of the assertions were based. Eight weeks later, that information has not been distributed. It was clear that the BBC Annual Plan for 2017/18 for diversity is manifestly based on unreliable assertions. The basis for Ofcom’s approach is fatally flawed.</p> <h2><strong>"What more do you need to know?"</strong></h2> <p>Analysing BBC data, Marcus Ryder, who’d arrived from Beijing earlier that morning, demonstrated that the BBC had failed to come anywhere close to its BAME employment targets in production. Ofcom pleaded that it needed to know more and that it would be looking for more information.</p> <p>Ofcom explained it was a very information and fact-based organisation, and it wanted to know the reality of what’s happening and the evidence, before it could know what the BBC is committing to, and before knowing what Ofcom needed to do. </p> <p>People with an interest in BAME employment couldn’t believe their ears.&nbsp; They asked “What more do you need to know?” and “Why aren’t you setting targets for the BBC on UK BAME employment on programmes made for the UK?”</p> <p>Ofcom pleaded it had only been the BBC’s regulator since the 3 April 2017. But, when the BBC White Paper was published on 16 May 2016, it was clear that Ofcom would become its regulator and that diversity on-screen and off would become much more important. If Ofcom had paid attention to Parliament, it would have understood that these provisions were unlikely to be changed. It seems almost a year has been allowed to slip by before Ofcom, which prides itself on being an evidence-based regulator, had done even basic desk research on the evidence of patterns of BAME employment in the BBC.</p> <p>Ofcom offered that were it to find that the BBC was failing to meet the BBC’s own BAME employment targets, then Ofcom might initiate a ‘deep dive’ on diversity and it might address the issue in the second or third iteration of the Operating Licence, in two or three years’ time. </p> <p>In two or three years time! It is hardly surprising that those who have paid closer attention to the issue of BAME representation in broadcasting left the Ofcom meeting angry at Ofcom’s lack of knowledge and lack of urgency. </p> <h2><strong>Sir Lenny Henry in Parliament</strong></h2> <p>Well briefed about the Ofcom meeting, five days later, Sir Lenny Henry spoke in Parliament at a free event organized by Act for Change, Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and the TV Collective. It had sold out within four hours of details being posted on Twitter by the organisers. </p> <p>The most comprehensive report of the meeting is “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc">Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC</a>” by former Times and Financial Times media editor in openDemocracy. </p> <p>Sir Lenny criticised Ofcom for ignoring off-screen diversity and said “while the BBC’s official figures say 14.5% are BAME, the number of BAME people responsible for making the programmes we watch is probably closer to 1.5%. The number of BAME people behind the scenes in our industry is at crisis level and we need&nbsp;Ofcom to do something about it.”</p> <p>The event also heard from Digital Minister, Matt Hancock, with responsibility for broadcasting, and a panel including Lady Bonham Carter (LibDem Shadow Minister), Helen Grant MP (Conservative), and David Lammy MP (Labour). All were united in the view that Ofcom should introduce rules and regulations to address off-screen diversity and the panellists agreed to raise this with the DCMS Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, the minister with ultimate authority. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lenny Henry at podium.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Lenny Henry at podium.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lenny Henry at the podium.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Truth and lies</strong></h2> <p>Matt Hancock, the Minister, heard most of the discussion before apologizing for having to leave, saying he had to go to his next meeting – with Ofcom CEO, Sharon White. Hancock promised to take the passion of the meeting to her and noted that select committees had the power to call anyone they wanted to hear from – with the implication that a select committee might want to hear from Sharon White about Ofcom’s approach to diversity. </p> <p>Before he left the building, the Minister <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flo-I8tFU2g">recorded a video</a> stressing the importance of off-screen diversity which DCMS distributed via Twitter and You Tube.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Matt Hancock at podium_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Matt Hancock at podium_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>But Matt Hancock was not alone in taking to Twitter to talk about the meeting. Ofcom’s Director of Communications, Chris Wynn, also used Twitter to complain, falsely, that Ofcom had only been invited to the meeting two days before. The truth was that Ofcom’s Director of Content Policy, Jacquie Hughes, had been invited more than two weeks earlier, even before the event had been promoted on Twitter – a unique privilege. </p><p>There are many matters on which Ofcom’s past performance can be found wanting but it was always fastidious about the information it provided. Ofcom now appears to take a less disciplined approach to fact checking and a more aggressive approach to spin. In an apology, Ofcom’s Director of Communications explained it had all been done in good faith and that the Tweet has been removed. It is difficult to fathom why Ofcom’s Director of Communications should be rushing to spread such trivial disinformation, but it does point to a febrile atmosphere in Ofcom when it comes to diversity. In Part 2 we shall see why.</p> <p><strong>(In Part 2 tomorrow; Ofcom specifically excludes Article 14 Diversity from its consultation, Ofcom gets frosty with Karen Bradley and the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality hires lawyers)</strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc">Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/ofcom-and-diversity-lies-lawyers-and-whatever-next-part-2">Ofcom and Diversity: lies, lawyers and whatever next? (Part 2)</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb UK Simon Albury Tue, 05 Sep 2017 11:07:37 +0000 Simon Albury 113183 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The state of Channel 4 https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-elstein/state-of-channel-4 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It should be much easier for Channel 4, unburdened by the in-house inertia of other broadcasters, to address the “nations and regions deficit” that disfigures the broadcasting sector. Is it time to relocate?<strong><em></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/f509a6a8-1557-4777-8090-1217af354655.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/f509a6a8-1557-4777-8090-1217af354655.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Still from Kosminsky's 'The State' on Channel 4. Photograph: Channel 4.</span></span></span>Channel 4’s Chief Executive, David Abraham, and Chief Creative Officer, Jay Hunt, are leaving on a high note. The channel’s four-part drama series, 'The State', written and directed by Peter Kosminsky, was bold and provocative, a clear-eyed depiction of the fate of four British volunteers who travel to Syria to join ISIS.</p><p dir="ltr">Kosminsky has many outstanding drama credits to his name, including “The Promise”, another four-part Channel 4 series on the founding of the state of Israel; but his tightly-managed and unflinching depiction of disastrously misdirected idealism and utter disillusionment is his most accomplished to date. This was drama at the same level as HBO’s remarkable 'The Night Of...': and it is hard to see any British broadcaster other than Channel 4 devoting four successive nights of its peak-time schedule to such a risky project.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet the state of Channel 4 itself remains unresolved. It successfully fought off the proposal from the majority Conservative government to privatise the channel: a concept always unlikely to attract support from non-Tory MPs, yet with the potential to alienate some Conservatives who felt that their most praiseworthy creation in the media arena should not be so radically changed. However, the “back-up” proposal – that Channel 4 re-locate so as to re-balance the skewed geographic distribution of our TV production sector – remains on the table, with a DCMS consultation complete, but no conclusions published. &nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">The proposal that Channel 4 re-locate so as to re-balance the skewed geographic distribution of our TV production sector remains on the table...</p><p dir="ltr">In the meantime, Channel 4 has published its 2016 annual report, replete with many positive achievements: record revenues, record programme spend, solid creative outcomes, comfortably meeting the few remaining Ofcom licence requirements and the usual array of industry awards. What’s not to like?</p><p dir="ltr">Part of the problem is the formulaic presentation of data, especially where previous years are tabulated for comparison. So, Channel 4’s flagging commitment to education delivered just nine hours of programmes at a cost of £2 million, down even on 2015’s paltry sixteen hours and £5 millions.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, despite the evident absurdity of the claim, Channel 4 continues to boast (admittedly on page 168 of a 176-page report) of showing 2,795 hours of programming that was “educative in nature”, over and above the 917 hours of news, current affairs, documentaries and 374 hours of “other factual” content. That represents 7.65 hours a day of such “educative” content, at an annual reported cost of £102 million. Channel 4 makes no attempt to list any of this supposed content, no doubt to avoid ridicule. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Also on the presentational front, a casual reader of the report might be impressed by the stated expenditure of £92 million on “film”, thinking it might relate to Channel 4’s well-publicised investments in feature films. In fact, in the course of 2016, just three films commissioned by Channel 4 were broadcast, representing just seven hours of transmission. Most of the “film” budget was spent on acquired movies.</p><p dir="ltr">Another potentially misleading claim is that “network originations accounted for 70% of total viewing of the main channel, E4 and More 4”. To arrive at this figure, Channel 4 is clearly treating all the repeats of commissioned programmes on the main channel (30% of the total schedule) as “origination”, whilst playing down the fact that 35% of the main channel’s transmission hours – and over 90% of E4’s – are acquisitions. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">These are presentation issues. More important are trend lines. We can see a continuing decline in the number of independent producers commissioned by Channel 4, down from 207 to 160 in one year for the main channel. In 2015, £264 million was spent with “real” independents (as opposed to those owned by large media corporations, many of them American). In 2016, the figure was £232 million, with commissions for “non-independent independents” up from £144 million to £214 million.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4 continues to muddy the picture by referring to “independent suppliers”: a definition that includes organisations making online material, and “film companies” with which the channel works. Notably, the average level of commissions for “real” independents was less than £1.5 million a year; for the large production companies owned by media conglomerates, the figure was £7 million. The process of consolidation in the independent sector is by no means over, with the likes of ITV, Liberty Global (owners of Virgin Media) and Sky actively pursuing new acquisitions. Channel 4 has a small fund which allows it to buy small stakes in small producers; but the days when Channel 4 was the backbone of a genuinely independent production sector are long gone.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">The days when Channel 4 was the backbone of a genuinely independent production sector are long gone.</p><p dir="ltr">The commitment to innovation is also under challenge. BBC2 broadcast far more new and one-off programmes (244) than Channel 4 (175) in 2016 – the Channel 4 figure is down from 210 in 2015. Channel 4 argues that this outcome is a result of the rise in the number of returning series, which reflects the success of its commissioning strategy. It is hard not to see this as a bit like an each-way bet – if series are renewed, Channel 4 is good at commissioning, but if failed series have to be replaced, Channel 4 is good at innovation.</p><p dir="ltr">What about the re-location issue? Channel 4 produced a detailed paper on this earlier in the summer, arguing that a move outside London would inflict substantial risk on its business, in the shape of disruption and the potential loss of key staff, whereas the supposed benefit – more commissioning from the nations and regions – was more readily achieved by a steadily rising Ofcom quota than by moving staff around the country. The annual report therefore barely touches on the subject. However, it does contain a good deal of information that seems to undermine management’s resistance to re-location.</p><p dir="ltr">One way of looking at the issue is to imagine that Channel 4 had been originally set up in, say, Birmingham or Manchester, and that its management was now campaigning for a move to London, on the basis that most of its suppliers, customers and potential employees were located in the capital (and its senior management preferred to live there).</p><p dir="ltr">One need look no further than page 28 of the February 2015 report on the future of the BBC from the House of Commons CMS Committee to see how Parliament might react to such a proposal. It contains a table compiled by the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands, demonstrating that the BBC spent 2.7% of its 2013 television production budget in the Midlands, where 25.73% of the UK’s population lives.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4, of course, produces no programmes itself: it is a “commissioner broadcaster”, and can decide for itself which production companies to spend its budget with. Yet its roots in the 1980s, when the nascent independent sector was just emerging, and when Channel 4 decided to base itself in London, have decisively tilted its spending in the direction of London and the South East.</p><p dir="ltr">Even in 2016, after decades of committing itself to amending its southern bias, it commissioned programmes from just 37 independent companies outside London area, compared with 123 in the M25 catchment area. Just three were in the Midlands and East of England – an even lower figure than the dismal four in Northern Ireland. 60% of all spending on first-run original programming was with London-based companies. Just 6% of hours commissioned were produced in the Midlands – and that was an upward blip accounted for by the fact that the production base for the excellent Rio Paralympics coverage was, for some reason, in Birmingham: the previous year’s level was 1%.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">There is no doubt that some of Channel 4’s commissioning pattern is quixotic.</p><p dir="ltr">There is no doubt that some of Channel 4’s commissioning pattern is quixotic: for instance, “Inside Birmingham Children’s Hospital” was produced by a Welsh company, helping boost Channel 4’s reported spend in the nations (a disappointing 8% of its budget, where Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland constitute 18% of the UK’s population). Even that 8% would be lower but for the artificial re-location of the quiz show “Fifteen To One” to Glasgow.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, if the Conservative government that created Channel 4 in 1980, to such bold and widely acclaimed effect, had foreseen how its next Broadcasting Act, in 1990, would devastate the regional ITV production centres, it might have had the foresight to insist on a non-London base for Channel 4 in the 1980 legislation.</p><p dir="ltr">In the 1970s and 1980s, when ITV was at its creative peak, nearly 50% of its programming each year originated from Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Southampton, Norwich, Cardiff and Glasgow. Central TV, Granada TV and Yorkshire TV alone contributed 35%, across the range of drama, documentary, current affairs, comedy, children’s, schools, sport and entertainment. Each maintained a substantial in-house production capacity, and built relationships with independent producers close to their respective bases. London provided little more than 25% of the ITV network schedule.</p><p dir="ltr">How long that balanced creative economy might have survived without the devastating impact of the 1990 Act is impossible to judge: the many pressures of expanding competition might anyway have denuded the regions and nations of their strong position within ITV. All we do know is that the 1991 licence auction, combined with the government-led process of consolidation, wiped out a commissioning system designed to ensure that a wide range of high quality content in the ITV schedule was distinctively derived from the nations and regions, not just in its sourcing but in its flavour. “Inspector Morse” was as unmistakeably a Central TV production as “Taggart” was an STV one.</p><p dir="ltr">The hugely laborious – and initially costly – transfers of BBC TV production away from London have achieved useful reductions in the “nations and regions deficit” that disfigures the broadcasting sector. Yet it should be much easier for Channel 4, unburdened by in-house inertia, to address that deficit. Its modest progress in doing so – a rise in hours commissioned in Northern Ireland from a shameful seven to a merely embarrassing thirteen is acclaimed by one analyst as a “near doubling” – has simply been too little and far too late. Something much more dramatic is required: something symbolic as well as practical, something that makes a decisive statement about a change of direction.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">Something much more dramatic is required: something symbolic as well as practical, something that makes a decisive statement about a change of direction.</p><p dir="ltr">In the absence of a better alternative, re-location seems the right answer. It is also obvious that the largely ineffective regulator, Ofcom, cannot achieve this outcome: only direct Parliamentary intervention can deliver the needed result. But before Parliament can act, the “fear factors” propagated by the opponents of re-location need to be seen for what they are.</p><p dir="ltr">The first – and most cogent – objection raised is commercial: the great majority of airtime selling in the television industry is conducted in London, where all the major advertising agencies (and many of their clients) are based. Indeed, as the Channel 4 sales force serves not just its own channels but those of external clients like UKTV and BT, it should not be disadvantaged by artificial re-location (though it is worth noting that Channel 4 is rather pleased with the results from its Manchester airtime sales outpost).</p><p dir="ltr">The obvious answer is to leave the main sales team in London. There is no particular reason for programming and airtime sales teams to be co-located. I spent six years as Director of Programmes for ITV’s largest franchise, Thames TV. The sales director and his staff occupied a separate building, which I never visited, and we almost never discussed content. Sky has as large an airtime sales business as Channel 4: it is based in Victoria, the best part of an hour’s travel away from the Sky creative teams in Osterley.</p><p dir="ltr">A sales department can occasionally advise a programming department as to whether a particular film package is worth the asking price: sales teams are experienced at estimating the commercial value of a known product – the Channel 4 sales executives would certainly have been asked whether, and at what level, to bid for “The Great British Bake Off”; but that does not require proximity.</p><p dir="ltr">As far as new commissions are concerned, it would anyway very rarely make sense for programming to consult advertising: the judgements involved are primarily creative, including how a putative commission will fit in the schedule, and deliver on Channel 4’s public purposes, rather than how much money it might make.</p><p dir="ltr">Any consultation that might be needed can easily be conducted by phone, email or Skype. There might even be an advantage for the sales team to be physically separate from the Channel 4 creative team, in terms of its representing third party broadcasters.</p><p dir="ltr">The second risk that is usually mentioned is the potential loss of key creative people, for whom a 100-mile (or 200-mile) shift of workplace might cause personal or family inconvenience. That Channel 4 is about to lose its two most important executives (Chief Executive and Chief Creative Officer) in a matter of months, without any red flags being raised by the board in the annual report, suggests this factor has been over-stated.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, according to the annual report, in 2016 Channel 4 lost nearly 25% of its staff, and recruited 189 replacements, with no indication that the business was being put at risk as a result. In 2014, the figure for new hires was 168, or 20% of the workforce. No figures were published for 2015, but the number of new employees was 152, so at least 60% of Channel 4’s staff has been replaced in the last three years. Such a massive turnover does not seem to merit a mention in the annual accounts, other than that “Channel 4 has a culture which encourages our people to fulfil their potential”. It would seem that, for the majority of its employees, such potential lies outside Channel 4.</p><p dir="ltr">Arguably, renewal of the creative team is actually desirable at regular intervals: Jeremy Isaacs, when he launched Channel 4, recommended that no commissioning editor stay more than five years. When I ran Channel 5, three of my top seven executives left – two of them recruited by Channel 4 – but their replacements were at least as good, if not better.</p><p dir="ltr">Any Chief Creative Officer at Channel 4 (assuming Jay Hunt is directly replaced) will constantly be on the look-out for potential commissioning staff, not least because of the continuous movement of people within the industry, keen to find new creative challenges (or earn more money). Like a Premier League manager, the CCO is always contemplating ways of re-shaping his or her team, to keep it fresh and motivated. The assumption that such people can only be found in London – and are only willing to work in London – is a crude piece of reductionism.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">The assumption that creative people can only be found in London – and are only willing to work in London – is a crude piece of reductionism.</p><p dir="ltr">If we look at the practicality of a re-location, there is bound to be some level of drop-out amongst the current staff of Channel 4, but given the planning time involved – probably two years or more – there need be no anxiety on this front. This is partly because at least a third of employees would remain in London: there are 230 in the commercial team, and a proportion of the 282 in operations, as well as the 35 working on rights exploitation, could be housed at the London base without affecting the Channel’s creative output. It is the core of the 250 in the creative team who can be expected to make the biggest difference in a new location.</p><p dir="ltr">This is not at heart an economic argument about a direct GDP effect. Moving a few hundred people – and their spending power – to a regional base will have minimal impact on the local economy. However, like an anchor tenant in a shopping mall, a highly prestigious new resident in a city even the size of Birmingham or Leeds can have a dynamic effect.</p><p dir="ltr">More importantly, the magnetic draw that the presence of the Channel 4 team would generate can be expected to revive and expand the latent creative talents in the region, instead of condemning them to travel to (or move to) London to pursue their careers.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4 launched with a modest commitment to finding a “significant” contribution from independent producers. Almost no-one expected the transformative effect of that ambition. There were few independents in the UK, of which even fewer were successful, and those looking to set up new businesses were widely dismissed as simply making “lifestyle” choices. Yet within a decade, the independent sector was booming, and the entire production sector was transformed. In its early days, Channel 4 was commissioning programmes from hundreds of independent producers.</p><p dir="ltr">Now, with Channel 4 able to find just 160 programme suppliers in 2016 who met the legal definition of independent, it would seem that this particular wave of innovation has passed its peak. It cannot be a core objective for Channel 4 to operate a commissioning process that primarily enriches Warner, News Corp, Sony, Discovery, Liberty Global and the other conglomerates. We need another creative renewal, and Channel 4 – designed to make a difference – is the only commissioning organisation capable of leading that renewal.</p><p dir="ltr">One analyst has claimed that the cost of moving Channel 4’s base from London could be as high as £35 million. It is hard to see how this could possibly be the case, especially if between one-third and two-thirds of the current workforce were not required to re-locate. Of those who were so required, a significant proportion could be expected to leave of their own accord within the expected two-year timescale of the actual shift.</p><p dir="ltr">Many more could simply be given notice under their contracts (no Channel 4 employee has a notice period longer than a year, “to avoid rewarding poor performance”, as the annual report puts it), and allowed to work out their notice. The cost of recruiting replacements is a normal business cost: over 10,000 people applied to Channel 4 for jobs last year (50 for every vacancy), so there should be no difficulty, or special expenditure, in finding new staff.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">In its early days, Channel 4 was commissioning programmes from hundreds of independent producers.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, if the new base were Birmingham, providing season tickets from Euston to New Street would cost about £6,000 a year (and probably a package deal at a lower unit price could be negotiated with Virgin Trains). So the maximum cost would be about £1m a year – what Channel 4 spent on “restructuring” in 2016, a quarter of what it spent on the annual wage increase, and much less than it is having to spend every year on eliminating the pension fund deficit that an over-generous pension scheme – now closed – has inflicted on the channel’s economics.</p><p dir="ltr">Nor should we forget that Channel is sitting on a property worth £97 million, cash and near-cash of £215 million and a balance sheet showing net assets of £335 million (after providing for £52 million to cover the pension fund deficit).</p><p dir="ltr">It is not surprising that the annual report’s financial section, in listing six risks to the business, places possible re-location last of the six (the others are: continuing to find compelling content, remaining relevant in technology terms, the loss of a major advertising agency’s business, security threats and engaging talent). The notion floated by one analyst that Channel 4 might require “compensation” for being “forced” to move – in the shape of a major extension of its licence period – seems somewhat fanciful.</p><p dir="ltr">Obviously, there will be some one-off transition costs, as new premises are fitted out, both for the new base, and for the re-located airtime sales team and other staff that stay in London. Such costs might exceed £1m, but certainly not £2m. Meanwhile – although this is not what should drive the re-location decision – somewhere between £100m and £200m of publicly owned assets could be re-deployed more usefully than in keeping Channel 4 in physical and financial comfort, with the new impact of renting accommodation being absorbed within the overhead budget (Channel 4’s employment costs have inflated by 21% in just four years, a period of flat wages in the real economy).</p><p dir="ltr">It is hard to see why re-location might lead Channel 4 to modify its delivery of its remit (which is anyway very undemanding, being largely self-defined and self-monitored). If we simply look at Channel 4’s spending on news, current affairs, documentaries, arts, music, children’s, education and religion (the core public service genres), we are talking about £90m out of a channel budget of £553 million, or 16% (in 2000, £139m was spent on these genres out of a channel budget of £423m, or 33%).</p><p dir="ltr">There is a view that re-location could significantly distract Channel 4’s management and thereby disrupt its operations. My own experience of searching for new locations for hundreds of staff is that a small project team is created to run the process, reporting back to senior management and the board at regular intervals.</p><p dir="ltr">In launching Channel 5, not only was there the issue of finding offices for 225 people, and arranging (from scratch) transmission on terrestrial, satellite and cable platforms, but a massive (though actually wholly unnecessary) programme of retuning millions of video recorders, at a cost of £140 million, had to be completed before the channel could launch.</p><p dir="ltr">One of my executives was assigned the search for offices, whilst another was given the retuning project. Meanwhile, the creative, commercial and marketing teams got on with the job of building a schedule, publicising it and raising enough revenue to fund it, from a standing start. By comparison, re-locating some of Channel 4 seems a relatively straightforward task.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the question remains: is the game worth the candle? Is there enough potential benefit from a move to justify even the modest level of risk involved? In the end, that is a political decision. Channel 4 is reluctant to shift out of its comfort zone, even if that entails leaving the creative deficit so glaringly exhibited in the Commons report, and Channel 4’s own annual reports, only nibbled at, rather than strategically addressed.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">Is there enough potential benefit from a move to justify even the modest level of risk involved? In the end, that is a political decision.</p><p dir="ltr">That is where Parliament and government come in: injecting a key creative resource such as Channel 4 into the regions would be a major statement of intent, comparable to the speculative commitment to independent production in the 1980 legislation. It represents a very limited gamble with potentially a massive reward.</p><p dir="ltr">Unlike privatisation, re-location would have appeal across the party divide, and arouse very little opposition on the government benches. The Channel 4 board could calculate that a Parliament pre-occupied with Brexit would be reluctant to assign time to a re-location bill. But if it does take resistance to that level, it might alienate many of its natural supporters: that game, surely, is not worth the candle. Replacing the Channel 4 board might then come to be seen as a necessary, if regrettable, detail in any re-location legislation.</p><p dir="ltr">The Welsh government recently attracted some criticism (ironically, from Conservative Assembly Members) for loaning £4 million to an independent start-up, Bad Wolf Productions, headed by BBC veterans Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, which made a loss in excess of £1 million in its first year, not least as a result of the large salaries being paid to the principals. But one of the first fruits of Bad Wolf’s close relationship with HBO was “The Night Of...”, a transfer to New York of an original BBC show called “Criminal Justice”: the new version was easily the best drama shown on British television in 2016. More will come, greatly to the benefit of the Welsh creative – and broader – economy.</p><p dir="ltr">There is no “no-risk” option for decisively intervening in the re-balancing of our London-centric TV production sector. To rely on incremental steps would leave us with the painfully slow progress made by Channel 4, so visibly exposed in its annual reports. Perhaps inadvertently, the latest annual report helps make the case for re-location. It is time for the Channel 4 board to embrace the concept, and show as much courage in planning for the challenge of re-location as its departing executives have shown in commissioning and scheduling “The State”.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/channel-4-national-treasure">Channel 4: a national treasure?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/channel-4-case-for-privatisation">Channel 4: the case for privatisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/alex-connock/channel-4-is-critical-infrastructure-for-northern-powerhouse">Channel 4 is critical infrastructure for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/channel-4-joker-in-pack">Channel 4: the joker in the pack</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk David Elstein Thu, 31 Aug 2017 20:02:16 +0000 David Elstein 113124 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Milli Vanilli fake diversity at the BBC https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/raymond-snoddy/milli-vanilli-fake-diversity-at-bbc <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“When it comes to BAME, Ofcom must&nbsp;set a minimum standard that the BBC&nbsp;have&nbsp;to meet <em>behind</em> the camera.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/sharon.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/sharon.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sharon White, chief executive of the British media regulator Ofcom since March 2015.Ofcom.</span></span></span>The one thing there is no shortage of in the UK Parliament is political meetings, select committee hearings and protests, demonstrations, petitions, arguments, consultations. Select committee reports can have their moment in the media if the findings are controversial enough, but for the most part when the meeting is over, or the protestors have gone home, any impact rapidly fades.</p> <p>The meeting that assembled in the Boothroyd room in Portcullis House, under the gaze of the former Speaker’s bust and portrait, the day before the BBC published its top talent pay details, may however turn out to be different.</p> <p>By any standards the title was unprepossessing, almost understated, giving little hint in advance of the passion that was unleashed: “The Urgency of Representation in the Media.” It could have been the title of a learned contribution to an obscure academic journal. But there are several clear reasons why the arguments set out in just over an hour, under the chairmanship of Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, might have a lasting effect.</p> <p>The meeting had a star, a minister, the support of cross-party MP’s, a strongly perceived sense of injustice that went beyond mere unfairness, and a well-honed and imminently achievable target, although a planned legal component was missing. A distinguished QC had been unable to take part at the last minute because she was in court.</p> <h2><strong>Sir Lenny’s latest attack</strong></h2> <p>Three years ago, the star, comedian and broadcaster Sir Lenny Henry, attracted widespread headlines and attention when he attacked the lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) faces on screen and behind the microphone in the UK. By any standards his first campaign has been a considerable, if not total success, if the aim is to make Britain’s television screens more representative of the country’s population. But Sir Lenny clearly felt his work was only half done and went on manoeuvres again in the Boothroyd room to launch a new attack on what he designated “Fake Diversity.”</p> <p>For Sir Lenny diversity is a necessity not a luxury, progress does not represent victory, and despite the fact that all the UK’s broadcasters now have diversity policies in place, the hard-earned progress could still come to nothing.</p> <p>Sir Lenny got straight to the heart of the matter, and what would become the target and crux of the meeting when he pointed out that Ofcom says it will set the BBC targets for on-screen diversity, but will not set similar targets for diversity behind the camera.</p> <p>“They suggest that as long as we have a BAME person on the TV screen, giving the appearance of diversity, then it is absolutely OK; even if those who create and make the content remain un-diverse. This is ‘Fake Diversity,” Sir Lenny argued.</p> <p>“You can have gay leads, black supporting actors or Asian protagonists but who was the cinematographer, the editor, the director, the producer or the commissioner? ” the comedian asked.</p> <p>If “the pickers and deciders” remain the same, nothing has really changed.</p> <p>Sir Lenny, as many others would go on to do at the meeting, questioned BBC claims that 14.5 per cent of its workforce was BAME. A large number in the overall percentage work in finance and legal departments and includes World Service staff. Remove them and the total is 9 per cent: but even that excludes independent productions and no-one knows BAME numbers for them.</p> <p>Sir Lenny noted that Directors UK, the professional association of TV and film directors, found that 1.5 per cent of programmes are directed by people of colour, a figure that is also probably close to the number of BAME people making the BBC programmes we all watch.</p> <p>Ofcom has successfully set targets for regional diversity – the proportion of programmes that have to be made outside London.</p> <p>“When it comes to BAME, Ofcom must do the same: they <em>must </em></p> <p>set a minimum standard the BBC <em>have </em>to meet behind the camera. For God’s sake, all we’re asking, is to be given the same respect as Peppa Pig,” Sir Lenny Henry insisted.</p> <p>Tellingly Sir Lenny illustrated his point by showing pictures of the overwhelming whiteness of the winners of this year’s major television craft awards which honour off-screen talent that looked “like a White House staff meeting.”</p> <p>His remarks were well reported in The Guardian and Sir Lenny told Tom Bradby, the News at Ten anchor, in an interview, that measuring things leads to change. It was difficult to find coverage on the BBC or much in the national media, probably because of the gathering row over the huge disparities between male and female pay at the BBC. This was a fairness gap that also affected, to an even greater extent, the BBC’s BAME presenters and actors.</p> <p>The discomfort of the BBC, and the campaign by women to achieve pay parity, continues to dominate the headlines. But Sir Lenny’s “fake diversity,” – Milli Vanilli diversity he also called it &nbsp;– and the support he received, will continue to feed into an overarching narrative of the need for greater fairness in broadcasting across the board.</p> <h2><strong>Meeting Sharon White</strong></h2> <p>The Minister – Digital Minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock – said he had been delighted to launch Project Diamond, an attempt to provide detailed data on who is employed, both in front of, and behind, the camera.</p> <p>When it is published in September “maybe the data from Project Diamond will force others to act because there is so much to do.”</p> <p>For Hancock the vision should be of strong bonds that tie us together in a dynamic, diverse, creative society, finding the best in all of us and looking out confidently to the world.</p> <p>“So let’s join together in this mission. Let’s make this vision a reality and let’s work together to put it in place,” said Hancock before leaving early for a planned meeting with Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom.</p> <p>By contrast former Labour Culture minister David Lammy – in an eloquent testimony to the differential access afforded to ministers and ex-ministers – told how he had tried for the past 14 months, so far unsuccessfully, to meet Sharon White.</p> <p>Lammy held up a BBC Cultural Diversity Action Plan dated September 2000. That we have to push on the real figures 17 years on, he said “is deeply, deeply worrying.” &nbsp;</p> <p>The Labour MP was also worried that in the “complex diversity” of the current UK population many of his Kurdish or Somali constituents were increasingly turning to cable and satellite because they were not being satisfied by the offerings of the mainstream broadcasters.</p> <p>Baroness Bonham-Carter for the Lib-Dems, whose first career was in television, said she found the decisions taken on what used to be called the sixth floor of Television Centre, “ absolutely bonkers.”</p> <p>Ofcom said it did not think it “appropriate” to introduce targets for off-screen staff at this point.</p> <p>“I hate that term appropriate. I simple cannot understand it. I believe absolutely so passionately that it’s all about who is at the helm of TV companies,” Baroness Bonham-Carter explained.</p> <p>For Conservative MP Helen Grant the lack of diversity behind the camera which resulted in a skewing of productions and programmes, was also very bad for the BBC.</p> <p>“It’s a problem we haven’t come to terms with and we still haven’t got right. We have got to act and I would like to see Ofcom being brave and introducing the rules and the regulations. If they did that they would have a lot of support,” Helen Grant said.</p> <p>The diaspora of former Corporation BAME executives who now work elsewhere, was represented by Marcus Ryder, former head of current affairs at BBC Scotland, who now works for China Central Television in Beijing. Ryder, who flew from China to support Sir Lenny’s campaign, told how he had had to commission a series of documentaries on the Scottish referendum at short notice and how half of them had been made, and made well, by people of colour.</p> <p>“ I was short of time. They were the only people who were free and I knew they were always free,” said Ryder pointedly.</p> <p>He told of “another brilliant director” Jay Mukuro and how everyone said how great it was that Ryder had given him a chance, because he was excellent.</p> <p>“All those executives controlling millions of pounds and they couldn’t find a chance for him,” noted Ryder who added that Mukuro, who died prematurely, as a result of how he was treated had also died unfulfilled.</p> <p>“It’s atrocious that Ofcom is now waiting to see. Everyone here has to wait and see. I am bored with waiting. If everyone here was going to have brilliant careers at the BBC we would still be there. Something is wrong if they feel the best place for their careers is not within the BBC,” the &nbsp;CCTV executive argued.</p> <h2><strong>Legal interpretations</strong></h2> <p>Despite a wide range of views and, sometimes the atmosphere of an evangelical meeting, the chance of early progress on off- screen diversity probably turns on a single sentence in the BBC’s Royal Charter – and the legal interpretation of that sentence.</p> <p>In the Charter the BBC’s responsibility on diversity reads: “The BBC must ensure it reflects the diverse communities of the whole of the United Kingdom in the context of its output, the means by which the output and services are delivered (including where its activities are carried out and by whom) and in the organisation and management of the BBC.”</p> <p>Matt Hancock says the Government was determined to ensure that a broad diversity should be enshrined in the BBC Charter and that there was cross-party support for both on and off-screen diversity – just as the Government had been determined to ensure that the details of BBC salaries over £150,000 should be published.</p> <p>Perhaps in the end the more significant contribution on the central point at stake comes from the lawyer who was unable to attend the Boothroyd Room meeting.</p> <p>Karon Monaghan QC, a distinguished equality lawyer, is really in no doubt at all where Ofcom’s responsibilities now lie under the law.</p> <p>The communications regulator has general statutory obligations for equality of employment under the Communications Act 2003 – and responsibility for training and retraining, regulatory obligations now extended to the BBC.</p> <p>“There is no distinction made under the Act of employment between off-screen and on-screen and I am somewhat bemused as to why this distinction is even being drawn. In terms of Ofcom meeting its statutory obligation there is no distinction. I see no distinction because there is none,” Monaghan insists.</p> <p>On-screen visibility may be important for the BBC’s sense of legitimacy but that is not the legal issue at stake and anyway “we know it is important to have off-screen diversity because it is what prompts on-screen diversity.”</p> <p>The QC believes you change the nature of the workforce in any industry, not just broadcasting, and you change the nature of what is produced in a positive way.</p> <h2><strong>Who attends?<br /></strong></h2> <p>Only one senior broadcasting executive attended the meeting, although the event was only promoted on Twitter and no-one apart from the main speakers was specifically invited. The executive, Dan Brooke, Channel 4’s chief marketing and communications officer, said that the channel had taken a more systematic approach to diversity over the past few years, motivated by “the kick up the arse Lenny has given the whole industry”. But he conceded there was more to do.</p> <p>Broadcaster and DJ Edward Adoo appealed for a radio perspective on diversity, asking not just about what the BBC is doing but also the big commercial brands such as Global, Capital and Heart.</p> <p>“If we are going to have this discussion we need to open other doors and assess and analyse what other broadcasters are doing,” added Adoo who broadcasts for BBC Three Counties Radio.</p> <p>Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, co-founder of Act For Change, emphasised the importance of ring-fencing funds to promote greater off-screen equality – “an organic solution to what seems to be an organic problem.”</p> <p>Ring-fencing was important because the danger was that top executives would continue to reintroduce further schemes and initiatives which were little more than avoidance techniques.</p> <p>Producer Barbara Emile also placed stress on the power of the financial imperative to change things through the ring-fencing of money.</p> <p>“It’s supply and demand and we are here to make money. The truth is if broadcasters say there is demand believe me the supply will be there,” Emile argued.</p> <p>There was one more pop at the willingness of Sharon White to engage, or rather not engage, with her BAME critics.</p> <p>Simon Albury, who chairs the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and has been a successful campaigner for broadcasting quality in the past, told how White had been invited 14 months ago to speak at a TV collective CBE event – entrance fee £10 a head. She hasn’t come although the invitation remains open.</p> <p>In September the Ofcom chief executive will speak at the RTS’s Cambridge convention which costs £2,200.</p> <p>“I think it tells you something about Ofcom that when they have the opportunity to meet with a BAME audience they don’t take it,” said Albury, former chief executive of the RTS.</p> <p>As for Ofcom, there is the insistence that the end of the story on its views on off-screen regulation has not yet been reached, with final decisions still to be taken after the end of the consultation period. There are signs though of a possible shift in the regulator’s attitude.</p> <p>“We will hold the BBC to account for improving its diversity, and that includes on-screen portrayal as well as diversity off-screen,” an Ofcom spokesperson insists.</p> <p>Ofcom added that each year the BBC will be required to set out and agree with the regulator how it is making its commissioning more diverse, and the BBC has responded by setting diversity workforce targets.</p> <h2><strong>What happens next?</strong></h2> <p>Digital Minister Hancock promised to take the passion of the Boothroyd Room meeting direct to his session with Sharon White and noted that select committees had the power to call anyone they wanted to hear from. The MPs present said they would continue to meet and monitor the off-screen diversity issue and to varying degrees they favoured ring-fencing to ensure progress.</p> <p>Lammy insisted “ Let’s call it what it is – hard cash to make programming that is diverse.”</p> <p>Baroness-Bonham-Carter argued “ring-fencing worked for regional so why don’t we go forward with it.”</p> <p>Grant said she too was in favour of ring-fencing because it was good for measuring and monitoring, although something more fundamental was also needed – the complete rewiring of organisations where people are recruited not because of a target but because they have the right skills.</p> <p>Later, Marcus Ryder analysed the BBC’s latest figures on disability and BAME employment revealed in the BBC’s Annual Review, and found surprising statistics. After hovering at around 3.6 per cent of staff in recent years the disability percentage suddenly shot up in 2016 to 10.2 per cent even though more disabled people left the BBC last year than joined. Ryder says he does not know how there could have been such a “whopping” rise in a single year.</p> <p>The day after the Sir Lenny Henry meeting the BBC published a BAME figure of 14.5 per cent for its workforce – higher than the BAME percentage in the UK population.</p> <p>In the Network News division the figure was no less than 14.8 per cent, although as mentioned at the meeting, the figures are skewed by including the BBC World Service which has a 54.2 per cent BAME workforce.</p> <p>BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the Corporation, and the Director General’s Office Group are also included yet have few staff directly involved in mainstream programme-making.</p> <p>For Ryder the question is whether the BBC is, by issuing high diversity figures, hoping to avoid Ofcom issuing enforceable off-screen targets?</p> <p>Meanwhile Simon Albury has submitted the CBE’s final submission to the Ofcom consultation and concludes that Ofcom should no longer wait and see how the BBC responds to its new statutory responsibilities. The CBE argues that the BBC has failed in its annual plan to set credible goals on diversity based on credible data.</p> <p>To ensure that the BBC meets its obligations “ Ofcom must now establish, in the first operating licence, credible base lines and targets which can be incorporated in specific regulatory requirements and performance measures for off-screen employment diversity.”</p> <p>For Sir Lenny Henry in his submission to Ofcom the important point is that diversity requirements must be objective and relate to programme spend, programme hours and staff levels.</p> <p>Sir Lenny believes that the “wait and see” period is very much over and that “Ofcom can act now and has all the information necessary to make tough decisions and enforceable targets for both on-screen and behind the camera.”</p> <p>However, the last words on diversity, both on and off-screen, fake and real, regulation and consultation should go to Karon Monaghan QC.</p> <p>&nbsp;“ I think one could say if they (Ofcom) are not very careful they could find themselves in difficulties so far as equality obligations are concerned, ” Monaghan suggests, while setting out necessary legal caveats in advance of knowing precisely how Ofcom’s consultation was conducted and concluded.</p> <p>“If you could say, look it is apparent from the outcome of this process they simply have not had proper regard to their statutory duties then you may get a judicial review off the ground,” Karon Monaghan QC warned.</p> <p>If such a thing should prove necessary and come to pass, it is an outcome that would prove popular with the BAME broadcasters and supporters who crowded into the meeting in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08ys2hk">"Decoding The News: Diversity"</a> BBC Radio 4, 26 July 2017</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc">Re-shaping Britain must include the BBC</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/kiri-kankhwende/blacklivesmatter-in-britain-too-why-does-our-media-care-less">#BlackLivesMatter in Britain too: why does our media care less? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/lis-howell/women-at-public-service-broadcasting-forum">Women at the Public Service Broadcasting Forum</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/rhian-e-jones/does-bbc-care-about-class">Does the BBC care about class?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Raymond Snoddy Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:33:54 +0000 Raymond Snoddy 112532 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fox and Sky: what happens to media plurality now? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-elstein/fox-and-sky-what-happens-to-media-plurality-now <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On June 29, the UK’s Culture Secretary stated that she would submit to a full competition review the 21<sup>st</sup> Century Fox bid for 100% control of Sky plc. Will it happen?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31891568.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31891568.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1998:Film critic Barry Norman with the then Sky TV's General Manager Elisabeth Murdoch for the launch of three new channels for Sky Movies.Peter Jordan/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>For those people passionately opposed to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the statement from Karen Bradley last Thursday would have aroused mixed emotions. One of the companies in which the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) holds a controlling 39% interest – the US-based 21st Century Fox, hereafter “Fox” – is trying to buy all of Sky plc, in which Fox itself already holds a controlling 39% share.</p> <p>After a 10-week review by the media regulator, Ofcom, Bradley was advised that there were presently no grounds for barring the transaction for reasons to do with commitment to broadcasting quality and upholding Ofcom standards: the “fit and proper test” had been passed. Anyone who thought that the still-running phone-hacking scandal or the recent reports of sexual harassment at Fox News in America might derail the bid, would have been disappointed. </p> <p>If so, they had misunderstood the “fit and proper” assessment process: this is continuous, and not confined to the period when a transaction is in process. If Fox had been vulnerable on that front, it would have lost its licences already – and that would have been all 54 of Sky’s Ofcom licences, not just that for Sky News. So tremendous an upheaval would have required long-term and persistent breaches of the broadcasting code and Ofcom licence conditions, with removal of licences only happening after clear public warnings. </p> <p>Indeed, there have been far bigger scandals at News Corp (the publishing company that owns Murdoch’s UK newspapers and radio stations, in which the MFT also owns 39%) than those that have afflicted Fox News (another Fox broadcaster), including the vast overpayment by News Corp for Shine, the production company created by Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth (the board of News Corp paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to disgruntled shareholders, and promised to amend its governance practices).</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>What continues to block the Sky deal is the verdict from Ofcom that there <em>is </em>a media plurality problem, in that 100% ownership of Sky would “reduce media plurality” and <em>may </em>provide an opportunity for the MFT to align the editorial approach of Sky News with that of the newspapers that the MFT controls through its 39% shareholding in News Corp. </p> <p>The Ofcom report emphasises that the threshold for recommending a full inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which could run for six months, is low<strong>. </strong>“The Secretary of State would need to hold the reasonable belief that it <em>may </em>be the case that the transaction<em> may </em>operate or <em>may </em>be expected to operate against the public interest” (their emphasis).</p> <p>Essentially, the Ofcom assessment of this risk is based on an analysis of the media market, on the position of Sky News and News Corp in that market, and the change that might flow from the enlargement of Fox’s shareholding in Sky.</p> <p>Perhaps to the disappointment of the Murdochs, the alteration in the structure of their empire three years ago – whereby they clearly separated the news and publishing company (News Corp) from the entertainment company (21st Century Fox), with each having a different set of outside 61% shareholders – has been effectively ignored by Ofcom. </p> <p>The regulator took the view that the MFT’s position in each of Fox and News Corp gave it material control, and so the two companies should be looked at together (which the Ofcom report says conforms with previous regulatory practice).</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>So in terms of media market share, the newspapers, the radio interests and Sky News have been lumped together. However, this approach raises a rather more subtle issue. If the combined share of news consumption of the two different companies is a problem, why was News Corp two years ago allowed to purchase the radio stations in the Wireless Group (TalkRadio, TalkSport and Virgin Radio), thereby unquestionably increasing the Murdoch companies’ share of news consumption? </p> <p>Indeed, where were all the objectors then? There was no inquiry, and no calling in of Ofcom to investigate, even though there was measurably a reduction in the number of media owners (just as there was when Northern and Shell bought Channel 5 – again, with no Ofcom inquiry).</p> <p>The Ofcom report this time concludes that buying out the 61% (a mass of small shareholders, with no collective identity as a “media enterprise owner”) would result in a reduction in the number of those with control of media enterprises – quite a stretch, as the 61%, despite the presence of independent directors on the Sky board, had always allowed Fox (and before the corporate split, News Corp) full operational control of the business. Whether Fox’s lawyers bother to challenge this ruling remains to be seen.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>But the important issue is really what difference a shift from 39% control to 100% control might mean in terms of one small part of the Sky business: the editorial policies of Sky News. </p> <p>To the best of my knowledge – and I was Head of Programming at Sky for four years – no-one from the MFT has ever tried to influence the output of Sky News during the 29 years it has been on air. Indeed, the only influence the MFT has brought to bear is an insistence on Sky accepting the on-going financial losses incurred by Sky News (cumulatively, at least £500 million). </p> <p>Remarkably, when the Murdochs made a similar bid for Sky in 2010 (that time through News Corp), the independent directors suggested closing Sky News if that would allow the deal to go through. It was the Murdochs who spent six months trying to find a structure for Sky News that would satisfy Ofcom and keep the service alive: only for the Milly Dowler revelation to force News Corp to withdraw the bid.</p> <p>There is no doubt that Rupert Murdoch from time to time influences the output of the newspapers in which the MFT holds a 39% shareholding: he can, and he does – but as far as I am aware, that is not the case where Sky News is concerned. During the last bid, Ofcom claimed that 100% control would allow Murdoch to select the editor of Sky News – I pointed out at the time that he had always had approval of such appointments, even with 39% control, and Ofcom has not advanced that argument this time.</p> <p>Instead, it explores the possibility of aligning the editorial policy of Sky News with that of the Murdoch newspapers. Ofcom acknowledges that this could not be explicit, as it would breach the broadcasting code, but suggests that omission of certain news stories, managing the news agenda and offering screen time to News Corp newspaper writers might achieve a similar effect. </p> <p>No doubt Fox will challenge this hypothesis: given the intense scrutiny to which all Murdoch activity is subjected, half a dozen university media departments would surely be tabulating every bulletin, every screen appearance, and every “missing” story. </p> <p>That such a policy might be implemented but not detected is scarcely likely, Fox might argue: more importantly, if such subtle tweaks could not be detected, how could it be shown they were influencing public opinion? Indeed, would such tweaking be permissible within the terms of the Sky News licence from Ofcom, or not? If not, then the licence could be revoked. If permissible, surely the problem lies with the licence terms, not with the Murdochs (assuming Ofcom is willing and able to flex its regulatory muscles). It would be very curious to block the transaction for fear of changes to Sky News which were perfectly proper within the broadcasting code and licence terms. </p> <p>Perhaps Ofcom might have created a simple matrix to frame its analysis. Absent the transaction, is there any evidence of the MFT trying to align Sky News with the editorial line in its newspapers? If not, is that because the Murdochs have no such intention, or because something is stopping them? Is the 39% ownership an inhibiting factor, where 100% would allow the alignment? That is clearly not the case with the newspapers: 39% seems more than sufficient to allow editorial interference. So why exactly is it assumed that 100% ownership of Sky would enable this supposed desire for editorial alignment to take place? After all, News Corp owned 100% of Sky during the first two years of Sky News, but there was no alignment then.</p> <p>Ofcom is entitled to speculate as to possible outcomes of the transaction: but it goes further in its report, talking of “concern”. Yet it seems not to have asked itself how the MFT would go about executing the nefarious plan it is “concerned” about. Which “commentators”, and from which News Corp newspapers (The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Wall Street Journal all have somewhat different political slants and approaches)? If from The Times stable, would it be the fiercely anti-Brexit Oliver Kamm, or the strongly pro-Brexit Dominic Lawson? </p> <p>If there were even a glimmer of such an ambition within the MFT, why is it the <em>absence </em>of News Corp writers appearing on Sky News that currently seems most notable? Why is the most regular duo of commentators on Sky News Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror and Andrew Pierce of the Daily Mail – two newspapers deeply hostile to News Corp and all its activities? Indeed, why is there no marketing co-operation between News Corp and Sky, or joint advertising sales arrangements, both of which would be perfectly legal under current ownership?</p> <p>Sometimes, one wonders whether the problem with Ofcom is not so much that it is a poor regulator, but that it lacks the confidence in its ability to do its job, or even in whether the job is do-able. <span class="mag-quote-center">Sometimes, one wonders whether the problem with Ofcom is not so much that it is a poor regulator, but that it lacks the confidence in its ability to do its job, or even in whether the job is do-able. </span>To recommend a full investigation of a transaction because it might either result in editorial changes at Sky News that were entirely permissible under the broadcasting code and the terms of the Sky News licence, or alternatively result in changes that were not permissible but which Ofcom did not feel able to prevent, tells us much more about Ofcom than about the MFT. </p> <p>For reasons best known to itself, Ofcom has chosen to echo the fears of the most committed opponents of the Murdochs, without expressing an iota of scepticism about them. Its report quotes repeatedly from a submission from Ed Miliband and Sir Vince Cable, without mentioning their extraordinary article in The Guardian claiming that Sky and News Corp were responsible for 45% of all radio news consumption in the UK (true figure: less than 2%), or Cable’s deplorable abuse of his then position as Secretary of State for Business in the coalition, when he was required to act in a quasi-judicial fashion in dealing with the original bid for Sky in 2010, only later to admit that he had referred the bid to Ofcom as part of his “war on the Murdochs” (an admission that forced his resignation). </p> <p>In some circumstances, absence of evidence is not deemed sufficient to constitute evidence of absence. In the case of Sky News, however, the CMA (the Competition and Markets Authority, which would examine the deal if Karen Bradley goes ahead with her provisional decision to refer the bid) would surely look for some clue from 29 years of experience as to why it should be assumed that the MFT nurses the ambitions that the Ofcom report warns against, and why Ofcom seems so lacking in confidence in its ability to handle the outcome. </p> <p>The threshold for concern at the first stage of inquiry was, as Ofcom concedes, low: for the CMA, the threshold will be a quantum higher – a probability rather than a possibility of the transaction proving contrary to the public interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>Having strongly criticised the previous Ofcom report on the 2010 News Corp bid for Sky, I must express some relief at the improvement in the quality of analysis this time. A series of errors I identified last time have, gratifyingly, not been repeated this time. There is no attempt to create a specific reach figure for radio news, and the attribution entirely to Sky News of a (wrong) total for commercial radio news consumption is withdrawn, with full acknowledgement of the role of Independent Radio News and the commercial stations themselves in managing news content and assembling the news bulletins.</p> <p>The role of broadcaster is now recognized as far as ITN’s supply of news to ITV, Channel 4 and Five is concerned: last time, all of Five’s news audience was attributed to the supplier (Sky News at the time), as if the broadcaster had no say in the matter – something that I, as a former CEO of Five, knew was a mistake.</p> <p>Nor does Ofcom come up with a grossly exaggerated figure for consumption of news supplied by Fox/News Corp: unlike its 2010 report, where it calculated the Sky/News Corp share of all news consumption at 23% (and the BBC at 43%), when the correct figures were 10% and 61% respectively. <span class="mag-quote-center">Nor does Ofcom come up with a grossly exaggerated figure for consumption of news supplied by Fox/News Corp: unlike its 2010 report, where it calculated the Sky/News Corp share of all news consumption at 23% (and the BBC at 43%), when the correct figures were 10% and 61% respectively.</span> I am sure the Fox lawyers will note, however, that the reason such errors have been avoided is that there are virtually <em>no </em>estimates of actual news consumption in the entire 134 page report. Instead, Ofcom is highly reliant on research into “resonance” and calculations of “reach” – something I pointed out last time as being both elusive and potentially misleading as a measure.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>Let me explain. Reach is a calculation of the number of individuals who have sampled a product (newspaper, TV channel, radio service, online website). The sampling threshold is variable – a minimum of three continuous minutes, or five minutes, or longer; or the qualifying minutes might be non-continuous; these minutes could be consumed within the same day, or over six days, or even over a month; or the reach might be based on “recall” and “”diaries” rather than metered usage. Trying to combine different measures of reach within a multi-platform assessment is difficult; indeed, questionable. Moreover, reach figures do not distinguish multiple uses of the same source within the measurement period from a single use. Most important of all, reach figures tell you nothing helpful about the real issue: actual consumption of news and current affairs.</p> <p>For instance, a news source might have a 100% reach, but the average usage might be just three minutes per individual. Another news source might have only 50% reach, but usage is 60 minutes per individual. In reach terms, the first source seems twice as important as the second; but in actual usage, the second source is ten times more important.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ********** &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not clear why Ofcom is so reluctant to use well-established industry figures for actual news and current affairs consumption. We have very accurate numbers for television from the industry research body; details of actual time spend reading print newspapers; highly reliable estimates of radio listening that can be matched to schedules to deliver good estimates of consumption of radio news and current affairs; only with online consumption of news do we lack robust figures (though some plausible estimates are available).</p> <p>Ofcom had commissioned last year another round of bespoke research by Kantar, which regularly asks a large sample of respondents what news sources they use “nowadays”, how they rate them, and which they rely upon. The latest findings have been published as part of the merger assessment process, and are useful, but do not of course act as a substitute for actual consumption statistics. Indeed, Kantar does not even refer to the radio research body, RAJAR, as a source, though it claims that it is delivering “quantitative data”.</p> <p>It is in the area of online news provision and consumption that the Fox team will puzzle longest over the Kantar findings. The most frequently cited measuring tool here, ComScore, shows The Sun doing modestly well online, but that excludes mobile devices, which Ofcom believes are increasingly used to capture news stories. </p> <p>Even as official newspaper industry statistics show sales of The Sun falling off a cliff (down 50% in just six years, part of the decline in newspaper circulation from 9 million sales a day to 5.6 million), Kantar suggests that there are 27 million mobile users who sample The Sun. <span class="mag-quote-center">Even as official newspaper industry statistics show sales of The Sun falling off a cliff (down 50% in just six years, part of the decline in newspaper circulation from 9 million sales a day to 5.6 million), Kantar suggests that there are 27 million mobile users who sample The Sun.</span> What that means in terms of actual consumption is hard to say – assuming it is true – but what is certain is that News Corp would willingly swap that 27 million for just half a million real customers, whose purchasing of print copies would stem the heavy losses the title now incurs (it was once the cash cow of the Murdoch UK empire). </p> <p>The Fox submission to Ofcom had argued that, even if the Sky and News Corp news provision figures were combined (ignoring the fact that the two providers were owned by separate companies), the huge expansion of online news provision from scores of suppliers meant that “those in control of media enterprises” (the legal definition of who was caught by the public interest provisions of the legislation) were steadily losing influence. </p> <p>Ofcom disagrees: it judges that traditional media owners have not lost their influence as a result of the online surge – even that papers like The Sun might be disproportionate beneficiaries (clearly not true of The Times, which charges for online access to its news). The Ofcom judgment may not be robustly supported by data, but it remains a key element in the way Karen Bradley is required to assess the proposed deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>Where the Fox lawyers might have more leverage, should the issue be referred to the CMA, is in attacking some of Ofcom’s weaker conclusions. For instance, Ofcom makes considerable play of the “unique” position of Sky/News Corp in being distributed across “all four” news platforms – TV, radio, newspapers and online: “the strength of this position may allow Fox/Sky and News Corp to exercise a greater degree of influence over public opinion than might otherwise be the case absent the transaction” (Ofcom Report para 8.27 – though how the transaction itself might enlarge that influence is not explained). </p> <p>Karen Bradley specifically cited this “unique” dimension in her Commons statement. Yet when we check the Kantar report, we discover that, of those consuming news from “all four” platforms, just 1% use newspapers in addition to TV, radio and online as a news source: that is the trivial margin of benefit of this “unique” advantage, as compared with media distributed over only three of these platforms.</p> <p>In fact, restricting the definition of platforms to “all four” is possibly misleading. Kantar tells us that 20% of news consumers obtain news from local and regional outlets – TV, radio and newspapers. These three sectors are all distinct, with 600 newspaper titles, scores of radio services and regional TV provision from the BBC and ITV. The circulation of Metro alone increases the reported “reach” of the Daily Mail Group from 10% to 15%. </p> <p>Neither Sky nor News Corp feature in these sectors – News Corp has no local papers or radio stations, and the Sky News supply of content to the commercial radio stations is just of national and international stories: the stations, or station groups, themselves assemble the bulletins, which only very rarely are solely dependent on the Sky supply.</p> <p>If the definition of platforms is revised from four to seven, we can see that the BBC uses five, News Corp three, Sky three (four between them) and everyone else at least two (three in the case of Trinity Mirror, Daily Mail Group and the Lebedev Foundation) : so, not that “unique”. And the Fox lawyers will also query the Ofcom claim (para 6.42) that the transaction will “close” the gap between Sky/News Corp and ITV in “cross-platform reach” (a metric itself open to query) and widen the gap to the Daily Mail Group, where the relevant charts in the Ofcom document show that the reported reach of the combined group is actually less than the sum of the two separate groups (which is not surprising). <span class="mag-quote-center">The Ofcom judgment may not be robustly supported by data, but it remains a key element in the way Karen Bradley is required to assess the proposed deal.</span></p> <p>Another query will relate to Ofcom’s “share of references” data – a specific piece of bespoke research tracking the possible influence of different news providers. Puzzlingly, the “share of references” for the combined group is greater than that for the Sky News and News Corp separately: no explanation is provided for this counter-intuitive finding.</p> <p>What the Fox team will also home in on is the “saliency” aspect of Ofcom’s research. Before the explosion in online news consumption, the combined share of news consumption attributable to Sky News and News Corp was about 10% – well below the level that competition authorities usually regard as a basis for intervention. Ofcom believes that the online surge will not have weakened the position of traditional suppliers: but clearly the share attributable directly to TV, radio and newspapers will have declined, so it is unlikely that the Sky/News Corp position is above 10%. </p> <p>The Ofcom report declines to offer any hard metrics on consumption, but figure 4.6 tells us a great deal about saliency: a chart showing “the single most important news provider”, as reported by consumers of news, and tabulated in the Kantar survey. Sky News comes in at 5% (a decline from 2014’s 7%) and News Corp at 2% (down from 2014’s 3%). The BBC tops the table at 49%.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>Of course, the BBC is ascribed special status in all these media plurality assessments. It is seen as having no political agenda, and being dedicated to impartiality (though the Ofcom research shows that the public views it as no more impartial than Sky News or ITN, and – oddly enough – much less so than Channel 4 News). Yet the legislation is designed to prevent <em>any</em> one voice having too much influence: it does not say influence for good or ill, just influence. </p> <p>In the United States, a 60% share of news consumption would be completely unacceptable, however admired and respected the supplier. In the US, the BBC would have had its many news distribution arms (BBC One, BBC News Channel, Radio 5 Live, Radio 1, Radio 4, national and regional news, local news) split up long ago. <span class="mag-quote-center">The BBC is ascribed special status in all these media plurality assessments... seen as having no political agenda, and being dedicated to impartiality (though the Ofcom research shows that the public views it as no more impartial than Sky News or ITN, and – oddly enough – much less so than Channel 4 News).</span></p> <p>Three years ago, Ofcom itself asked the BBC Trust how it was proposing to introduce internal plurality to mitigate its dominant position. Answer came there none. Now, Ofcom has replaced the BBC Trust as the BBC’s regulator. The issue of internal plurality at the BBC merits no mention in this latest report.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30559744.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-30559744.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson responds to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley in the House of Commons. Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Despite – or perhaps because of – the many repetitions in the Ofcom report of its concerns about the potential interference by the MFT in the editorial policy of Sky News – and the additional fear that politicians will perceive damage to the public interest from such potential interference whether it occurs or not – the offer of undertakings from Fox seems, towards the end of the 134 pages, effectively to solve the problem (or “mitigate” it, in legal language). </p><p>Essentially, Fox proposes the creation of an editorial board for Sky News, with an independent majority and an independent chairman, which would prevent any attempt by the MFT to interfere in the service, whilst guaranteeing the maintenance of the Sky News budget at its present level for five years. Ofcom’s provisional view was that it would be preferable to lengthen the period of financial guarantee, and to tighten up the procedure for editorial board appointments: but it would be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether the offer was acceptable.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, Karen Bradley declined the offer, on the reasonable assumption that Fox had “more to give”. But there was an unexpected element in her Commons statement and letter to the merger parties. </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>In 2010/11, Ofcom and News Corp had wrangled for months over the nature of the undertakings on offer, with the solution being a structure whereby News Corp would buy all of Sky apart from Sky News, leaving in place a quoted company, operating independently, and with financial support from News Corp. </p> <p>At the time,<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openeconomy/david-elstein/uk-regulators-sky-news-deal-will-weaken-media-plurality"> I criticised this solution</a> as putting Sky News seriously at risk of decline and eventual demise: cut off from the “mother ship”, it would lose access to crucial content, marketing support, capital investment and the benefit of Murdoch’s personal commitment. Ofcom seems to have absorbed that criticism, arguing in its report this time that a structural solution is too risky for Sky News, which might suffer terminal damage if left to its own devices.</p> <p>Instead, Ofcom embraced what is called a “behavioural” solution, whilst leaving Sky News within the Fox business. The many critics of Murdoch (not just all political parties on the left, but some Tories, too) have warned against relying upon undertakings from Murdoch, citing previous bad experience at The Times and The Wall Street Journal, where promises to the vendors of those titles did not last long. The Ofcom report discounted those episodes, regarding legally binding undertakings (whether to Ofcom or the Secretary of State) as enforceable, on penalty of closing the service (by the way, many would argue that both The Times and The Wall Street Journal are significantly improved journalistic ventures under News Corp ownership, perhaps<em> because</em> of the broken promises). </p> <p>The joker in the pack turned out to be the CMA itself: its standard guidance is that behavioural undertakings, after a first stage competition review, are not normally acceptable. Yet its preference for a structural solution has already been undercut by Ofcom’s stated objections. How can this be resolved?</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>Both Ofcom and Karen Bradley have something to lose from just allowing the CMA investigation to proceed: a more hard-headed methodological approach to media plurality by the CMA could embarrass Ofcom, and if the resulting assessment established that the risks to plurality from the transaction were too minor to justify intervention, then even the undertakings currently on offer would fall away, leaving Bradley exposed politically.</p> <p>Fox has less to fear from a CMA process, though it would have to honour a pledge to make a large payment to the non-Fox shareholders in Sky if it failed to complete the transaction by the year end: a typical 24-week CMA process would almost certainly run past that deadline. On the other hand, if the CMA could be persuaded that a beefed up version of the current undertakings would satisfy Ofcom, and was preferable to any possible structural change, then Karen Bradley would be off the hook. </p> <p>Although theoretically she has absolute discretion, acting in a quasi-judicial capacity (that is, not as a member of the government, or according to party preferences), her position in practice almost certainly means adopting the advice provided by the competition authorities themselves. That is how Jeremy Hunt, in the same position last time, narrowly defined his discretionary space.</p> <p>The unusual aspect of this dilemma is that a structural solution to a competition issue usually involves requiring the bidder to spin off a valuable asset. In this case, Sky News has negative commercial value (though Fox recognizes its considerable brand value). In effect, there is no prospect of anyone else buying the loss-making service, so – as Ofcom now acknowledges – separation is a high risk option. </p> <p>Fox is unlikely to say so openly during the consultation period that Karen Bradley has launched (ending on July 14), but if there is a stand-off between Ofcom and the CMA, the nuclear option is simply to announce the planned closure of Sky News, thus removing all the media plurality issues in one ironic stroke.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **********</p> <p>So the likelihood is that Karen Bradley will see how far Ofcom and Fox can get with UILs (“undertakings in lieu” of a reference to the CMA), and whether the CMA will sign off on them: then she can with a clear conscience approve the deal (no doubt to the non-assuaged anger of Murdoch’s many critics). But Fox will not want to spend months on such a process when it can be highly confident that a CMA investigation would clear the bid, requiring as it does a much higher threshold – probability, not possibility, as with Ofcom – of evidence that the transaction would damage the public interest. <span class="mag-quote-center">Tom Watson, for the Labour Party, in responding to Bradley’s Commons statement saying she was minded to refer the bid to the CMA, predicted that her seemingly strong words would quickly be overtaken by an improved offer from Fox. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Tom Watson, for the Labour Party, in responding to Bradley’s Commons statement saying she was minded to refer the bid to the CMA, predicted that her seemingly strong words would quickly be overtaken by an improved offer from Fox. Bradley protested at his cynicism: but the dynamics of the situation suggest that his forecast is likely to be proved correct. </p> <p>If so, then we must all at least hope that the independence and financing of Sky News are robustly established in any undertakings given, and then properly enforced. To lose or damage Sky News, especially by miscalculation on the part of those responsible for monitoring the bid, would be a serious setback: not least to the need for media plurality, which is ostensibly the issue at stake.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/david-elstein/sky-bid-battle-commences">The Sky bid: battle commences</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/bbc-and-media-plurality-ofcom-strikes-back-with-damp-cloth">The BBC and media plurality: Ofcom strikes back with a damp cloth</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk UK Conflict Culture Democracy and government David Elstein Sat, 08 Jul 2017 13:25:01 +0000 David Elstein 112160 at https://www.opendemocracy.net My Three Day war: a memoir https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/david-elstein/my-three-day-war-memoir <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“With so much land captured, aren’t you ideally placed to offer the Arab nations a peace deal?” “King Hussein has my number – let him call me!”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Simchoni_Dayan_Yafe_in_Sharm_El_Sheikh.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/640px-Simchoni_Dayan_Yafe_in_Sharm_El_Sheikh.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="244" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Asaf Simchoni, Moshe Dayan and Avraham Yaffe in Sharm El Sheikh, 1956. wikicommons/IDF. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Derby Day 50 years ago saw me in the nearest betting shop to the BBC’s Lime Grove studios. I was actually on stand-by for <em>Panorama</em>, just in case the Israeli authorities allowed any TV crews in to cover the conflict in the Middle East that had broken out the previous Sunday. </p> <p>The original idea had been that I would accompany President de Gaulle on his proposed visit to Auschwitz, but he had cancelled as soon as the fighting started, leaving me, freelance reporter Andrew Mulligan and a specially hired freelance French cameraman at a loose end. So that Wednesday, bag packed and waiting, I was at liberty to continue my profitable enthusiasm for the latest hot partnership in horseracing.</p> <p>Trainer Noel Murless had started the season with a new stable jockey to replace the prodigious Lester Piggott. George Moore was a veteran from Australia, and his unfussy efficiency in the saddle quickly earned the loyalty of Murless followers (his namesake, Ryan, currently displays the same style and effectiveness, for the all-conquering Aidan O’Brien).</p> <p>Moore had edged Royal Palace a short head in front of the French-trained colt, Taj Dewan, at the finish of the 2,000 Guineas – the 8-furlong classic race that provides the most important pointer to the 12-furlong Derby itself. Now, at odds of 7-4, he and his mount carried the additional burden of my season’s accumulated winnings. I was sweating more than either of them as they crossed the line. Gripping a large roll of five pound notes, I made my way back to the<em> Panorama</em> offices, where I was a junior director.</p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>General Trainee</strong></h2> <p>In fact, technically, I was still a trainee. Having joined the BBC “as if I were a General Trainee” (the Corporation’s personnel officers noting that I was two years below the minimum age of 21), I had yet to find an opportunity to apply for an actual staff position as an Assistant Producer – the first step towards having full responsibility for a transmitted television programme. </p> <p>My first task after joining the BBC in 1964 had been to write scripts for the European Service at Bush House, which included forecasting the results of various events at the Tokyo Olympics. As producers, in turn, took their summer holidays, I was assigned to their desks, where my first action was to open the bottom left hand drawer and extract the manuscript of whatever book they were writing in BBC time. That was how I read large parts of one of George Hills’ volumes on the Spanish Civil War, long before it was published.</p> <p>I had actually quite often sneaked into the Bush House canteen during my time as a student, taking breaks from ploughing through back editions of the Economic History Review in the LSE library (closer to my London home in vacation time than my Cambridge college). Being there as part of the BBC was an entirely different experience. Now I could soak up the lunch-time wisdom of Tosco Fyvel, Ludwig Gottlieb, Konrad Syrop and the other World Service luminaries. Ludwig reputedly spoke eight languages: to my untutored ear, seemingly several at the same time.</p> <p>This felt as close to my imagined post-graduate experience as I could come, once my planned thesis, based at St Antony’s in Oxford, had fallen through, thanks to my supervisor’s transfer to a Vice-Chancellorship. But then the BBC, in its wisdom, decided to second me to the new Centre for Contemporary Cultural studies at Birmingham, under the tutelage of Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall. Instead of three years researching the replacement of British power by American in Palestine 1944-47, I spent nine months writing extended essays, including a monograph on the concept of public service broadcasting. </p> <p>Immersing myself in the accumulated edicts (and dubious dogmas) of the BBC – and listening to the Centre’s visiting speakers, such as Hilde Himmelweit (<em>the </em>expert on the impact of TV on children) and Dennis Lawrence (who drafted much of the 1962 Pilkington Committee Report on Broadcasting) – might have been designed to “fix” me as a future BBC apparatchik: instead, it made me itch to start making programmes.</p> <p>So I was grateful for my next assignment, as a producer on the Home Service current affairs series, <em>Focus. </em>&nbsp;At Broadcasting House there were yet more brilliant BBC talents at work: Alan Burgess, Keith Hindell, Francis (“Jack”) Dillon and other stars of Lawrence Gilliam’s famed features department. The presenter of my show (I was one of two producers) was Edgar Lustgarten, gravelly of voice and baleful of presence. </p> <p>One edition of<em> Focus, </em>on North Sea oil and gas,<em> </em>almost destroyed my BBC career, barely after it had started. Having recorded an interview with the Minister for Energy, Fred Lee, as part of the programme, I suddenly found myself summoned by his permanent secretary:<em> </em>a North Sea oil rig had collapsed, and the interview needed to be re-recorded. I was to present myself at the BBC Westminster radio studio, with the key, at 9am the next morning.</p> <p>Promptly on the hour, the ministerial limousine swept up, the diminutive minister stepped out, and his Sir Humphrey thrust into my hand “the interview” – a neatly typed set of questions and answers. I was too taken aback to protest. Once the engineer had started recording, I read out the first “question”, and then – as Fred Lee intoned his “answer” – leafed through the rest of “the interview”, flipping back every so often to ask the next “question”. This updated version of government policy, seamlessly edited into the previous version of the programme, improbably impressed one of my bosses for its timeliness. I was too embarrassed to explain that I had cravenly abandoned the BBC’s much-vaunted independence for the sake of expediency. </p> <p>The final “attachment” of my trainee days beckoned: television. A twinkling producer – Terry Hughes, still a friendly presence a few streets from where I live – showed me round the <em>Panorama </em>studio, where the formidable floor manager, Joan Marsden, still ruled with a rasp and a glare. Terry had been working on a series entitled <em>Outlook Europe </em>(whose team affectionately re-titled the show “Look Out, Europe!”), whilst another burgeoning producer, Anthony Smith, lobbied for a series on financial matters. </p> <p>In typical BBC style, Smith was appointed editor of a new programme strand, <em>Europa</em>, whilst Terry (who knew nothing about finance other than that there were reportedly gnomes in Zurich) was assigned to a series with the working title <em>The Money Programme </em>(for which nobody ever came up with a better name). My first task was to help Terry choose the theme music (taken from a Jimmy Smith LP brought in by his secretary) and create the opening titles sequence, featuring banknotes of many currencies and formidable safes.</p> <p>I became Terry’s lead researcher, swiftly promoted to directing short films, and then – after watching a live transmission from the production gallery – the regular live studio director. That was the sum total of the “training” element in my “as if I were a General Trainee” career. After a year on <em>The Money Programme</em>, I was transferred to <em>Panorama</em>, just as its high profile editor, Jeremy Isaacs, was being squeezed out by the BBC hierarchy (he had dispensed with the traditional studio host, preferring all-film editions, and thereby earned the ire of the dislodged Robin Day). &nbsp;</p> <p><em>Panorama </em>reached its authoritative peak under Isaacs: the likes of James Mossman, Michael Charlton, James Cameron, Richard Kershaw and John Morgan delivered 50-minute essays on film, offering a fluency of words and images that only Robert Kee (himself a recent departure from <em>Panorama</em>) could match on ITV. These reporters were paired up with Lime Grove’s top producers – Robert Rowland, Phillip Whitehead, Jo Menell and Jolyon Wimhurst. &nbsp;</p> <p>As we watched the senior film editor, Ian Callaway, effortlessly assemble emotive sequences out of the rushes despatched from Vietnam by Charlton and star cameraman Erik Durschmied, Jeremy asked to borrow my mini-thesis on public service broadcasting. I never established whether he read any of it, as he soon himself departed for ITV, as Head of Current Affairs and Documentaries at Rediffusion. His successor – David Webster – reverted to a magazine format for <em>Panorama, </em>though single-subject editions still appeared (I was one of two producers of a full-length profile of Richard Crossman). Awaiting Webster’s arrival in post, the Head of Current Affairs, John Grist, was holding the fort.</p> <p>It was Grist who buttonholed me on my return from the betting shop. “Go straight to Heathrow – there’s a flight to Tel Aviv – you are booked into the Dan Hotel.” Somewhat taken aback, I thrust a thick wad of banknotes into his reluctant hand, asking him to look after it till I returned, and then grabbed my overnight bag, checking that Andy and Francois had been alerted. </p> <h2><strong>Dayan interviews</strong></h2> <p>Andy Mulligan had been a brilliant scrum half for Cambridge, Ireland and the Lions, but was even less experienced than me in terms of television reporting: but that actually worked in our favour. On the Thursday morning, the main <em>Panorama </em>team, led by Mossman, made its way south towards the Egyptian border, leaving my unit – accompanied by a cheery Israeli press aide – free to venture into the West Bank. </p> <p>My previous visit to Israel, as a student, had allowed me to improve my spoken Hebrew, so my team was inclined to trust me – until we suddenly encountered a line of what seemed like American Patton tanks which, alarmingly, displayed no Israeli markings. “They’re Jordanian!” announced our press aide, “but don’t worry, they’re captured – we just haven’t had time to re-paint them.”</p> <p>That day and the next, we manoeuvred our way into East Jerusalem and the Old City. By a stroke of luck (or perhaps our press aide had done his job well) we were able to film at the Western Wall as the Minister of Defence, Moshe Dayan, Israel’s most celebrated general, made his way through clusters of uniformed combat troops celebrating the recovery of Judaism’s holiest site. </p> <p>I explained to Andy the blessing that Dayan and his soldiers were reciting as they pressed their foreheads against the Wall – the “Shehecheyanu” – the thanks that Jews give to God at moments of thankfulness, for having kept them alive, having sustained them and having brought them to this moment in time. Non-observant as I was, the scene was compelling and highly charged, only tempered by the sight of deserted Arab streets, where anxious teenagers sheltered in shadowy doorways. On the Friday, before sunset, we filmed an interview with Teddy Kollek, on the rooftop of his mayoralty building, looking out over a Jerusalem united under Jewish rule for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.</p> <p>For our last day of filming, we drove north through the West Bank, where mopping-up operations seemed to have concluded. Even so, the Israeli Defence Force had blocked many of the roads leading through Galilee, and it was only because I knew the area reasonably well that we found a route through minor paths, and even across fields, to a spot where we could observe the assault on the Golan Heights. Like the capture of the Gaza Strip and the Old City, the decision to seize this formidably-defended natural fortress – a constant threat to Israeli farmers in the fields below – had been improvised, and fiercely resisted. </p> <p>Back in the hotel, the public areas thronged with young Israelis, high on victory, demanding to know why Jews from Europe (like me) were not volunteering for military duty, or at the very least donating blood. I tried in vain to explain the basic rules of journalism. </p> <p>Discovering that Mossman was still stuck on the southern front, unable to film anything worth sending back to London, we rode our luck, and secured an interview with Dayan, to be filmed at the hotel. I didn’t need a researcher: the telephone operators at the Dan knew everyone’s private and office numbers. As Dayan strolled in, without a bodyguard or press advisor in sight, his crooked grin as familiar as his eye-patch, he showed none of the huge stress that six days of sometimes desperate hand-to-hand combat must have inflicted on the IDF. Relaxed, and smoking a cigarette, he shrugged off Andy’s questions with characteristic insouciance. “With so much land captured, aren’t you ideally placed to offer the Arab nations a peace deal?” “King Hussein has my number – let him call me!”</p> <p>Arriving back at Lime Grove on the Monday morning, ready to edit the Dayan interview for that night’s programme, I dropped in on Grist to tell him of its highlights. “Oh, don’t bother with that – I bought the CBS interview Charles Collingwood did with Dayan.” Reaching into his jacket he pulled out my Derby winnings: “please take this – it’s been burning a hole in my pocket for six days.”</p> <p>I can’t remember now whether our Dayan interview even went into the labs for processing. I was too shell-shocked. A month later, I was despatched by Grist to New York to assemble an edition on the city riots that were spreading across the US. Robin Day (who travelled in business class whilst I flew in economy) was my assigned presenter. I called both NBC and CBS to see if they could have a studio available on the Monday for a live discussion. Then I tried to book a freelance film crew to fly upstate on the Sunday to record an interview with Patrick Moynihan, who had served in the Kennedy administration and had written a noted (and notorious) report on the impact on African-American children of absent fathers.</p> <p>This proved to be a mistake, twice over. First, the cameraman I hired failed to locate a sound assistant, so asked his wife to operate the camera – which he locked off so that it could not pan, tilt or zoom – whilst he concentrated on the sound. More importantly, Sunday afternoon proved not to be the ideal time to interview Moynihan, who had consumed a great deal of alcohol before sitting down for his interview. The slurring of his words could just about be attributed to his distinctive accent, but his rolling in and out of shot – leaving the hapless wife monitoring a blank frame – seemed beyond rescue. Fortunately, “Cutaway” Callaway found enough edit points, whereby Moynihan rolled out of frame, and then back in again, to salvage a potential fiasco. Equally fortunately, the studio discussion, chaired by Day, went well.</p> <p>But I did not escape Grist’s displeasure. In confirming one of the New York studios I had approached, I apparently failed to stand down the other, and the BBC was being billed for both. As luck would have it, a real job – as an assistant producer – beckoned in another department, General Features: I was boarded, and appointed, helping launch two new series, <em>Cause for Concern </em>and <em>People in Conflict</em>. In fact, I devised <em>People in Conflict</em>, and was granted £500 to create a transmittable 50-minute pilot. The result was effective enough to earn a commission for a full series, and the job of producer was advertised. I applied, but was deemed too junior to occupy such a post (a radio producer, with no television experience, was installed). It was time to leave the BBC.</p> <h2><strong>Israel’s rightwards shift</strong></h2> <p>Jeremy Isaacs had decided to recruit for ITV’s <em>This Week </em>series as many of <em>Panorama</em>’s personnel as he could, starting with Phillip Whitehead as the show’s new editor. In all, eight reporters, producers and cameramen were hired. By the time I was sounded out, the ITV franchise process was reaching its climax. Rediffusion TV had lost its sole status as the contractor for London, with the weekend being assigned to a new company, London Weekend Television, and the weekday contract to a forced merger between Rediffusion and ABC TV, which adopted the title of Thames Television. </p> <p>The militant TV technicians union, the ACTT, launched a strike to ensure that all Rediffusion’s employees were taken on by Thames before any new recruits were installed. Having resigned from the BBC, I found myself in limbo. Bizarrely, my first working day thereafter was as the director for the ACTT’s official camera unit covering the strike, filming my about-to-be boss, Phillip Whitehead, crossing the ACTT picket line. In the end, all the old Rediffusion directors were re-employed: and I was allowed to start work on <em>This Week.</em></p><p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Israeli_Tank_Battles_Egyptian_Forces_in_the_Sinai_Desert_-_Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Israeli_Tank_Battles_Egyptian_Forces_in_the_Sinai_Desert_-_Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yom Kippur war. An Israeli Centurion tank operating in the Sinai.October 1973. Flickr/IDF. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></em>Five years later, I was back in Israel, for the Yom Kippur war. This was a conflict on a far larger scale than 1967’s: it was Israel that was caught by surprise as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria co-ordinated their attacks. Dayan was still Defence Minister, but both he and Prime Minister Golda Meir were discredited by their failure to anticipate the Arab assault. Eventually, some daring military manoeuvres, and a huge US airlift, allowed Israel to force an end to the fighting, but the mood was utterly different to that in 1967. </p><p>There were no press officers this time to accompany my <em>This Week </em>unit, as we made our way up to northern Galilee, using the same back routes as I had negotiated in 1967. For the first time, I encountered shell-shocked Israeli soldiers, who had fought off a determined Syrian advance. Burnt-out Syrian tanks were nearby. After we had finished filming, and briefly paused near some trees so that Allan Segal, a <em>World In Action </em>producer who had come along for the ride, could relieve himself, a wire-guided Syrian missile came uncomfortably close to us, before hitting the ground 500 yards away.</p> <p>The next day, in a more exposed position a few miles further west, a car carrying British journalists was actually hit by another Syrian missile. The brilliant Sunday Times writer, Nicholas Tomalin, was killed outright.</p> <p>My last visit to Israel, in 1985, was to make a documentary about water rights on the West Bank – <em>Whose Hand On The Tap? – </em>in the course of which I realised that expectations of Palestinian autonomy were hopelessly compromised. It was not just that Israel would always exercise military control of what it called Judea and Samaria, but that the West Bank aquifers were Israel’s main source of fresh water, and Israel would always demand to keep them under its control. That control also allowed Israel to ration water supplies to all Arab towns and farmers on the West Bank, whilst ensuring that Jewish settlements had sufficient for water-hungry irrigation and children’s swimming pools. Even the frankest and most engaging of Israeli officials could not disguise the inexorable shift rightwards of Israeli thinking since the Six Day War – or, in my case, three day war. I have never returned.</p> <p>In 1968, Royal Palace won all five of his races, in true champion style. By then, George Moore had returned to Australia, and the latest Murless stable jockey was Sandy Barclay. Also by then, I had embarked, however briefly, upon a proper job at the BBC: I never backed Royal Palace again.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Israel </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb UK Israel Conflict Culture International politics David Elstein Mon, 05 Jun 2017 07:15:57 +0000 David Elstein 111046 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Should the law be changed to make sure the BBC does not lose out in the steadily changing world of digital viewing? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-elstein/should-law-be-changed-to-make-sure-bbc-does-not-lose-out-in-steadily-changing-world <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The BBC demands that all distributors of digital TV give prime slots to BBC content – but why should they have this right?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Purnell.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Purnell.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>James Purnell. Image, BBC.</span></span></span></p> <p>Splash headlines about the BBC are not unusual in the solidly conservative British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. Usually, they are negative, or even hostile: the “Torygraph” (as friends as well as critics often dub it) views the BBC with suspicion and even hostility, as a bastion of liberal values, overpaid bureaucrats and EU-friendly programme makers.</p> <p>The banner headline on Monday March 20th – <em>“BBC demands top billing in law”</em> – was actually triggered by an article on the paper’s opinion page written by one of the BBC’s top executives, James Purnell, bearing the heading <em>“British TV is being hidden by digital giants”</em>, and the sub-heading <em>“Netflix, Amazon and Sky are making home-grown programmes hard to find on their set-top boxes”. </em>&nbsp;I don’t know if those headings were chosen by the Telegraph or Purnell, but – like much of the article – they were undoubtedly misleading.</p> <p>Purnell is currently the BBC’s Director of Radio and Education, well-positioned to succeed Lord Hall as Director-General: previously, he was the Director of Strategy and Digital, and a decade ago he was Labour’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. James is a high flyer, and I have considerable respect for him.</p> <p>Even so, the campaign he was launching in the Telegraph struck me as symptomatic of the BBC’s occasional forays into political spin when the underlying facts offer very modest support. Essentially, Purnell was urging members of the House of Lords to support amendments to the Digital Economy Bill that would empower Ofcom to ensure that content from public service broadcasters – notably the BBC – would receive additional special prominence on all digital distribution platforms.</p> <p>Back in 2003, the BBC won a similar campaign to force digital platforms – essentially, Sky and the cable companies – to offer “due prominence” (that is, the first five slots) on their electronic programme guides (EPGs) to the five public service channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. So what is the problem now?</p> <p>In&nbsp;early EPGs, the first 'screen'&nbsp;a viewer encountered when switching on simply listed all channels (with the five public service channels at the top), but more recent versions&nbsp;have a home page&nbsp;displaying a set of boxes, each&nbsp;containing&nbsp;viewing options. The top left box&nbsp;still&nbsp;lists all broadcast channels,&nbsp;but&nbsp;the other boxes&nbsp;offer genres, such as entertainment, sport, movies, news, kids, documentaries and so on, as well as catch-up and on-demand content; so the old 'due prominence' has been eroded to that extent.</p> <p>Purnell identifies a number of issues, but in a less than fully honest fashion. He praises the choice available to UK viewers, but of the ten programmes he name checks as part of his <em>“golden age of television”,</em> three are produced in the US (“Game of Thrones”, “Westworld” and “Stranger Things”) – which somewhat undermines his claim that “the UK’s broadcasting industry is the envy of the world”. Indeed, of the three BBC dramas he cites, one (“Poldark”) was a rather disappointing second series, another, “The Night Manager” (actually a co-production with a US cable service) undermined several excellent episodes with a clunker of a finale, and the third (series three of “Line of Duty”) managed the same trick, with a last episode of jaw-dropping absurdity.&nbsp; </p> <p>Just as disingenuously, he goes on to say that <em>“spending on British television programmes has fallen. The biggest media companies are American. Netflix and Amazon Video are focused on global content.”</em> This formulation carefully elides the fact that the steady and substantial decline in spending on UK originated content, for half of which the BBC is itself responsible (as Ofcom has laboriously demonstrated in a series of regular reports) long pre-dates the launch of Amazon Prime and Netflix in the UK. The implication that these on-demand services are somehow responsible for the fall borders on the dishonest.</p> <p>Purnell’s next beef is about the EPG slots for the BBC’s children’s channels, CBBC and CBeebies, on the Sky platform, <em>“below 12 US cartoon networks”</em>. What he omits to mention is that all the channels above the BBC in the “kids” section of the EPG are owned by Viacom, Disney or Warner, who launched their first services on satellite nearly 20 years before the BBC reluctantly joined them there, having finally recognized that dedicated children’s channels were the destination of first choice for kids who had choice. Indeed, for a while, Nickelodeon (majority owned by Viacom) was a BBC partner: and both Disney and Nickelodeon spend more on non-animation original children’s content every year than all the UK broadcasters combined.</p> <p>Indeed, it was not until the BBC itself evicted children’s programmes from its EPG-protected channels, BBC1 and BBC2, that BBC provision for children was fully relegated to the “kids” ghetto. If there is any anxiety that viewing of “safe, trusted, educational, British programmes without adverts” by our children is undermined by the Sky EPG, why not just restore the programmes to their previous home, on the protected services, BBC1 and BBC2, which between them dominate all UK viewing? </p> <p>During the passage of the 2003 Communications Act, the BBC had ample opportunity to persuade MPs that its planned children’s channels – and, indeed, its news and Parliament channels, as well as the services that later became BBC3 and BBC4 – should be granted the same EPG privileges as its main channels. </p> <p>It failed to do so, contenting itself with using the control of the dominant digital platform, Freeview, by the public service broadcasters, to do just that. In fact, Purnell never mentions Freeview in his article, and only the sharp-eyed will detect its omission in his use of the phrase “leading <em>pay-TV </em>platform” (my italics) to describe Sky. Given his silence over the placing of BBC News and BBC Parliament in slots 3 and 4 of the news section on the Sky EPG (behind Sky News and Bloomberg), perhaps we can deduce that legislation to force Sky to grant the BBC’s channels slots 1 and 2 in the news section is seen even by the BBC as possibly a touch of sledgehammer and nut.</p> <p>The most substantial of Purnell’s arguments is much more forward-looking: the perceived threat to consumption of public service content from the steady rise of on-demand viewing, as opposed to using linear channels. In truth, watching live TV still constitutes about 85% of all TV viewing, and catch-up – which is dominated by the public service broadcasters – accounts for another 7-8%. In other words, on-demand viewing of non-broadcast material constitutes a very small proportion of all viewing currently. </p> <p>But what annoys Purnell is that modern EPGs offer a home screen that provides such a wide range of viewing options – live, catch-up, on-demand, top picks – that the benefits of “due prominence” in the channel listings is diluted. He complains specifically about the new “Sky Q” box, where <em>“there is not one button on the remote control that takes you to live TV”.</em> Oh dear. Worse still, the “Top Picks” tend to be Sky’s own programmes (including ones that require additional pay-per-view costs, over and above a monthly fee – shocking, really.)</p> <p>The chances of Sky designing a new set-top box that its customers find less useful than previous versions is low: they spend millions on research to avoid just such an outcome. So the BBC will have to reconcile itself to a future pattern of programme search that is geared to the preferences of consumers rather than those of specific broadcasters. </p> <p>Purnell’s answer is to ask Parliament to force on-demand services to provide “due prominence” for public service catch-up offerings “<em>like i-Player</em>”. This “<em>like</em>” is another weaselly formulation, as the only catch-up service from the designated public service broadcasters (BBC, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five) that provides exclusively public service content is – the i-Player. The equivalent services from ITV, Channel 4 and Five all include an array of programmes that never appeared on their public service channels: content from ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, E4, More4, 5USA and so on that are nothing to do with public service television, including all the programmes acquired from abroad that are not even British (which is true of the i-Player, too). Why should any platform be forced to give these services “due prominence”?</p> <p>All these manipulations of the broadcasting system simply contrive to drive consumers away. The EU is pressurising services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime to commission more from within the EU, and both have begun doing so (they say it makes commercial sense to include locally made content in all the versions they launch overseas, so this pressure may be going with the grain). </p> <p>But the notion that they might be required to design a special home page in every territory in which they launch, giving prominence to catch-up services over which they have no control, and which may contain material that does even purport to be public service in nature, seems just the type of anti-consumer wheeze that only Broadcasting House could devise. Indeed, as Netflix and Amazon Prime do not actually make set-top boxes, and only offer as part of their service content which they have licensed, there is no question of <em>“home-grown programmes being hard to find on their boxes”. </em>One can only assume that a Telegraph sub-editor has simply misunderstood Purnell’s deliberately obscure article.</p> <p>Fortunately, the Culture Department has indicated that it has no interest in the type of amendments the BBC is urging, and the Digital Economy Bill is likely to pass with no such encumbrances. But that has never stopped the BBC asking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk David Elstein Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:00:59 +0000 David Elstein 109696 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC and the financial crisis: interview with Dr Mike Berry https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/ian-sinclair-mike-berry/bbc-and-financial-crisis-interview-with-dr-mike-berry <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What can we learn from how the BBC's coverage of the 2008 financial crisis and the long recession that followed?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Today Programme.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Today Programme.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The BBC Today Programme. Image, BBC.</span></span></span></p> <p>Dr Mike Berry, a Lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, co-wrote <em>Bad News From Israel</em> (2004) and <em>More Bad News From Israel</em> (2011) with Professor Greg Philo.<br /> <br /> In recent years Dr Berry has turned his attention to the BBC’s coverage of the 2008 financial crisis. I asked him about his findings and why they are important for British democracy.<strong><br /> <br /> Ian Sinclair: In the last few years you have published two journal articles studying the BBC’s coverage of the 2008 financial crisis – one analysing BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s output on the banking crisis in September and October 2008 and the other looking at the coverage by BBC News at Ten of the debate around the need to reduce the public deficit in the first seven months of 2009. What were the main&nbsp;findings of these two studies?<br /> <br /> </strong>Mike Berry: Before answering that question directly I'd like to backtrack a little and provide some context to these events and explain why they are intimately linked. After 1979 the Conservatives introduced policies which fundamentally changed the nature and composition of the British economy. The withdrawal of the state from intervention in industry, the lifting of exchange controls and the deregulation of finance strengthened the power of capital at the expense of labour. The effects of what the Oxford historian Andrew Glyn described as, <a href="http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199226795.001.0001/acprof-9780199226795">'Capitalism Unleashed'</a>, was a shift towards an economy dominated by the service sector, a dramatic polarization in regional economic activity and sharp rise in income and wealth inequality. However this rise in inequality had a deflationary impact on the economy which was only compensated for by a steep rise in household debt. When New Labour came to power they largely accepted the Thatcherite settlement – the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector would continue to be the principal private motor of the economy whilst manufacturing was allowed to continue its long decline. However Labour did introduce record increases in social spending in areas such as health and education which in large part were paid for by tax receipts drawn from the City and the property boom. This meant that public spending increasingly took on the role of an <a href="http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199589081.001.0001/acprof-9780199589081">'undisclosed regional policy'</a> by boosting state and para-state employment in areas outside the South-East where private sector job creation was 'weak or failing'. However this unbalanced growth model, based on asset price inflation and ever expanding household debt financed by an outsized, reckless financial services sector was unsustainable and exploded spectacularly in 2008. <br /> <br /> This is the point at which my research picked up the story and I was interested primarily in how the crisis was explained, how the bank rescue plans were discussed and the range of debate on how the finance sector could be reformed. Would the key role of the banks in creating such an unbalanced economic model be unpacked and would there be any voices featured who called for more democratic control of finance and restrictions on the free market? When I looked at the coverage on the Today programme it was clear that the people who had caused the crisis – the bankers and the politicians – were overwhelmingly the voices charged with defining the problem and putting forward solutions. This meant that that on the question of what to do with the banks there was strong support for the government bailouts and the idea that the banks should be re-privatised as soon as possible. It also meant that arguments in favour of long term public stake in banking which could be used to support <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/13/economy-banking">long term productive</a> <a href="http://neweconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/CONTROL-OF-RBS_BULLETIN_E.pdf">investment</a> – rather than real estate speculation – never appeared in coverage. In a similar vein, major reforms such <a href="http://www.economonitor.com/nouriel/2008/09/21/the-shadow-banking-system-is-unravelling-roubini-column-in-the-financial-times-such-demise-confirmed-by-morgan-and-goldman-now-being-converted-into-banks/">as heavier regulation of the shadow banking sector</a>, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/21/globaleconomy-g8">introduction of a financial transaction tax</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/24/marketturmoil-creditcrunch">the regulation</a> or even <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/22/economy-economics">banning</a> of certain derivative classes, a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/21/globaleconomy-taxavoidance">clampdown on tax havens</a> or <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/how-goldman-sachs-took-over-the-world-873869.html">restrictions on the revolving door between politicians, regulators and major banks</a>, were also invisible. It was remarkable that in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, which was precipitated by extraordinarily irresponsible behaviour by the banks, the Today programme featured a variety of City sources warning about the dangers of too much regulation.<br /> <br /> The banking crisis led to a major recession which shrunk the tax base and sharply increased the public deficit (the gap between the tax take and public spending). It also precipitated a major debate about how to respond to the increase in public debt. At the heart of these debates were three interlinked questions: How serious a problems was the deficit? How quickly should it be eliminated? and how should it be reduced? Some <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/invisible-bond-vigilantes/">leading</a> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/aug/31/us-uk-economy-deficit-debt">economists</a> were sceptical that the deficit represented an economy emergency and believed that deficit reduction needed to wait until the recovery was well established. There were also <a href="http://www.ippr.org/files/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/peoples_budget_1687.pdf?noredirect=1">many</a> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/aug/15/deficit-crisis-tax-the-rich">voices</a> calling for the burden of deficit reduction to be primarily borne by those who had most benefitted from the sharp increases in asset wealth seen over the previous thirty years. However these voices didn't appear in coverage. Instead the dominant perspectives in BBC News at Ten reporting were that the deficit was highly dangerous and needed to be dealt with quickly by sharp cuts to public spending and increases in regressive forms of taxation. These perspectives were mostly expressed by politicians, think tanks and City sources but on occasion they were directly endorsed by leading journalists. So, for instance on 10 June 2009 a reporter commented that ‘What will be cut, by how much and when? As the government’s coffers grow ever more empty, those are questions that can no longer be avoided.'<br /> <br /> <strong>IS: Is this coverage a step change in the BBC’s coverage of finance and economics news, or is it a continuation of previous output?</strong><br /> <br /> MB: In many ways this is a continuation of previous output. There is a long history of research stretching back to the mid 1970s which has found that BBC economic news tends to reproduce free market perspectives on the economy whilst marginalising left wing views.<br /> <br /> For instance <a href="http://www.glasgowmediagroup.org/images/stories/BookChapters/GMG_Reader/strikes.pdf">research</a> on BBC reporting of Britain's industrial malaise in the 1970s tended to blame &nbsp;industrial action by trade unions whilst sidelining the culpability of management and very low levels of investment in plant and capital, which meant that the average Japanese car production worker was using equipment worth ten times that of &nbsp;their British counterpart. In the 1980s, <a href="http://www.glasgowmediagroup.org/images/stories/pdf/newright.pdf">research</a> noted that BBC reporting of the Conservatives' privatisation of state assets was heavily influenced by the governments' PR campaigns with the consequence that most coverage focused on the potential profits to shareholders while excluding those who argued that 80% of the population would no longer have a stake in the newly private industries.<br /> <br /> However, there are two key trends since the 1980s that have narrowed the range of opinion even further. The first was the decision by the Labour party to <a href="http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/23/5/679.full.pdf+html">abandon contestation of economic policy</a> following a series of election defeats in the 1980s. By the time New Labour was elected in 1997 the party had wholeheartedly embraced neoliberalism and the primacy of finance sector in the economy. Since the BBC tends to reproduce the spectrum of opinion at Westminster it meant that the major voice which had traditionally argued for an interventionist state and controls on the free market disappeared from coverage. The second factor was changes in the sociology of journalism. The 1980s saw the <a href="http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/21/3/313.full.pdf+html">disappearance of the industrial news beat</a> which had provided a platform for the views of the trade unions and a space where left-wing collectivist opinion could be articulated. At the same time financial and City news became a much more prominent feature of BBC reporting which provided much greater space for City experts and their apparently neutral opinions on the latest financial and economic news stories.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> <strong>IS: How does the BBC’s coverage of the financial crisis compare to that of other British news organisations?<br /> <br /> </strong>MB: The BBC, due to its statutory duty to maintain impartiality, doesn't employ the kind of aggressive editorialising that you see in parts of the national press. Nevertheless the range of opinion is similar. &nbsp;<br /> <br /> So during the banking crisis both the Today programme and most national newspapers overwhelmingly viewed the part-nationalisation as the only option and featured commentators who argued against full nationalisation and public ownership of banks. In a similar vein both Today and the national press – with the notable exception of the Guardian – featured little information about serious structural reforms to the finance sector. If anything Today coverage, due to its exceptionally heavy reliance on City sources, tended to feature less criticism of the finance sector and more arguments against further regulation than any national newspaper.<br /> <br /> In a similar vein, when I looked at the coverage of the debates around the public deficit what was remarkable was the degree of similarity in broadcast and press coverage with the key differences being in tone and tenor. So both the press and the BBC tended to treat the deficit as an economic crisis which threatened serious consequences such as currency depreciation, interest rate rises, bond strikes and even national bankruptcy whilst sidelining voices who questioned these claims. Similarly both the BBC and the right-wing press overwhelming presented sharp cuts to public spending and increases in regressive taxation as the only possible solutions to the 'crisis'. The argument made by some on the left that some of the burden should be borne by the most wealthy just doesn't appear in BBC coverage and even in the left of centre press it is largely absent except for the Guardian. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> <strong>IS: The BBC prides itself on the principle of impartiality, and is even seen as left-wing by many commentators. Why, then, were the parameters of the coverage of the financial crisis on two of the BBC’s flagship programmes so narrow and City-friendly, and so dominated by elite, often City-based&nbsp;sources?</strong><br /> &nbsp;<br /> MB: If you ask journalists this question they will tell you that in comparison to academic economists City sources are invariably 'available' and 'up to date' on the latest events. Journalists also argue that you can rely on such sources to give clear concise arguments within the constraints of a brief news item and that they are the sources with the expertise needed to understand the intricacies and complexities of the financial crisis. All those are valid explanations but I think these sourcing patterns also reflect the fact that journalists internalise strong assumptions about who is qualified to speak on the economy or finance sector and this usually means a front bench politician, specific think tanks or a City source. These voices are then routinely over accessed and serve to sharply delineate the boundaries of what is said about how the economy can be managed. But of course there are always alternative sources who could be accessed to broaden the parameters of debate.<br /> <br /> <strong>IS: Why are your findings about the BBC’s coverage of the financial crisis important?<br /> <br /> </strong>MB: Broadcast news remains a key information source for most citizens and so what appears has significant implications for the construction of public belief and attitudes. In my research in addition to analysing the content of media broadcasts I also run focus groups with members of the public in order to examine how news accounts impact on what people think and believe. What was clear from the focus groups was that most people were quite confused about key aspects of the financial crisis – for instance what a derivative was or the difference between the public debt and deficit. However what they had picked up tended to be very heavily influenced by what they had seen in the press or broadcasting. So most people knew about the 'fat cats' and the bonuses but nobody I spoke to had heard of the financial transactions tax or knew about the 'revolving door'. When I asked people about how the public deficit could be reduced they overwhelmingly pointed to solutions they had picked up from press and television accounts such as reductions in quangos, public sector pension provision, benefit payments or immigrants. Nobody mentioned clamping down on tax avoidance or introducing progressive wealth or income taxes. However when I brought these up as potential solutions in focus groups they were received very well, reflecting the findings of <a href="http://lordashcroft.com/pdf/25092010_what_future_for_labour.pdf">large</a> <a href="http://classonline.org.uk/docs/YouGov-Class_">scale</a> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/aug/15/deficit-crisis-tax-the-rich">surveys</a> in this area. </p> <p>The press and television thus plays a key role in framing how we understand the economy and the range of possibilities as to how it can be managed. If the great bulk of the press argue that the public deficit represents a national emergency which can only be solved by cuts to a 'bloated' and 'inefficient' public sector – and crucially if such views are reinforced (in rather more temperate language) in public broadcasting then it is hardly surprising that such views become widely accepted amongst the public.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>IS: What changes do you think the BBC should make to provide a wider selection of voices and a broader debate when it comes to financial and economic news?</strong><br /> <br /> MB: I think that the first thing that needs to happen is for the BBC to recognise that its economic reporting should be more balanced. On the day that the bank bailouts were finalised (13 October 2008) the discussion during one news segment was conducted between Sir George Cox, described by a BBC journalist as ‘someone with a liberal, free-market economic background, Institute of Directors and from perhaps the more right end of British politics’, and Patrick Minford who was introduced as ‘one of Mrs Thatcher’s chief economist supporters’. Such a narrow range of reporting was not uncommon and appears to reflect a belief within BBC economic reporting that, as Mrs Thatcher famously put it, 'there is no alternative' to the free market.<br /> <br /> However, when even economists at the IMF, the organisation mostly closely associated with the promotion of neoliberalism, are now publishing <a href="https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2010/wp10268.pdf">papers</a> explicitly linking the decline in labour bargaining power with debt increases, financialisation and economic crises then surely it is time for BBC reporting to widen the spectrum of opinion it features in its new programmes.<br /> <br /> There are many alternative sources that the BBC could turn to to provide an alternative to free market perspectives. Individual sources such as Ha Joon Chang, Geoff Tily, Simon Wren-Lewis, James Meadway, Ann Pettifor, Mariana Mazzucato, Mark Blyth or Graham Turner could offer fresh perspectives. Institutionally the BBC could source from thinktanks like the New Economics Foundation, the Tax Justice Network, PRIME or from academics connected to the Manchester Business School or SPERI. Occasionally such sources do appear, but to provide true balance they need to be featured routinely as a counterpoint to the views of City economists who tend to dominate reporting.&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/ian-sinclair-tom-mills/bbc-is-neither-independent-or-impartial-interview-with-tom-mills">The BBC is neither independent or impartial: interview with Tom Mills</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk Ian Sinclair Mike Berry Fri, 03 Feb 2017 15:01:20 +0000 Ian Sinclair and Mike Berry 108573 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Do you remember what happened to David Kelly? https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/tom-mangold/do-you--remember-what-happened-to-david-kelly <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In this extract from his memoirs, Tom Mangold recounts the real story of what happened to his friend, the world's leading weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/David Kelly.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/David Kelly.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dr David Kelly.</span></span></span></p><p>Think you remember the David Kelly affair? The government arms inspector who killed himself thirteen years ago after a huge scandal involving Tony Blair’s Labour government, the war in Iraq and all that ?</p> <p>I bet you don’t.</p> <p>So a quick simple reminder. Here’s what happened:</p> <p>In 2002 Tony Blair’s government was looking for valid reasons to join with the United States to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.</p> <p>An intelligence report published that September with No. 10’s full approval stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which posed a clear and present danger to the West. The report headlined the claim that Iraq could deploy and activate chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order being given.</p> <p>So Britain went to war in March 2003 assuming the dodgy dossier was the truth, and we won. Unfortunately, after the war, nobody ever found any weapons of mass destruction. As a result it slowly became obvious that the war and its terrible consequences had been based in part by the nation being hoodwinked into thinking the invasion had been justified by a government whose prime minister was simply too anxious to join the Americans into going to war in the first place.</p> <p>The political crisis really began in May 2003.</p> <p>David Kelly, one of the world’s top weapons inspectors, and an employee of our Ministry of Defence gave a non-attributable background briefing about the missing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to Andrew Gilligan, a BBC defence reporter working for BBC Radio 4.</p> <p>However the version of the Kelly briefing transmitted by Andrew Gilligan on the BBC’s Today programme claimed that his anonymous contact had told him that the published intelligence dossier had been `sexed up’ before its publication, especially that 45 minute claim – a claim that made headlines in the British press when it was published, and a claim taken very seriously by the public.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a></p> <p>The clear implication of Gilligan’s BBC report was that the government had had a hand in an attempt to deceive the public and that Britain’s intelligence services were unhappy with this Whitehall interference. A few days later, in a story in the Mail On Sunday, Gilligan went on to claim that his source had named Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Communications Director as being behind the inflation of the language in the dossier. An act which amounted to bending the truth to suit a political aim. In other words, the prime minister himself had been responsible through his communications chief, of lying to Britain in order to join the Americans in invading Iraq.</p> <p>Now that was a hell of an allegation.</p> <p>Gilligan’s reports immediately brought about the biggest ever multiple car crash involving the BBC, the Government, the intelligence services, and Campbell himself. Everyone emerged from this pile up with deep wounds. Some reputations were carted off on a stretcher. Those who could, limped away. It was a bloody mess. When the smoke finally cleared, one innocent man lay dead.</p> <p>The scandal ran for ever it seemed, and re-appeared once more only last year with the publication of the independent inquiry by Sir John Chilcot into the Iraq war.</p> <p>Remember some of the chief protagonists?</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <span>Alastair Campbell</span>. Director of Communications and Strategy for Number 10. Famously thin-skinned, very fast on the draw. </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <span>Andrew Gilligan</span>. Then a controversial defence and intelligence reporter for the Today Radio 4 programme and on a contract with the BBC. He had previously had a successful career in Fleet Street. </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <span>David Kelly</span>. Probably the most distinguished arms inspector in the Western world. It was he who had established the Soviets had been planning to bombard the West with smallpox, anthrax and plague in the event of a nuclear exchange. It was also he who, after the <em>first</em> war with Iraq, had found the first real evidence of Baghdad’s intention to produce nuclear biological and chemical warfare weapons of mass destruction.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <span>John Scarlett</span>. Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the Cabinet Office body that prepares intelligence assessments and analyses for the government. He had completed a highly successful stint at MI6 the Secret Intelligence Service and after joining JIC as its chairman, was hoping to return to MI6 eventually as its boss.</p> <p>The drama may have played out nearly a generation ago, but both for the <em>cognoscenti </em>and new readers, the narrative remains as gripping and tragic as ever, and the events have lost none of their importance. </p> <p>In order to give a refreshed perspective on scandal, I’m going to eject millions of previously published words, and slash and burn irrelevant facts to tell the story, while sticking to the essential ingredients.</p> <p>So. The notorious `dodgy dossier’, claiming Iraq had retained weapons of mass destruction was published in September 2002. The intelligence file had been collated by the JIC, the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee under its chairman Sir John Scarlett. It was he who `owned’ and took responsibility for the document. Most of its assumptions were based on intelligence submitted by Britain’s MI6, and some from the American CIA.</p> <p>We now know that most of the intelligence in that dossier was rubbish, or to be more polite and quote Chilcot – “flawed” which is the same thing. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq from then until now because there never were any.</p> <p>Gilligan’s BBC reports, allegedly based on David Kelly’s briefing raised very serious existentialist questions in May 2003. The stakes could not have been higher. </p> <p>David Kelly, a regular contact of Gilligan’s met him at the Charing Cross Hotel for that <em>non-attributable</em> briefing on May 22nd 2003. Non-attributable means the journalist gives his word of honour that the name of his contact will never be revealed under any circumstances whatsoever, save to his editor who is under the same obligation.</p> <p>Here’s part of Gilligan’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme that followed this briefing about the intelligence dossier:</p> <p>John Humphrys: “….is Tony Blair saying that (weapons of mass destruction) would be ready to go in 45 minutes ?’</p> <p>Gilligan: “That’s right, that was the central claim in his dossier…and what we’ve been told by one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up that dossier was that actually <em>the government</em> <em>probably knew that the 45-minute figure was wrong even before it decided to put it in…</em>..Downing Street our source says…ordered it to be sexed up, to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be discovered. Our source says that the dossier as it was finally published made the intelligence services unhappy….the 45-minute point was probably the most important thing that was added…..it only came from one source and most of the other claims were from two and the intelligence agencies they don’t really believe it was necessarily true…..The 45 minutes isn’t just a detail, it did go to the heart of the government’s case that Saddam was an imminent threat….but if they knew it was wrong before they actually made the claim that’s perhaps a bit more serious.”<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a></p> <p>Andrew Gilligan, sitting at home, broadcasting live on national radio did not know it, but he had just lit the fuse to the biggest detonation ever to hit Tony Blair’s Labour government. With hindsight, we know now that Gilligan was certainly on the right track. But he had made two huge, colossal, dreadful mistakes. He had inflated the language of the Kelly briefing, and fatally, he would never be able to <em>prove </em>that <em>the government,</em> or <em>Tony Blair, </em>or his director of Communications <em>Alastair Campbell </em>were directly responsible for the contents of the dodgy dossier for the very simple reason that <em>they did not own it. </em>It was formally owned by John Scarlett, the chairman of the JIC, and it was he who had to take <em>full responsibility for its contents</em>. This one error, eventually brought the house down on the BBC with repercussions rolling through Whitehall and throughout the land.</p> <p>Alastair Campbell, was incandescent with rage when he learned of the Gilligan broadcast with its very serious implications for his boss the prime minister.</p> <p>Now just sit back for a moment and think quietly about what that allegation was saying. The BBC, the world’s most reputable broadcasting organisation whose news reports were guaranteed to be wholly truthful and impartial had just claimed that Tony Blair might be a cheat and a liar who had, with malice aforethought led the British people to war based in part on a colossal intelligence deception organised by him or his lackeys.</p> <p>This had happened on BBC Radio 4 at 6.07 in the morning.</p> <p>What should have happened next and didn’t? Let me tell you.</p> <p>Any half-sober, trainee apprentice deputy news editor from a provincial weekly, with an L plate pinned to his back, on day one of work experience would have had the gumption and the instinct to summon Gilligan from his bedroom, straight to the Today office, and there, asked him politely to see his shorthand notes to confirm that his source had indeed said what Gilligan alleged he had said. Quite simple. I’ve been asked that several times. It’s routine procedure whenever the office sees a shit-storm gathering a few miles away.</p> <p>Had this happened, what would our work experience junior have discovered? A regular BBC notebook filled with the nice neat shorthand notes of a trained reporter ?</p> <p>Er. No. Not quite.</p> <p>He would have been presented by Gilligan with a small Sharp hand-held personal organiser model # ZQ-70. I’ve had a very similar model for thirty years and I can tell you that it is virtually impossible to type full contemporaneous notes of an ordinary person speaking at three words to a second on it, because the keyboard is so tiny. It just cannot be done. That’s not what that kind of organiser is for, it’s more to record names and addresses and phone numbers and diary dates and appointments and so on. I cannot believe that Gilligan made a full contemporaneous note of <span>everything </span>Kelly said at that longish meeting. If he made notes afterwards, based on memory they cannot be regarded as a full and reliable and accurate note of <em>the actual words</em> used by Kelly, and in that 6.07 broadcast, believe me, semantics were everything.</p> <p>In the Gilligan case, our work experience trainee would have known immediately that this was a matter to be referred up the BBC editorial chain to more senior management.</p> <p>Gilligan’s note-taking at that seminal meeting with Kelly was subsequently to be placed under forensic examination at the first enquiry into the Kelly affair chaired by Lord Hutton. It transpired there were serious problems with Gilligan’s little electronic organiser. There were ‘anomalies’ in two sets of notes covering the same thoughts of Kelly…the date stamp inside the organiser was incorrect…it was unclear whether and when David Kelly had actually mentioned Alastair Campbell as being behind the dodgy dossier deceits. “I am not quite sure when the word Campbell was mentioned during the conversation. I know it was mentioned by David Kelly. But it may have come towards the end”, Gilligan told the Hutton Enquiry. Gilligan said he had made some notes as Kelly spoke but admitted some had been made <em>after</em> the actual interview. </p> <p>Counsel for the Hutton Enquiry said: “The absence of Mr Campbell’s name in the first set of (electronic) notes may suggest that it was more likely to be Mr Gilligan’s question than Dr Kelly’s answer”<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> In other words suggesting Gilligan may actually have put Campbell’s name into Kelly’s mouth.</p> <p>Gilligan’s own counsel told the enquiry: “Of course Andrew Gilligan did not have a verbatim note of the (Kelly) conversation. He is not a court transcriber who records every word. He is a journalist, and like most journalists he made notes.”<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a></p> <p>But in a controversial interview, and this interview with Kelly could not have been more controversial, the absence of verbatim quotes made either electronically, or in long-hand or shorthand left the journalist naked and exposed.</p> <p>Gilligan said he had actually made a second set of <em>written</em> notes, but had done so <em>after</em> the interview, however sadly these had been lost, even though he had originally tucked them safely into a pocket in his computer bag. </p> <p>It also transpired that he had lost his appointments diary.</p> <p>At this stage most middle-ranking BBC editorial managers would surely have taken the decision that in the absence of perfect or near perfect verbatim notes of this dynamite story, and with Alastair Campbell figuratively hammering on the huge brass doors of Broadcasting House, that it might be not a bad wheeze for BBC news to have placed everything on hold. The news in that 6.07 broadcast would be frozen until and unless the precise contents of that briefing could be ascertained.</p> <p>Incredibly, Gilligan’s notes were never checked at the time nor was he asked to confirm and double check with his secret contact (David Kelly) that he agreed with every single word of the broadcast.</p> <p>On the day in question, I, and a senior colleague on Panorama, game-planned the whole scenario and reckoned we could, a mere six hours later, have prevented the approaching debacle by planting a simple apology on the ‘World At One’ explaining that the BBC had not wished to imply any government interference in a dossier <em>which it did not own.</em></p> <p>End of.</p> <p>It didn’t happen.</p> <p>Instead, the Corporation in a moment of delirium took the worst possible course. It mounted its very high horse, tooled up with side arms and repeater rifles and rode out to meet the government enemy and face it down. Sadly, the BBC was armed only with blanks. After the shoot-out at the not-so-OK corral, both its Director General and the Chairman of the Board of Govenors, lay prostate in the dirt.</p> <p>Then it got worse.</p> <p>At 7.32 am came Gilligan’s second broadcast. By this time, the government’s early shift press officers had issued a denial of the original story. “Not one word of the dossier was not entirely the work of the intelligence agencies.”, they said. Even allowing for the lousy syntax, their point was technically correct. The politicians may have commissioned the report but once again <em>they didn’t own it.</em></p> <p>Although Gilligan’s second broadcast toned things down a little, it was John Humphry’s introduction, an assertion that the famous dossier “had been cobbled together at the last minute” that poured another litre of high octane on to the bonfire.</p> <p>By now, the entire BBC radio news apparatus was on the case, feeding as it does, on itself. Sub-editors wrote scripts with slack wording so that within a few broadcasts, the story had magnified into “BBC News has learned that intelligence officials were unhappy with the dossier….”<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> Not true.</p> <p>In fact, Kelly was not an intelligence official although he had access to and contributed to intelligence analyses in his sphere of expertise. No attempt was made by the BBC to correct this editorial inflation of the story.</p> <p>Within days the fire was out of control. The BBC’s failure to either correct the misimpression or at least play the semantics game and get its facts straight allowed the notion to be gained that Tony Blair, through Alastair Campbell had deliberately interfered with the crucial intelligence report, just one attempt to trick parliament and the British people into approving the decision to invade Iraq. One should not underestimate the seriousness of this or the impact it made on No. 10 and the Ministry of Defence.</p> <p>We know now, as we guessed then, that the WMD allegations were indeed not true. Their basis, submitted to the JIC by Sir Richard Dearlove, the director of MI6 were flimsy, unreliable and unconfirmed. One clue to hanky panky with the dossier, was the decision NOT to show it to a second British intelligence agency, the Ministry of Defence’s own Defence Intelligence Staff, the DIS before publication. Had this happened, the dossier would have been heavily toned down.</p> <p>The DIS learned of the dossier’s content only after its publication and far too late to influence the contents. The intelligence agency was most unhappy with much of the loose wording in the dossier, and found the notorious 45 minute claim to be highly unlikely. Their top men believed that Blair and Campbell had done their best to interpret the available intelligence into a worst case scenario. Indeed, a forward written to the dossier by Tony Blair stated unequivocally that the intelligence was `beyond doubt’.</p> <p>David Kelly had given a cautious briefing to Gilligan. The arms inspector had earlier told me that he was fairly confident that Saddam might well have “a deeply recessed WMD programme” but no more. David also told me that the 45 Minute claim was “risible”.</p> <p>So Gilligan and the BBC got it half right but for the wrong reasons. No-one from then until now has been able to <em>prove</em> the broadcast’s most contentious allegations of direct government involvement and deceit. This left the BBC vulnerable to a counter-attack by Whitehall which, when it came was devastating and took the life of David Kelly and the reputation of the BBC.</p> <p>After the broadcasts, it now became important for both Gilligan, and the&nbsp; MOD – the employers of Kelly; and No. 10. to unmask Gilligan’s secret, anonymous source. Gilligan because it would prove he had a strong and well placed informant, the MOD because whoever the source was, would need to be rooted out and publicly chastised, and No. 10 to be able to claim that the informant had absolutely no evidence of direct political involvement in the dodgy dossier’s contents.</p> <p>In fact, with all honesty Kelly outed himself to his MOD employers, and was open enough to tell them that although he did not recognise much of Gilligan’s now notorious broadcast, he did recall having met and spoken to him. He denied absolutely having named Campbell as the man who insisted on including the 45 minute claim.</p> <p>Let’s take a breather.</p> <p>It’s worth mentioning here that David Kelly, the world’s leading nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction inspector had always been allowed, even encouraged to brief the media. His bosses held him in such high regard and trust that he had become the go-to man for journalists of all stripes all over the world.</p> <p>When I was writing my book on germ warfare, David, by now a friend and contact, came to my house and spoke to me for seven solid hours without even a pee break, refusing my wife’s cups of coffee and giving me more gold standard information in that time than I had quarried in three months before. Sir Richard Hatfield, Personnel Director at MOD and Kelly’s erstwhile boss, confirmed that Kelly’s media skills and discretion as a briefer over twelve years were to be praised.</p> <p>The Kelly I knew so well was a quiet, self-effacing and serious man. He exuded authority, and his knowledge was unmatched. He could look at scarring in an explosive decompression chamber and tell you who was cooking what ghastly chemical or biological weapon for the future. The Soviets and KGB loathed him, and he once reduced the unappetising `Toxic Taha’ Iraq’s head of Biological weapons into an hysterical breakdown through his quiet and insistent questioning. He was not a political animal, and while he did regard the 45 minute allegation in the dodgy dossier as risible, he told me he also believed Iraq might well have what he called a ‘deeply recessed programme for weapons of mass destruction’. He had quibbles with the dodgy dossier but they were more semantic than anything else.</p> <p>Let me resume the narrative.</p> <p>During the month of May 2003, Kelly had spoken not only to Gilligan but to several journalists always on a strictly non-attributable basis. This included a conversation with BBC Newsnight’s Susan Watts, the programme’s Science Correspondent, to whom he gave a similar briefing to the one he had given Gilligan. He also spoke to the BBC News reporter Gavin Hewitt (at my recommendation). Neither Watts nor Hewitt recall him taking a strongly hostile view about any political interference with the dossier, although he did tell Hewitt that ‘No 10. Spin had come into play’. This of course was true.</p> <p>There was no love lost between the BBC journalists Susan Watts and Andrew Gilligan. She would not even speak to him. She said: “I feel that there were significant differences between what Dr Kelly said to me and what Andrew Gilligan has reported that Dr Kelly said to him… He did not say to me that the dossier was transformed in the last week. He certainly did not say the 45 minutes claim was inserted either by Alastair Campbell or by anyone else in government. In fact, he denied specifically that Alastair Campbell was involved, in the conversation on 30 May.”<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> However in a subsequent interview Kelly had told her he thought Campbell had been responsible for ‘sexing up’ the dossier, but she regarded this comment as a “gossipy aside” and did not use it in her broadcast. </p> <p>It is certain that Kelly expressed unhappiness with some of the wording of the dodgy dossier and that he implied this may have been the result of government pressure. Why should he be blamed when he was damn right about that? At the same time, he briefed with great caution because he had no more proof of government interference than did the BBC.</p> <p>I’m reasonably certain that David’s reservations about the wording and some of the conclusions of the dodgy dossier came not just from his own specialised knowledge, but from what he learned from the intelligence agency with which he was most closely associated, the Defence Intelligence Staff – the MOD’s own intelligence agency.</p> <p>We know the DIS (unlike MI6 the major intelligence gathering agency) had their serious reservations about the dodgy dossier. They much preferred a wiser ‘semantic’ route in their intelligence assessments, where the difference between ‘may’, ‘could’, ‘would’ etc are not just pedantic but hugely important in the wilderness of mirrors which is intelligence gathering and analysis. Dr Brian Jones, a former senior defence intelligence official, was deeply unhappy with the wording of the dossier which he regarded as ‘over-egged’; the 45 minutes claim he regarded as ‘nebulous’ (a posh euphemism meaning rubbish). </p> <p>Why had the DIS had deliberately been kept out of the loop on the drafting of the dossier? Think it through. This was not a dossier that required careful and circumspect wording. To the contrary.</p> <p>In the event the decision to keep DIS in the dark led to a serious reprimand by a second official and independent investigation, the subsequent Butler Report, a review of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction which concluded: “It was wrong that a report (the dodgy dossier) which was of significance in the drafting of a document of the importance of the dossier was not shown to key experts in the DIS who could have commented on the validity and credibility of the report”<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a></p> <p>An ever firmer condemnation for keeping the DIS out of the loop came from the third official investigation – the Chilcot Enquiry report published this year. “The SIS (MI6) report should have been shown to the relevant experts in the Defence Intelligence Staff… expert officials (of which) questioned the certainty with which some of the judgements in the dossier were expressed”<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a></p> <p>While we know now that the dodgy dossier was rubbish in many, many respects but there is a small element of hindsight here. For example, in favour of some of its assumptions about the existence of WMD in Iraq, it is not generally known that shortly after the invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British divisions, three Russian-made Ilyushin 76 cargo planes were tracked by British intelligence, and seen flying from an airport near Baghdad to an airport in Southern Russia. The flights were organised by the notorious Russian ‘Merchant of Death’, the freelance arms dealer and smuggler Victor Bout, currently serving life without parole in a United States maximum security prison. MI6 were unable to establish what the cargo was on board those flights. At about the same time, the British also tracked several convoys of Iraqi military lorries that travelled at night, lights out, from Iraq to Syria. Again, contents unknown.</p> <p>It is fair to speculate that the planes and lorries might have been carrying elements of a nascent chemical weapons programme which the Russians had been helping Saddam Hussein’s regime with, just as they were involved in the chemical weapons programme of neighbouring Bassam Assad’s regime in Syria.</p> <p>The last thing the Russians would have wanted is for the West to find their fingerprints on any weapons of mass destruction programme in Iraq. </p> <p>However, those cargoes may just as obviously have been the nation’s gold or currency reserves, so because it was not possible to establish what was actually decanted to Syria and Russia, no formal MI6 report was made of the incidents, and nothing of these events went into the dodgy dossier.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> </p> <p>John Scarlett chairman of the JIC and “owner” of the dossier was a skilled intelligence officer with a fine history in MI6 including handling the KGB defector Oleg Gordiewski, the man who helped bring the cold war to an end.</p> <p>Scarlett was understandably anxious to become director of MI6 but a civil service age rule was against him. This requirement determined a candidate for the top job needed to be under 55 years of age if he were an internal applicant. However, perversely the rule does not apply to external applicants, and Scarlett sensibly left MI6 and joined the JIC as chairman in order to apply for the Director’s post as an external candidate even though he older than 55.<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a></p> <p>The interviewing panel for this post is chaired by the Cabinet Office Secretary and includes a handful of Whitehall’s great and good including the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It would obviously have been in Scarlett’s interests to maintain a close working relationship with No. 10, and it is no secret that Alastair Campbell came to regard Scarlett as ‘a mate’.</p> <p>I have also been told that even after the whole Kelly affair, Scarlett still went to some considerable lengths in the spring of 2004 to influence the reporting of what had and what had not been found in Iraq. The Iraq Survey Group comprising 1400 experts had been despatched under UN authority to scour Saddam’s defeated republic for the weapons of mass destruction promised by the dodgy dossier. When the army of experts realised there was nothing to be found, Scarlett attempted to lean on the truth by having language inserted into the official report which simply did not reflect the facts on the ground. Had he succeeded this would have politically helped Blair off the hook of his own embarrassment at the absence of these weapons. One of the inspectors told me in some detail what he claims had happened.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a></p> <p>The Iraq Survey Group, he said, was due to report that it had drawn a complete blank and found nothing in Iraq – a major embarrassment for John Scarlett’s JIC, Britain’s MI6 and Tony Blair all of whom had become involved in the dodgy dossier which outlined all the supposed threats posed to Britain by weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Saddam’s busted republic. </p> <p>The Iraq Survey Group had been led by David Kay, a pugnacious Texan but even he finally resigned the Group in January 2004 and told the U.S. Congress that despite all the intelligence there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The American intelligence predictions had been as lamentable as the British.</p> <p>Kay’s revelation sent shock waves through London for obvious reasons. Both the British and the Americans launched an immediate damage limitation exercise. Scarlett contacted the Group’s headquarters in Saddam’s old Perfumed Palace outside Baghdad and did his best to encourage them to include what became known as ‘ten golden nuggets’ into their final report on what they had or had not found.</p> <p>One of the nuggets was that Iraq had been running a smallpox programme – untrue. Another was that Iraq was building a ‘rail gun’ as part of an aggressive nuclear programme – untrue. Another nugget claimed Iraq had two mobile chemical weapons laboratories – untrue.</p> <p>Scarlett and officials in London and from the CIA in Washington all tried to influence the Iraq Group’s final report. They were only partially successful and the final report was too brief and anodyne to make the required impact. But Scarlett’s ambivalent role in this did not go unnoticed.</p> <p>As far as his ownership of the dodgy dossier was concerned he took heavy flack from the Butler Report that “it was a serious weakness that the JIC’s warnings on the limitations of the (dodgy) intelligence dossier underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier… more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear.” As far as the infamous 45 Minute Claim was concerned: “We conclude that the JIC should not have included the ‘45 Minute’ report in its assessment without stating what it should have referred to.”</p> <p>The Chilcot Enquiry was even tougher on his role as chairman of the JIC. “At issue”, concluded Chilcot, “are the judgements made by the JIC and how they and the intelligence were presented including Mr Blair’s foreword…” Chilcot determined that neither parliament nor the public would have distinguished between the separate authorities included in the dossier, and would have failed to distinguish between the intelligence view and the political view. </p> <p>Blair had written in a foreword to Scarlett’s report that the “assessed intelligence” had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons….”<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> In fact, stated Chilcott, “the assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. “Furthermore: “At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programmes identified and examined by either the JIC or the policy community”<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a></p> <p>It only took a couple of years for most of the intelligence in the dodgy dossier to be exposed as flawed. The 45 Minute claim came from a single source who was found to be lying. Other intelligence, equally valueless from a defector known only as ‘Curveball’, had come via the Germans and hadn’t even been double checked by MI6 who were denied access to the defector.</p> <p>Scarlett had shared the “ingrained belief” of most in British intelligence that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. When nothing was found, Scarlett told No. 10 that he thought that most sites associated with WMD production had been “cleansed”.</p> <p>Nevertheless, Scarlett did finally achieve his ambition and his work as chairman of the JIC was rewarded by his appointment as the new Director of MI6. </p> <p>A few months earlier in the long hot summer of 2003 in London, David Kelly now began a fight to save his reputation, his job and his pension. The MOD carefully allowed his name to become known to the media as Gilligan’s informant. Kelly was then called to give an account of himself to Richard Hatfield his MOD personnel director. </p> <p>In an interview on Friday July 4th starting at 11.30 am and lasting just short of two hours, the Ministry of Defence took the gentle Kelly apart piece by piece. His terrible crime? He’d talked to Gilligan without clearance and Gilligan’s report had deeply embarrassed the government. Never mind that Kelly protested he hadn’t said most of what the BBC reporter had claimed. Punishment for this offence should have been a rap on the knuckles. But Hatfield decided to treat Kelly as major miscreant. So now this highly distinguished scientist, an exemplar of his particular discipline, a man of considerable honour, and one who had specifically been cleared to talk to the press world-wide, was pulled up short and threatened with the loss of career and even pension. In trying to help journalists understand the complexities in the world of arms control, Kelly was deemed to have committed an egregious error. </p> <p>Hatfield hurled absurd jobsworth accusations at Kelly of “breaches of normal standards of civil service behaviour and departmental regulations by having had unauthorised and unreported contacts with journalists” – a crime about as serious as spilling coffee all over someone’s papers on a desk.</p> <p>This was the great arse-covering operation by a faceless functionary who could blame Kelly directly for the storm that had broken over Whitehall since the Gilligan broadcast. It was hypocritical and unworthy. </p> <p>Incidentally at this meeting, where Kelly defended himself as best he could, it is interesting to note that Kelly said Gilligan “took notes but did not appear to have a tape recorder”. Surely he would have remarked on Gilligan trying to type on his tiny organiser if this had indeed been the case – yet another clue to suggest Gilligan never did make a full contemporaneous note of the discussion.</p> <p>The conclusion of Hatfield’s pompous interrogation of the hapless Kelly was to generously give him the benefit of the doubt, not take disciplinary action but write him a formal letter “to record my displeasure at his conduct”.&nbsp; Then came the killer:</p> <p>“Finally I warned Dr Kelly that any further breaches would be almost certain<em> to lead to disciplinary action (something) that could be re-opened if further facts came to light that called his (Kelly’s) account and assurances into question.”</em></p> <p>In other words, if you haven’t revealed all your recent media contacts, or there is a next time, you get the Red Card.</p> <p>Under the weight of the interrogation, Kelly had given assurances that he had not given any other unauthorised interviews on the subject of the dodgy dossier to the press. But this was not true. Who can blame him? He was close to retirement and fighting for his job his reputation and his pension. To leave the MOD with a clean slate and the highest esteem of his colleagues in the field was crucial to David’s present and future. Would you or I have omitted to disclose all contacts under these circumstances? Come on, be honest.</p> <p>Four days later, the cold and ruthless spy chief John Scarlett happily joined in the Kelly witch-hunt. In a note sent to the Co-ordinator of Security and Intelligence at the Cabinet Office he wrote:&nbsp; “Kelly needs a proper security style interview in which… inconsistencies (in his accounts) are thrashed out… I think this is rather urgent. Happy to discuss.” I bet he was. So here, incredibly was one of the chief perpetrators of serious miscalculations and errors, and actual owner of the notorious dodgy dossier with its rubbish intelligence analysis, happily suggesting the innocent David Kelly be given a touch of the jolly old third degree, in order to help keep the heat away from himself. Nice.</p> <p>Eleven days later. By July 15th some people in the Westminster bubble, but not everyone, knew that Kelly had been Gilligan’s confidential informant. On that day Kelly, under suspicion as Gilligan’s source, had been summoned to appear as a witness in front of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. He could have busked his way through it but for one terrible ambush.</p> <p>As well as being Gilligan’s informant, David Kelly had also, in all innocence given a couple of non-attributable briefings to Susan Watts on BBC’s Newsnight programme, in which he had covered similar ground about the dodgy dossier together with his reservations about some of the wording. Susan, a substantially different kind of reporter to Gilligan, quite legitimately tape recorded that interview, not for transmission but so that she would have a verbatim record of this important briefing. (I have always wondered why she never warned David she was using a recorder.) In the event, David didn’t know she had taped him. A fatal mistake as it turned out.</p> <p>When <span>her</span> account of this briefing was transmitted by Newsnight on BBC 2, Gilligan immediately recognised the tone of the content, and assumed, correctly, that Kelly had also been <em>her </em>confidential informant.</p> <p>Because he was under enormous pressure over the accurate details of his infamous 6.07 broadcast, he realised it would be greatly to his advantage if it could be shown that not only had the same man briefed both himself and Susan Watts, but he had said roughly the same things to Watts as he had said to himself. This would help legitimise his position. But first, Gilligan needed Kelly’s name to be publicly revealed. He desperately needed to flush him out. Furthermore, because of Kelly’s stature in the business, it would help Gilligan no end to show the world that his contact was not some mini-cab driver, but a real primary source. Gilligan had everything to gain by exposing Kelly.</p> <p>So he did something, journalistically quite despicable.</p> <p>He deliberately blew his source, breaking the unspoken but historic bond between journalist and source without which journalism could never survive.</p> <p>In the national scheme of things, I fear journalists are about as respected as estate agents or street cleaners. But believe it or not, we do have one unwritten code of honour. On request we will always give our word of honour to a source, that we will never, I mean never, divulge his name no matter what the pressure. We will willingly have needles stuck in our eyes or commit contempt of court rather than implement a legal order to reveal a source. We don’t think twice about it. It is the one weapon in our armoury, and there are no circumstances in which we would ever relinquish its power. Without this code of honour, there would have been no Watergate exposure, no revelation of organised and systemic child abuse in Rotherham, indeed investigative journalism would simply wither, and with it, the power of the Fourth Estate and one of the strongest pillars of democracy.</p> <p>In fifty years of investigative reporting I have never disclosed a source except to my editor who is bound by exactly the same code as am I. In fact a good mutual friend of Kelly’s and mine, Judy Miller of the New York Times, went to prison for several months in 2003 for refusing to obey a court order to reveal her source, coincidentally, in connection with a story she published about the war in Iraq.</p> <p>But Andrew Gilligan had no qualms about dishonouring our trade.</p> <p>Before the Foreign Affairs Meeting, he sent a personal email to David Chidgey, then the Liberal Democrat MP on the committee blowing David Kelly as the source not of his own briefing, but of the briefing Kelly gave to Susan Watts. It was an extraordinary betrayal. To make matters worse, the email Gilligan sent gave him the impression of being a background note prepared by the BBC. The note also implied that Kelly might also be Gilligan’s own source. The wink was good as the nod. The result was catastrophic.</p> <p>Unaware of the trap that had been set, Kelly survived a difficult, filmed, committee hearing which probed into his journalistic contacts. He agreed having spoken to Susan Watts but only way back in the past. Then David Chidgey suddenly asked him if he recognised a quote from the Susan Watts’ broadcast that had been inspired by Kelly’s confidential briefing. A direct quote, <em>all 105 words</em> <em>verbatim</em> was read to him. David successfully dissembled and used clever language to evade the truth. </p> <p>Now if David had been thinking on his feet, he would have realised that such a long <em>verbatim</em> quote could only have come from his briefing to Watts, either if she had taken a fluent shorthand note (few reporters do) or if she had taped it. But David had been through the wringer for several days, the committee room was unbearably hot, he’d been grilled for hours, but above all, he simply had to lie because he had <em>never disclosed the Watt’s briefing to his superiors at the MOD, </em>indeed he had denied giving any further `unauthorised briefings’ to any journalists. And don’t forget, Richard Hatfield had shown him the yellow card. One more infringement – and he’d be out. What could David do apart from dissemble to the committee?</p> <p>At first, it looked as if David what get away with it. Chidgey didn’t follow through with more questions after his initial probe. </p> <p>But then came what was to be the coup de grace for Kelly. MP Richard Ottaway returned to the hunt and re-read him the 105 word quote from Watts’ broadcast, adding:</p> <p>“There are many people who think you were the source of that quote. What is your reaction to that suggestion?”</p> <p>“It does not sound like my expression of words”, Kelly wriggled, “it does not sound like a quote from me.”</p> <p>Then the yes or no killer from Ottaway: “You deny that those are your words?”</p> <p>Kelly, now signing his own death sentence simply answered “Yes”.</p> <p>Gilligan’s trap had been sprung with dreadful consequences.</p> <p>Subsequently, Gilligan said he had “only guessed” that Kelly was Watts’ source, but that’s not what his email told the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was later to apologise for the betrayal. It was a tad late for that. </p> <p>David was already dead.</p> <p>In fact, the BBC reporter took steady fire during this affair.</p> <p>He had himself testified in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee where he had been declared “an unsatisfactory witness”. His own editor (of the Today programme) had written an internal memorandum at the BBC condemning Gilligan’s famous broadcast as “marred…by loose use of language and lack of judgement” – a very serious criticism of any reporter allowed to broadcast live without script checks. The chairman of the BBC expressed his “enormous regret” at Gilligan’s betrayal memo. The controversies surrounding the apparent electronic organiser notes debacle and the mystery of Gilligan’s missing hard copy notes were never satisfactorily resolved. Finally, Lord Hutton determined that he too was not satisfied that Kelly had made some of the key allegations Gilligan had claimed.</p> <p>The moment the BBC’s Head of News Richard Sambrook heard about Gilligan’s betrayal memo, he called the reporter to his office and ordered him to clear his desk and resign instantly.<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a></p> <p>Gilligan went on to join the Evening Standard where he became the editor’s attack dog in the campaign to get rid of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London. He then joined the Sunday Telegraph but was subsequently made redundant.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> He has since joined the Sunday Times as a senior correspondent.</p> <p>After David Kelly’s gruelling FAC hearing the scientist drove off with a Wing-Cdr John Clark, his unofficial Ministry aide-de-camps, muttering that now he wasn’t sure about that infamous Watts quote, that he had been taken completely by surprise when he heard it, and he was worried he may have made a mistake. The issue was beginning to haunt him.</p> <p>It is my firm belief that David lied to save his job, reputation and pension, and he knew he had lied because his personnel director had threatened him with serious disciplinary action if any further unauthorised media briefings emerged. While Susan Watts would have walked on broken glass to protect Kelly as her source, no-one could predict the Gilligan betrayal.</p> <p>Yet, paradoxically, on the morning of the day of his suicide only three days after the FAC hearing, David had clearly regained some of his former composure and confidence. He had bluffed the committee, denying not only the Watts briefing, but (I’m sure for the same reason) the briefing he gave the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt. He also failed to mention an interview of sorts he had given a Sunday Times reporter who had door-stepped him at his home during the worst days of the crisis.</p> <p>The good news for him was that he was due to return to his beloved Baghdad and the job he adored. On the day of his suicide, he had even agreed precise flight arrangements for the trip, and a booking was made for July 25th. He also sent a handful of optimistic “Phew what a dreadful week, but I’ll soon be back on the job”… type emails to several of his friends. All the evidence of his behaviour up to about 11.00am on that awful day shows the old Kelly, back on form, ready to unmask yet more of the evil people threatening the West with their ghastly weapons of mass destruction.</p> <p>So what happened after 11.00am to change his optimism, and tip him into a deep and fatal depression?</p> <p>The day had begun with David at his Oxford home with his wife Janice. Back at his office at the MOD, David’s line manager had received four parliamentary questions. All of them were broadly aimed at exposing Kelly as a civil servant who had broken the rules in talking to Gilligan and Susan Watts, and anticipating the consequent disciplinary action. These were by and large questions that had already been dealt with when Richard Hatfield gave Kelly the severe reprimand and the warning that if anything else emerged showing he had given an unauthorised interview he would be in for the chop.</p> <p>But we know now that Kelly still had three briefings to hide from his bosses at the MOD.</p> <p>On that fateful July 17th, just when it looked to David that he had got away with it, including his evasions in front of the FAC, just as he was on the verge of bounding free of the whole bloody mess, and returning to his beloved work in Baghdad, the second shoe dropped.</p> <p>Throughout this last morning, David had exchanged a number of routine telephone calls with his aide, Wing-Cdr Clark. They had agreed the date for his flight to Baghdad. But, ominously, Clark had also been receiving requests for ‘clarifications’ on David’s contacts with some specific journalists. In fact, the MOD had prepared two lists of journalists. One was his contacts <em>generally</em> with journalists, harmless contacts if you like, names that included Susan Watts (David had never denied being a contact of hers before the scandal had broken) myself as it happens, and some twenty other reporters. However, the second list included names of reporters to whom very <em>specific</em> and controversial briefings had been given. This ‘specific’ list obviously included Andrew Gilligan.</p> <p>Clark now mentioned to Kelly that the MOD’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary’s office had suggested that Susan Watts name be transferred from the harmless ‘general’ list to the much more dangerous ‘specific’ list. In other words, despite Kelly’s evasions in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee, his bosses were not happy with his answers to questions about the Susan Watts briefing. There would be more to come.</p> <p>The trap set by Gilligan remained set.</p> <p>It got worse.</p> <p>During that morning Wing Cdr Clark had been contacted by the Private Secretary to Geoffrey Hoon the Secretary of State for Defence who referred to an article written by a Sunday Times reporter on July 13th referring to David Kelly, and quoting him. Kelly had also failed to give the reporters name to Hatfield during his interrogation, and the name was also missing from the general list of journalists. Clark had been asked to ask Kelly about this journalist.</p> <p>So, you can detect what was beginning to happen to Kelly after about 11.00am. His dissembling about Susan Watts, together with the failure to mention the Sunday Times reporter, were coming back to haunt him. It seemed more and more likely that he would be recalled by Richard Hatfield, his personnel director, and this time, evasions and dissembling would not save him. His enemies were lining up to stab him, the MOD couldn’t wait, nor could John Scarlett, the ‘owner’ of the dodgy dossier, nor could Andrew Gilligan.</p> <p>I knew David well enough to know that he had a brain that could boil water, a brain that told him instantly the moment every escape door in his life had been closed to him. All the evidence points inexorably to that moment being reached at about 11.00am.</p> <p>I think it is possible, I have no evidence, that he may have learned that the BBC had a tape of his interview with Susan Watts and that this would eventually be revealed, an event that would instantly nail the lie he had told the FAC. Janice Kelly herself, in private correspondence with me, also believes this may have happened, and would help account for what transpired.</p> <p>Janice noted that around 11.00am he went&nbsp; alone into the sitting room all by himself without saying anything “which was quite unusual for him” Later, she explained “He just sat and looked really, really tired.” </p> <p>Janice was so upset with the sudden change in his condition that she went upstairs and was physically sick “several times…because he looked so desperate.”</p> <p>At lunchtime his mental condition worsened. “We sat together at the table opposite each other, I tried to make conversation. I was feeling pretty wretched, so was he. He looked distracted and dejected. I just thought he had a broken heart…he had shrunk into himself, he looked as though he had shrunk… he could not put two sentences together. He could not talk at all.”<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a></p> <p>I could be wrong, but I have very little doubt knowing David as I did, that he had calculated the odds of his surviving the witch hunt by parliament, his Ministry bosses, and Gilligan were zero.</p> <p>David was working class from the Rhondda Valley, a place where one either went into the mines, or was unemployed. He struggled over these class and environmental hurdles to become a brilliant scientist and a world-wide renowned arms inspector in a rare discipline but one that depended extensively not just on his scientific knowledge, but on his reputation for total honesty.</p> <p>I interviewed, in New York at the UN, every one of his many arms- inspector colleagues from all over the world, Australia, Russia, UK, Germany, the US. Every single one without exception regarded him as the arms inspector’s arms inspector. I never ever heard a single world spoken about him that was not full of praise or at best, of sheer awe at his remarkable skills, his wonderful character, his focused style, and his endless successes. For example, when the Americans discovered two “mobile biological warfare laboratories” in Iraq after the war, a ‘success’ that was even trumpeted by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN Security Council, it was David Kelly who flew out, examined them, and immediately recognised them for what they really were, harmless weather balloon supply vehicles.</p> <p>Only David Kelly had the power and authority to condemn the liars who denied they were working on WMD programmes, be they minor functionaries or heads of state.</p> <p>But if Kelly were to be exposed as a man who had himself lied in front of a high court of parliament committee of enquiry, then his reputation wasn’t worth a spent bullet. It wouldn’t even matter if he were fired from his job and found a new role. Events alone would disgrace him for life. I know for certain that’s how David’s mind worked – cold dispassionate logic, no self-deception or vain hopes, no denial of the obvious, no equivocation. Without his professional reputation, his self-esteem would vanish, while professionally, he would become unuseable. What kind of prospect was that for a man one year short of retirement with a whole new future ahead as a contracted investigator, or hired as a top gun in a major American think-tank (a post was waiting for him to fill).</p> <p>At around 3.00pm, David went upstairs, took 29 of Janice’s co-proxamol tablets, went back downstairs, collected his gardening knife and a small bottle of water and left the house. Janice assumed he was just going on his regular afternoon walk.</p> <p>Shortly after he had left, he met a neighbour with whom he exchanged pleasantries. He showed no signs of distress. He wouldn’t. Nor would he leave a hypocritical suicide note knowing what terrible pain he was about to inflict on his family. To him, suicide was the only logical exit when everything else was denied him. He was not propelled by passion in this last hour of his life. It was just another assignment. He didn’t fail at those, ever.</p> <p>He went to his favourite spot, a small glade on Harrowdown Hill. There he sat down, removed his watch so he could access his wrist with his knife, swallowed the tablets, and shortly afterwards died. There was not the slightest mystery of the manner of his death.</p> <p>Professor Hawton, Professor of Psychiatry at Oxford University had no doubts about the motive for David’s suicide.</p> <p>“As far as one can deduce the major factor was the severe loss of self-esteem, resulting from his feeling that people had lost trust in him and from his dismay at being exposed to the media…. I think he would have seen (this exposure) as being publicly disgraced… he is likely to have begun to think that, first of all, the prospects for continuing in his previous work role were diminishing very markedly… and he was beginning to fear he might lose his job altogether.”</p> <p>Professor Hawton correctly assumed that the effect Hatfield’s interrogation and warning might have had on David, together with the imminent parliamentary questions which would have exposed his lie about the Watts interview. It was after all, only a matter of time before the BBC would reveal that it had a tape of the briefing he claimed never to have given.</p> <p>So ended the life of an honourable and decent man, a big fella caught in the not so friendly cross-fire of pygmies.</p> <p>Understandable I suppose…and deeply depressing.</p> <p>*</p> <p>The Chilcott Inquiry into Iraq finally exonerated David Kelly by proving that Britain’s spy chiefs had been only too eager to please Whitehall with flawed weapons intelligence. Indeed, David would have been astonished at how right he had been.</p> <p>Chilcott has helped Britain reach some closure over the Iraq war, but the intelligence debacle, and the death of trust in our spy services and our politicians has been a heavy price.</p> <p>And the collateral damage? The one innocent man who had to pay with his life. What a bloody waste.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> The Hutton Enquiry And Its Impact. Guardian Books. P.370</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> The Hutton Enquiry and its Impact. Pp370-1.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Ibid. P.293</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Ibid. P292.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> Ibid P.38</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Ibid.pp103/4.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> The Butler Report.A Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction. 2004.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> The Chilcot Enquiry. Paras 530/1.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Confidential informant.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> Confidential informant.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> Mail On Sunday.Tom Mangold. 1.8.04.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> Ibid.Paras536</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Ibid Para 566.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> TM.i/v Richard Sambrook.June 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> Secondary source quoting a call from Gilligan.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> Lord Hutton Enquiry.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/justin-schlosberg/david-kelly-and-silence-of-british-media-10-years-on">David Kelly and the silence of British media - 10 years on </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk Tom Mangold Mon, 30 Jan 2017 15:57:46 +0000 Tom Mangold 108451 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC is neither independent or impartial: interview with Tom Mills https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/ian-sinclair-tom-mills/bbc-is-neither-independent-or-impartial-interview-with-tom-mills <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is the BBC really impartial? Interview with scholar of the BBC, Tom Mills, on his new book.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/BBC book tom.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/BBC book tom.jpg" alt="" title="" width="334" height="499" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <p>Tom Mills, a Lecturer in Sociology and Policy at Aston University and former Co-Editor of New Left Project, has just published his first book, <a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2243-the-bbc">The BBC: Myth of a Public Service</a>. Using archival research, original interviews, autobiographies and secondary sources Mills examines the politics of the BBC, arguably the most influential and trusted news organisation in the UK.</p> <p>I asked Mills about the popular image of the BBC as independent and impartial, its Iraq War coverage and what changes he would like to see made at the Corporation.</p> <p><br /> <strong>Ian Sinclair: In an interview with the Press Gazette after she was recently named Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards, Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s Political Editor, </strong><a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/interview-with-journalist-of-the-year-laura-kuenssberg-i-would-die-in-a-ditch-for-the-impartiality-of-the-bbc/"><strong>said</strong></a><strong> ‘Among the many jewels and gifts that the BBC has is our editorial independence’. She went on to argue ‘I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC. That’s what we do.’ Is the BBC independent and impartial?</strong></p> <p>Tom Mills: The simple answer is ‘no’. But the question isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds.&nbsp; First it is important to state from the outset what is rarely acknowledged in discussions about the BBC: that it isn’t independent from governments, let alone from the broader Establishment. The BBC has always been formally accountable to ministers for its operations. Governments set the terms under which it operates, they appoint its most senior figures, who in future will be directly involved in day-to-day managerial decision making, and they set the level of the licence fee, which is the BBC’s major source of income. So that’s the context within which the BBC operates, and it hardly amounts to independence in any substantive sense.</p> <p>But though politicians have never ceded overall control, they have generally granted the BBC editorial autonomy, at least for the most part. In the interwar period, the system of broadcasting pioneered by the BBC was referred to as ‘remote state control’. It emerged from a situation where politicians did not want a chaotic system of broadcasting to develop, especially given the presumed political power of the new medium. But equally, officials did not want to assume responsibility for producing broadcasting content, which is what the radio companies wanted – they basically had radios to sell but no broadcasting service for potential customers to listen to! So what emerged from this was the BBC, a broadcaster with an ambiguous kind of independence that in some cases has enjoyed substantive freedom, but which has always been kept under some degree of political control, and often enormous political pressure.&nbsp; </p> <p>Does this mean it’s independent? Well really the BBC’s not so different to various state institutions that are afforded operational autonomy but ultimately answerable to ministers or to parliament through various mechanisms, such as the police or the Bank of England.</p> <p>Getting back to Laura Kuenssberg, she spoke specifically about ‘editorial independence’, so I presume what she has in mind here is government interference in editorial decision making. Well that’s not exactly how this works. What happens is the editorial policy is defined at the top of the BBC – which is the most politicised section of the Corporation given that senior executives have to periodically negotiate with governments over its funding, its Charter and so on, and senior editorial figures have to respond to constant complaints over its reporting – and that policy then cascades down the hierarchy, in rather complex and uneven ways. You occasionally see glimpses of this at work, such as in 2010 when the then Director General Mark Thompson attended Downing Street to discuss the BBC’s reporting of the Coalition Government’s austerity agenda, and you get a much fuller picture of how this works in practice from archival sources and autobiographies, which I draw in the book.&nbsp; </p> <p>None of the actual evidence is suggestive of the kind of independence and impartiality that Kuenssberg praises to the skies. But her remarks reflect the fact that, rightly or wrongly, she has personally come to symbolise the BBC’s very conspicuous failures in exactly this regard. So naturally it’s in her interests to make these kinds of statements. But strongly asserting something doesn’t make it true, and it’s not.</p> <p><strong>IS: A key issue seems to be the BBC’s working definition of impartiality. How would you define this?</strong></p> <p>TM: I think the most straightforward way of putting this is that the BBC will aim to fairly and accurately reflect the balance of opinion amongst elites. In that respect it’s not so different to other reputable media organisations. But a number of studies suggest the range of opinion on the BBC is narrower than some of its rivals. Channel 4 News tends, I think, to have a broader range of perspectives, and the recent Media Reform Coalition’s report on the coverage of Corbyn <a href="http://www.mediareform.org.uk/press-ethics-and-regulation/the-medias-attack-on-corbyn-research-shows-barrage-of-negative-coverage">found</a> that the BBC gave much more airtime to Corbyn’s opponents than ITV.</p> <p><strong>IS: As you note in your book, ‘The Gilligan Affair’ – when a critical April 2003 radio report by BBC Today Programme journalist Andrew Gilligan about the government’s claims about Iraqi WMDs kicked off a high-level conflict between the Labour government and the BBC – is often cited as evidence of the BBC’s independence. For example, the BBC’s official historian Professor Jean Seaton views it as an instance of the ‘determination of broadcasters not to be controlled.’ What do you think ‘The Gilligan Affair’ tells us about the relationship between the BBC and government?</strong></p> <p>TM: The Iraq War was another area where scholarly research found that the BBC was more favourable to the government and its supporters, compared with other broadcasters, and that’s one of the very important factors that tends to get lost in the conventional take on this affair, which is actually very misleading. On the one hand, the report itself is evidence of independent reporting vis-à-vis the government, and that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, the reason the Today Programme felt confident broadcasting the report was that it was being briefed by MI6 and other sources, and so knew that sections of the British state were anxious about the case for war and what the possible fallout might be if and when no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found. So the ‘determination’ of the BBC in this case is based on the support of some of the most powerful and authoritative sources in the British state, and of course there was an enormous public mobilisation around this time as well.&nbsp; </p> <p>When the Blair government then attacks the BBC, it’s true that the BBC leadership stands firm, and that’s certainly commendable. But what then ultimately happens is that the chair and director general are both forced to resign, and the BBC publicly apologises to the government – a government that let’s not forget had launched an illegal war on a plainly false pretext. The former BBC governor, Kenneth Bloomfield, argues that ironically part of the reason the BBC leadership stood firm after the Gilligan report is precisely because it was personally so close to the Blair government. The then BBC chair, Gavyn Davies, a former Goldman Sachs partner, was not only close friends with Blair and [then Chancellor Gordon] Brown, his wife worked for Brown and his children were reportedly bridesmaid and pageboy at his wedding. So I think the ‘The Gilligan Affair’ is best understood as a rather bitter conflict within the British elite during a period of considerable crisis, and the lessons in terms of how we understand the BBC are much more complex than is generally recognised.</p> <p><strong>IS: The arrival of John Birt as Deputy Director-General in 1987 seems to have heralded a significant change at the BBC?</strong></p> <p>TM: Yes, that was the year when the then Director General Alasdair Milne, father of Guardian journalist and Corbyn advisor Seumas Milne, was forced to resign by the Thatcher appointed chair Marmaduke Hussey. Milne wasn’t a leftist by any means, but he had represented the more independent spirit of BBC programme making at that time. He was replaced by a BBC accountant called Michael Checkland and John Birt was meanwhile brought in from an ITV company to head the BBC’s journalism, later succeeding Checkland as Director General.&nbsp; </p> <p>Birt wasn’t really understood by his critics at the time, who seem to have been rather puzzled by his authoritarianism and his belligerent managerialism. They seem to have regarded him as a Stalinist, or something like that. But in fact he was an out-and-out neoliberal who wanted not only to introduce stronger editorial controls over BBC journalism, but also to radically shift its institutional structure and culture away from its ‘statist’ character and in a more neoliberal, business-friendly direction. This was resented by BBC staff and the Corporation went through a quite unhappy period, with a brief respite under Greg Dyke. As I describe in some detail in the book, Birt’s ‘reforms’ were part of a broader process of neoliberal restructuring, and in some ways Dyke was also part of that, especially in terms of the extent to which business reporting was pushed up the agenda during his time as director general.</p> <p><strong>IS: Why are the politics and quality of the BBC’s news output important?</strong></p> <p>TM: The BBC is the most popular single source of news for the British public, and is much more trusted than the press, for example. How it reports particular issues has a material effect on the political process, which in turn has consequences for everyone. In many cases – such as reporting on foreign policy, health or welfare issues – this is literally a matter of life or death.</p> <p><strong>IS: What changes would you like the BBC to institute moving forward?</strong></p> <p>TM: There’s not really space to do this question justice here, but very briefly I think first of all that all the various mechanisms of political control need to be eliminated altogether and replaced with forms of independent, or better still democratic, processes. That would be a big step in the right direction.&nbsp; </p> <p>But really I think we need to be thinking much more ambitiously about institutional design in the same way as Birt and the other neoliberals did in the 1980s and ‘90s. What kind of BBC do we want for the 21st century? That’s the real question we should be asking. It’s very clear that the BBC leadership are unable or unwilling to advance anything like an ambitious vision for public media. If they have a vision it is for the BBC to be retained as a source of public funding, quasi-official news, and a leading British brand that can give UK media companies an edge in the international market.&nbsp; They simply have no notion of the severity of the social crisis we are currently in and the political importance of public media and the values it should embody. If we want public media to survive, we are going to have to come up with a vision for the future. The BBC, or at least the people at the top of the BBC, will not do that for us.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk Tom Mills Ian Sinclair Wed, 25 Jan 2017 16:40:29 +0000 Ian Sinclair and Tom Mills 108357 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Employment Diversity – Has Ofcom been nobbled by the TV industry? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/simon-albury/employment-diversity-has-ofcom-been-nobbled-by-tv-industry <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When it comes to diversity, Ofcom is being captured by the broadcasting industry. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/panel1.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/panel1.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The author and others discussing diversity in broadcasting at the Royal Television Society. Image: Royal Television Society.</span></span></span></p><p lang="en-US">There is phenomenon called “regulatory capture.” It is a form of failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.</p> <p lang="en-US">Regulatory capture often happens because people from the industries they represent have privileged access to the regulator in the course of their work and at expensive industry events, beyond those without corporate expenses, where the regulated and the regulators mix and mingle informally. To be fair, Ofcom says that holding one public meeting a year in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where the public is given 30 minutes to ask questions about the Ofcom annual plan, demonstrates that no one has privileged access.</p> <p>Ofcom showed the first signs of regulatory capture last week at its annual public meeting in London when it was asked about seeking and publishing programme diversity data from broadcasters. The Campaign for Broadcasting Equality has argued that Ofcom should publish simple on and off screen diversity data on the top ten programmes in every genre – to provide evidence that employment diversity is not being pushed to the margins. The entertainment union, BECTU, wants to see diversity data on prime time programmes that employ more than fifty people, with just one data set for a series and just one data set for the reporting period for continuing programmes.</p> <p lang="en-US">Tony Close is Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards, Licensing and Enforcement. He is responsible for “Monitoring diversity and equality of opportunity in broadcasting.” What Ofcom says about diversity in its annual plan sounds good:</p> <p lang="en-US">“We will publish a new annual monitoring report on ‘Diversity in Broadcasting’, based on equal opportunities data and information on diversity initiatives from broadcasters. This report will provide a comprehensive picture of how well each broadcaster – and the industry as a whole – is performing on staff diversity.”</p> <p>But when Ofcom was asked about publishing programme diversity data, Ofcom suggested it was only a matter for “Project Diamond” – the TV industry-controlled project that Close said has chosen not to report on a programme by programme basis “because some programme making teams are so small that to release the data would be likely to identify individuals and the information they have given about their protected characteristics.”</p> <p>This reasoning is nonsense and Ofcom should know it. The BBC has reported “the editorial department of Holby City included 40% BAME employees.” An "editorial department" on Holby City represents a much higher level of granularity than either the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality or BECTU is seeking.</p> <p lang="en-US">As for size, the Arts Council now publishes annual diversity data on all National Portfolio Organisations and Major Partner Museums who employ more than 50 staff.</p> <p lang="en-US">With Project Diamond, the television broadcasters are collecting very detailed diversity data. Ofcom should require all radio and television broadcast licensees to supply it with the simple diversity data the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and BECTU seek and Ofcom should publish it for the top ten programme in each genre which employ more than fifty staff.</p> <p>Ofcom must also clarify that when it reports on “broadcasters”, it will publish equality monitoring data for each licence. BAME broadcasting workers have long complained of being ghettoised into working in areas and licences focussed on BAME content and not being hired to work on mainstream licences. </p> <p lang="en-US">As yet, radio has no Project Diamond to collect diversity data. Unless Ofcom seeks diversity data per radio licence, the picture on major issues, such as the ghettoisation of BAME workers in some areas and their complete absence from others, will remain hidden. Data for only Global Radio would mask individual data for LBC, Capital, Heart, Capital XTRA, Classic FM, Smooth, LBC, Radio X and Gold which together broadcast to 24.6 million listeners.</p> <p>Under its earlier leadership, Ofcom did the bare minimum to fulfill its statutory requirements under Sections 27 and 337 of the Communications Act. Early last year, Culture Minister, Ed Vaziey, reassured diversity campaigners that Ofcom would now be “looking at the maximum possible under the duties.”</p> <p>In November, Sharon White, Ofcom CEO, said that diversity is “an area where we have not done enough in the past, and it is now a priority for us.” Ofcom’s unquestioning acceptance of the industry line on programme diversity data is a poor start. Ofcom should think again – and quickly.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/diversity-what-ofcom-needs-to-do">Diversity - what Ofcom needs to do</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk Simon Albury Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:18:22 +0000 Simon Albury 108192 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rupert returns https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-elstein/rupert-returns <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>21<sup>st</sup> Century Fox – the Murdoch family’s entertainment conglomerate – is bidding for the 61% of satellite broadcaster Sky it does not own. Predictably, alarm bells are ringing. What is at stake?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-29523055.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-29523055.jpg" alt="lead lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Campaigners dressed up as Theresa May and Rupert Murdoch protest against Murdoch's takeover bid for Sky in Parliament Square, London. December 20, 2016. Stefan Rousseau, Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Rupert Murdoch launched Sky television as a UK-targeted satellite television service in 1988. Its meagre offering included a movie channel, an entertainment channel, the UK’s first 24-hour news channel and a rudimentary sports package. Few expected it to survive.</p> <p>Survive it did, but only after nearly bankrupting Murdoch’s master company, News Corporation (NewsCorp hereafter), entering a forced merger with its rival (British Satellite Broadcasting), reducing the NewsCorp stake in the merged company to below 40% in order to facilitate a public flotation, and seeing a swathe of legislation introduced to prevent NewsCorp – or Sky – ever owning any significant part of ITV.</p> <p>Through those 28 years, Murdoch has subsidized Sky News, whether as sole owner in the early years, or part owner ever since. At least £500 million must have been invested so far, without any real prospect of the service making a profit (especially after the BBC launched its own 24-hour news channel). Throughout this period, Sky News has won multiple awards, been recognized as a highly successful editorial offering, diligently observed UK licensing requirements for impartiality and accuracy, and pioneered a range of developments such as the Prime Ministerial debates during elections.</p> <p>When NewsCorp sought to buy the 61% of Sky it did not own, in 2010, the independent directors – representing the majority of shareholders – effectively invited him to close down Sky News, to remove any regulatory obstacles to the deal (and also allow a higher price to be paid). Murdoch declined, and after Ofcom – thanks to a deeply misleading and perverse analysis – objected to the transaction, he spent months trying to find a formula that dealt with Ofcom’s stated anxieties about media plurality whilst keeping Sky News alive. </p> <p>Eventually, six months later, the revelation that Millie Dowler’s voice mails had been listened to by the News of the World (Murdoch’s highly popular Sunday newspaper) led to outrage in the House of Commons, the closure of the News of the World and a hasty retreat from the Sky deal by Murdoch. Yet before then, the chief executives of both The Telegraph and The Guardian had publicly stated that closing Sky News might be the required price for allowing the deal: such are the defenders of media plurality! &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***************</p> <p>Since then, much has changed. The phone-hacking affair cost NewsCorp hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation and legal fees. A range of journalists and executives were put on trial, and a handful jailed, including the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson. Murdoch and his son James were called before the House of Commons Select Committee on Media, where they apologised profusely (whilst denying any personal knowledge of criminality). </p> <p>James stepped down from the chairmanship of Sky, allowing Ofcom – whilst trenchantly criticising his failure to deal with phone-hacking at NewsCorp’s newspaper subsidiary, where he was chief executive – nonetheless to give NewsCorp approval as a “fit and proper” controlling shareholder in Sky. James has subsequently resumed his chairmanship of Sky: but Ofcom has not attempted to block this, or to re-visit its “fit and proper” assessment.</p> <p>More importantly, persistent shareholder criticism of NewsCorp’s attachment to the declining newspaper business – long pre-dating the phone-hacking disaster – finally induced the Murdochs to split their company in two. </p> <p>NewsCorp itself now owns all the print businesses, whilst a new company – 21st Century Fox – embraces all the film, TV and entertainment elements: Twentieth Television (producer of such hits as The Simpsons and Modern Family), Fox Television Group (including the Fox Channel, Fox News and Fox Sports) and a range of international assets including the 39% of Sky. The two companies are both controlled by the Murdoch family, through the significant minority stakes they hold, but each has a wide range of outside shareholders, which effectively constrains any possible co-ordination between the companies (not that there is any evidence of that being pursued).</p> <p>Outside the Murdoch empire, the scale of change is even greater. In the UK, BT Sport has emerged as a formidable competitor for Sky’s premium content, and Liberty Global’s purchase of Virgin Media has greatly strengthened cable’s challenge to Sky as a bulk supplier of channels.</p> <p>Across the globe, the internet is now enabling consumers to download huge volumes of video content, without any need even to own a television, let alone a satellite dish. Netflix is spending ten times more on content every year than Sky, and has nearly six million UK subscribers just four years after launch (Sky is barely growing the 10 million it carefully accumulated over 28 years). In the US, the response has been defensive mergers between the likes of telecoms giant AT and T and the major content owner Warner (which includes HBO amongst its assets). </p> <p>Murdoch – having failed in his own bid for Warner – has decided that his best bet for defending his position is to consolidate within Sky: it is, after all, a business he knows inside out, and where he can both measure risk and execute strategy rapidly. Sky itself is a much bigger company than it was in 2010, having absorbed its equivalents in both Germany and Italy.</p> <p>For the UK, much is at stake. Thanks to Murdoch, we have become the European hub of the satellite TV industry, and well over 100,000 jobs have been created. James Murdoch has reportedly promised that if Fox were to take full ownership of Sky, billions more would be invested in the UK, with tens of thousands of additional jobs in prospect. On the other hand, if the bid fails, Fox’s plan B is to sell the 39%: depriving Sky of its creative and business genius, and so putting at risk the achievements of the last 28 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****************</p> <p>Needless to say, none of this cuts any ice with Murdoch’s traditional critics. Hacked Off and 38 Degrees have launched petitions to oppose the deal, and politicians across the hard and soft left have called for – at the very least – a “public interest” intervention from the Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, requiring Ofcom to check on the media plurality implications of the proposed transaction.</p> <p>Last time round, there was an alliance of media firms which campaigned to block NewsCorp – led by those improbable bedfellows, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Trinity Mirror and the Daily Mail, and supported by both our publicly owned broadcasters, the BBC and Channel 4. To find the Mail singing the praises of Hacked Off in this context is pure Alice in Wonderland; on the other hand, it is very hard to believe that Tony Hall will follow the example of his predecessor, Mark Thompson, who was reprimanded by the BBC Trust for signing the media alliance letter without first asking permission. </p> <p>Channel 4, already embroiled in a series of battles with the DCMS over its future status and appointment of board members, may feel there is nothing to lose from voicing its opposition, despite the example set by ITV, last time, whose Chief Executive refused to sign the media alliance letter, to avoid any suggestion that ITV’s news coverage might lack impartiality. In any event, The Guardian has already plunged into battle, with an impassioned article by Polly Toynbee (which sadly contains 15 factual errors in just 13 paragraphs).</p> <p>A problem for opponents of the deal is to find some legal and factual basis for blocking it, over and above a well-honed hatred of the Murdochs and their already significant position in UK media. Ed Miliband and Sir Vince Cable have penned a joint article for The Guardian which contained probably the biggest whopper yet in a year of big lies. </p> <p>They argue that, as the Murdochs effectively control NewsCorp’s 30+% share of UK national newspaper consumption, they should not be allowed to take full control of Sky News, which they claim is responsible for 45% of all radio news consumption: a figure 45 times too large at best, and – if the legal and contractual reality of radio news broadcasting is acknowledged – completely wrong at worst.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***************</p> <p>How did they arrive at such a giant error (assuming it wasn’t a deliberate lie)? They must have noted that commercial radio has a 45% share of all radio listening (the rest is the BBC), and that Sky News has a contract with Independent Radio News (IRN – a body owned by the commercial companies collectively) to supply material for radio bulletins. What they failed to notice was that the BBC broadcasts far more news and current affairs (the categories Ofcom says have to be measured in a plurality review) than the commercial stations. When Ofcom tried to measure radio news consumption in 2010, it estimated the split between the BBC and the commercial sector at 73:27. But that excluded – despite Ofcom’s opinion that it should have been included – all current affairs content, where the split is even more heavily in the BBC’s favour. Combining the two genres, the ratio is 85:15.</p> <p>But that’s not the whole story. Sky News certainly provides material to the commercial stations, but they nearly all simply use that as one resource amongst many in their compilation of news bulletins. IRN was so bewildered by Ofcom’s report on the NewsCorp bid for Sky, which had included bizarre and unfeasible estimates for both the reach of commercial radio news, and the role played by Sky, that they undertook detailed research. This revealed that the two-minute Sky News package was sparsely used by radio stations: just 7% of their bulletins were explicitly labelled as from Sky News. </p> <p>7% of 15% is 1.05%: rather different from 45%. Given that the stations themselves have editorial, contractual and legal responsibility for <em>all</em> the news they broadcast, it is hard to argue that Sky News <em>controls </em>even the 1%: its role is little different from that of Reuters or Associated Press, neither of which has ever been accused of <em>controlling </em>any part of the UK’s media just because their output is used. Moreover, given the obligation on all commercial radio stations to comply with the requirement for due impartiality and accuracy in news output, it is hard to see what difference it might make if Sky News <em>did </em>“control” that 1%.</p> <p>Amusingly, the dynamic duo (Ed and Vince) fail to point out that NewsCorp already controls 2% of the radio audience (and thereby nearly 1% of radio news consumption) through TalkSport, which it bought earlier this year. But as that transaction – bringing TalkSport under the same umbrella as the newspapers – aroused no opposition, petitions or political intervention, it is hard to see how an additional 1% could make any difference.</p> <p>Of course, there is also Sky News as a TV service, which accounts for about 7% of TV news consumption. Including its online audience, the Sky News TV service’s share of all news consumption in the UK is about 3%. What difference would it make to UK media plurality if Fox took 100% control of Sky?</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; *****************</p> <p>In the 2010 assessment of the last proposed transaction, Ofcom looked at the combination of Sky News with the newspaper interests of News UK (the UK print arm of NewsCorp). It acknowledged that there would be no actual reduction in owners of media enterprises from NewsCorp buying the 61% of Sky it did not already own: there was no large holding within that percentage - just a mass of small shareholders, mostly investment firms. </p> <p>Ofcom nonetheless imagined that full ownership of Sky might have some implications, even though it was acknowledged that NewsCorp had always had operational control of Sky, despite – since 1990 – only owning 39%. Ofcom claimed – wrongly – that full ownership would allow NewsCorp to replace the editor of Sky News: in point of fact, no editor of Sky News has ever been appointed without NewsCorp’s agreement. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In the same vein, even though NewsCorp had always had operational control of the NewsUK newspapers <em>and </em>of Sky (and Sky News), Ofcom somehow thought that increasing NewsCorp’s ownership of Sky would have implications for media plurality, and accordingly went through a series of calculations of what the combination of the newspapers and Sky News meant in terms of control of UK news consumption (the nub of concerns about media plurality). </p> <p>Sadly for Ofcom’s reputation as a regulator, most of these calculations were hopelessly awry. That <em>all </em>the errors served to enlarge the perceived dominance of NewsCorp and reduce that of the BBC only called into question the impartiality of Ofcom itself (which had been led from its inception by committed Labour Party supporters, and which in 2010 was in the midst of a fierce and expensive legal battle with Sky over the wholesale price of its sports channels).&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The biggest mistake was in calculating the significance of newspaper readership. National newspaper sales have been reducing by about 2% a year for more than two decades, such that barely 15% of the population now buys a national title every day; however, the more important measure is of “readership” of these titles, which is measured quarterly, and remains at around 25%. </p> <p>Ofcom’s key error was to treat every minute reading newspapers as equivalent to a minute watching TV news. A moment’s reflection exposes the error: at least half of the time spent reading newspapers has nothing to do with news, but consists of horoscopes, travel information, reviews of films, horseracing tips, crosswords and other puzzles, recipes, fashion guidance and TV listings – not to mention advertisements. All this absorbs at least as much time as “news” and “opinions”. The experts at Enders Analysis suggested to the Leveson Inquiry that less than 20% of newspaper content constituted “news”.</p> <p>Despite acknowledging these other elements, and despite the example of the German regulator in discounting newspaper “readership” accordingly in these types of calculation, Ofcom insisted on its preferred approach. As a result, it grossly exaggerated the role of News UK in news consumption. </p> <p>At the same time, it excluded from its assessment all the great regional newspapers like the Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman, despite the millions of sales for morning, evening and weekly editions, not to mention the millions of free newspapers, like Metro and the Evening Standard, that are read daily. This omission<em> </em>had the side effect of artificially enlarging News UK’s significance, in that – unlike its rivals, Trinity Mirror and Daily Mail General Trust – it owns no regional titles.</p> <p>The Ofcom report on the 2010 transaction listed newspapers as representing 40.3% of all news consumption, and TV as 33.9%. Once a discount of 50% is applied to newspaper readership figures, and the decline in readership since 2010 is factored in, we find that the correct figure for the national titles is 18.5%, plus an estimated 4.4% derived from their share of online news consumption. Of that, News UK accounts for just under a third, at 6.3%, rather than the 13.8% reported by Ofcom. Correcting the newspaper figure has the effect of enlarging the TV share of news consumption, to 39%.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***************</p> <p>Ofcom’s assessment of TV news also left much to be desired. Having announced that current affairs needed to be included in the consumption calculation, it ignored that genre. It then calculated the reach of the main TV news programmes, using just one set of assumptions, without explaining that there are dozens of ways of calculating reach: the length of continuous viewing being measured can be 3 minutes, 5 minutes, or indeed any other number, just as the period within which this continuous viewing is measured can be a day, week, a month, or any other length of time. So, for instance, by using 5 minutes a week as the test, rather than 3 minutes, the reported reach for Channel 5 News dropped by 60% - because many of its news bulletins were shorter than 5 minutes.</p> <p>This was not unimportant, as Ofcom decided to attribute to Sky News the entire share of viewing of news on Channel 5, in terms of both reach and volume. This was multiply contentious: as a former Chief Executive of Channel 5, I knew perfectly well that the legal and regulatory responsibility for its news output rested with Channel 5 itself, not with its contracted supplier (be that Sky News or ITN). Certainly, if Ofcom had had a problem with any output, it would have ignored the supplier, and dealt solely with the licensed broadcaster. Subsequently – if a little grudgingly – Ofcom has accepted the view of the Competition Commission that, at the very least, editorial control is shared between broadcaster and supplier.</p> <p>But this was not the only reason for criticising the Ofcom approach. Even at the time that Ofcom was conducting its exercise, Channel 5 had announced that it was replacing Sky News with ITN as its supplier: indeed, in their submission of evidence to Ofcom, Enders Analysis expressly excluded Channel 5 from the Sky total when it was working out the proportions of news consumption attributable to Sky and to other broadcasters. That Channel 5 wanted to change the style and tone (as well as cost) of its news output confirmed that it exercised at least shared control of its output. </p> <p>As it happens, the mis-attribution of the Channel 5 news element only marginally affected the Ofcom report, which claimed the Sky News share of all news consumption to be 3.1%, out of a TV total share of 33.9%. As explained above, that 33.9% is really 39%, and the Sky News share should have been stated as 2.3%. By comparison, the attribution to Sky News of <em>all </em>commercial radio news reach and consumption was a massive error – although not as gross as the miscalculation by Miliband and Cable – all the less understandable given Ofcom’s status as the regulator for commercial radio.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ****************</p> <p>It transpired that Ofcom did not really know how much news its commercial radio licensees broadcast, how they compiled their bulletins, nor what the true extent of reliance on Sky News was, whether as a source or as a packager of ready-made bulletins. Ofcom compounded these errors by offering a version of radio news reach which was wholly implausible: recognising that the industry did not measure the reach of genres, Ofcom chose to treat <em>any </em>level of radio consumption as equivalent to news consumption, even though news constituted less than 5% of commercial radio output. This was ridiculous – but even as, in mealy-mouthed fashion, Ofcom accepted that such an assumption was “likely to overstate” commercial radio news reach, it failed to abandon it.</p> <p>Ofcom also failed to include current affairs in its attempts to measure radio news consumption. Given all these mistakes, it was no surprise that Ofcom’s attribution of radio news consumption to the planned merged entity was hopelessly wrong. Its report to the Secretary of State included a figure of 6.7% as commercial radio’s share of total news consumption, all attributable to Sky News. The true figure was 4.2%, of which at most 0.2% could be attributed to Sky News. </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***************</p> <p>The combination of Ofcom’s mistakes led them to report that the combined share of news consumption accounted for by Sky News and News UK was 23.7%, whereas the correct figure was in the range of 9-10%. Conversely, the Ofcom figure for the BBC was 43.5%, when the correct figure was over 60%.</p> <p>The most frustrating aspect of the Ofcom exercise was that the third measurement of consumption it stated as relevant was based on its own regular research into what consumers said was the relative importance of different news sources. As the whole point of a media plurality review is to ensure that a single player does not exercise undue influence, what people actually say about what influences them is surely central. </p> <p>Consistent Ofcom research over the years – re-visited for the report on the transaction – showed that television is overwhelmingly the most important source of news, named by over 70% of respondents, with all other sources – radio, newspapers and online – typically in single figures. By applying these weightings to the shares of consumption within each of the four categories of television, newspapers, radio and online, Ofcom would have concluded that the BBC’s score was over 60%, and the combined score for News UK and Sky News was just 10%. That this subjective approach so precisely reflected the proper assessment of objective behaviour only emphasises how undisciplined – at best – the Ofcom analysis was.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **************</p> <p>Where does that leave us this time round? The separation of the Murdoch entities on the face of it eliminates the case for any regulatory intervention: there is no question of any anti-competitive business combinations – and, anyway, the EU competition authorities quickly dismissed fears expressed by the media alliance with respect to such combinations last time round. </p> <p>Fox will nonetheless be forced to submit the bid to the EU again, especially since Sky’s embrace of the German and Italian satellite TV businesses: but it is hard to see how any kind of problem at that level will arise. More delicate is the question of media plurality – and within ten days of Fox formally submitting the transaction to Brussels next year, the UK Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, will have to decide whether to use her powers under the Enterprise Act. Technically, these can only be exercised with the permission of the EU, but Brussels acknowledges the special issue of media plurality. So the minister – acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, without any discussion with cabinet colleagues – has the right to ask Ofcom to investigate whether there might be sufficient risk to plurality from the transaction to justify a reference to the Competition and Markets Authority (the CMA, which has replaced the old Competition Commission) for a full inquiry.</p> <p>The test the Act invites the minister to apply is normally whether a proposed transaction will reduce the number of relevant media enterprises below the level to safeguard media plurality, which itself is defined as (in the case of newspapers) a plurality of views or (in the case of broadcasting, where provision of “views” is expressly forbidden by statute) a plurality of owners.</p> <p>The statute does not define “sufficient”, and the definition of media enterprises excludes ITN (which is not a broadcaster). Even the question of “control” is not defined, though the Act includes a clause that recognizes “control” as potentially being exercised even where a party has less than 50% ownership (which seems directly to address the Murdoch factor, but which Ofcom chose to ignore in its 2010 report).</p> <p>The problem for the minister – and indeed for the opponents of the Fox bid – is how to differentiate between a controlling ownership stake (which the Murdochs clearly have both in Sky currently and in News UK) and something much closer to 100% ownership. Would a media “owner” be removed by the transaction? Who, exactly? And if there is no “reduction in the number of owners”, where does the issue of plurality arise?</p> <p>Interestingly, when Northern and Shell bought Channel 5 in 2010 – very visibly displacing RTL as an owner – there was no intervention. Nor was there an intervention when NewsCorp bought TalkSport this year – quite clearly reducing the number of owners of media enterprises, and enlarging the share of media controlled by the second player in the media world (even if one far behind the BBC in terms of news consumption).</p> <p>The question seems fairly binary: do the two separate controlling stakes (in Fox and NewsCorp, and through them to Sky and News UK) already risk the UK’s media plurality (in which case why did Ofcom not say so when it issued a special report on media plurality three years ago)? If not, in what way would full ownership by Fox of Sky do so? Last time round, in 2010, Ofcom imagined – wrongly – that full ownership of Sky by NewsCorp would allow the Murdochs more control over Sky News. Quite why that should cause concern, anyway, given the obligation for Sky News to observe rules on due impartiality and accuracy, was never satisfactorily explained: implicitly, Ofcom was admitting that it was unable to enforce its own broadcasting code, and would be unable to remove the Sky News licence if the code were repeatedly breached. This untenable proposition was never put to the test at a full competition hearing, which is probably just as well for Ofcom.</p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **************</p> <p>Nonetheless, it is quite likely that Karen Bradley will indeed intervene, on the basis that an initial Ofcom inquiry would either clear the bid quite quickly, or find enough issues to justify a full CMA process. The chances of the CMA blocking the bid are low, and even a six-month investigation would not push Fox beyond its self-imposed deadline of closing the deal by the end of 2017. On that basis, Bradley might calculate, where is the harm?</p> <p>Indeed, Fox might even welcome an Ofcom process, as defusing the political opposition to the bid. Paradoxically, the party with the most to lose is Ofcom itself, which will have to decide whether or not to abandon most of its 2010 methodology, or risk being overturned decisively by the CMA (which would no doubt spend some time examining the inadequacies of the 2010 report).</p> <p>The current Sky share price – nearly £1 below the £10.75 offer price – suggests that the market still perceives regulatory risk (there are reportedly shareholders who think the offer price is too low, but if they were significant in number, logically they should be pushing the price up, not down). We shall see. Meanwhile, there will be plenty of noise around the issue. Will that include an abject apology from Messrs Miliband and Cable for their ridiculous claims about radio news? I am not holding my breath.</p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk OurBeeb uk Culture Democracy and government Economics International politics openMedia David Elstein Mon, 26 Dec 2016 11:50:40 +0000 David Elstein 107890 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC and Wales' information deficit https://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-evans/bbc-and-wales-information-deficit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Wales suffers the unique problem of a lack of information, as opposed to misinformation. Welsh people need to explore alternative media forms to create a Welsh public sphere</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-29478064.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-29478064.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Wales player Hal Robson-Kanu. Mike Egerton PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Wales has a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/angela-graham/towards-better-broadcasting-in-wales">serious problem</a> with its media. </p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the UK as a whole is <a href="https://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/pdf/JeremyCorbyn/Cobyn-Report-FINAL.pdf; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-public-wrong-about-nearly-everything-survey-shows-8697821.html">hardly a paragon</a> in this regard, with its rabid tabloid press out to distort and manipulate at every turn. </p><p dir="ltr">Yet Wales suffers the unique problem of invisibility, of no information rather than distorted information - it’s difficult to say which is worse. </p><p dir="ltr">Welsh people simply don’t hear anything about Wales or Welsh politics. There is a glaring <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-35984859">information deficit</a>. Less than 5% of Welsh people read Welsh newspapers (unlike most nations, Wales has never had a truly ‘national’ daily newspaper) instead reading English papers which never mention Wales or Welsh politics. This is the same for television, with Welsh citizens overwhelmingly consuming English/’British’ news media which again never mentions Wales or the Welsh Assembly. The Welsh television news which exists is tiny. It consists of a Welsh supplement which follows the ‘proper’ BBC or ITV news. These segments are generally 15 minutes long in the afternoon, half an hour at 6, and 10 minutes at 10 PM. This short time scale means that these shows are almost always ‘roundups’ which have to cram in of a combination of assembly news- normally a 10 second talking head of a minister or expert- sport, local news, crime and so on. On top of this, wider issues of political economy have further weakened what little indigenous media exist in Wales. Wales three ‘major’ papers - The Western Mail, South Wales Echo (both South Wales) and Daily Post (North Wales) are owned by Trinity Mirror, a chief player in the reduction of journalism to listicles and <a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/spiked-column-by-sacked-star-writer-on-the-leicester-mercury-railed-against-risible-standard-of-clickbait-online-journalism/">clickbait</a>. As a consequence, their content has become increasingly trivial and unconcerned with Welsh politics or culture.</p><p dir="ltr">The information deficit has an incredibly pernicious impact on Welsh society. </p><p dir="ltr">The general lack of coverage about the Welsh assembly or Welsh policy distinctiveness has led to a farcical situation whereby no one knows <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-27739205">who does what</a>, who is in charge of what, and <a href="//www.iwa.wales/click/2016/04/british-media-is-failing-to-give-voters-the-full-picture-ahead-of-elections-2/">so on</a>. &nbsp;In my own field of education research, for example, teachers have told me how they are frequently confronted by upset parents scared about changes to education, unaware that the changes they have seen on the news only apply to England.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">Wales suffers the unique problem of invisibility, of no information rather than distorted information.</p><p dir="ltr">This lack of information directly contributes to political disengagement and the uniquely <a href="http://orca.cf.ac.uk/48970/1/Scully%202004.pdf">low election turnout</a> in Wales, as well as undermining the Assembly and devolution itself- devolution hasn’t really embedded in the public imagination because of a lack of awareness of the role it plays in everyday life. </p><p dir="ltr">Next, the lack of media coverage means a lack of scrutiny which reinforces the awful state of Welsh politics. Welsh politics continues to be so partisan and the Welsh government continues to underperform and contradict itself because they simply get an easy ride, as their failures either go unreported or unseen. A final corollary of this invisibility- it not just the news media: <a href="http://www.iwa.wales/click/2013/05/putting-wales-on-the-small-screen/">dramatic portrayals of Welsh life </a>remain largely invisible in film, music and literature - is that it contributes to an extremely weak sense of national identity in Wales. The nation is a discursive construct, and we know who ‘we’ are through the media- through the constant, banal framing of ‘us’ as a nation through the news, drama, through seeing ‘people like us’ on the screen. In Wales the ‘we’ is not ‘we Welsh’ unless it comes to the 6 nations. The rest of the time ‘we’ refers to ‘the UK’ and ‘us British’. </p><p dir="ltr">There is, thankfully, an <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-19904438; http://www.iwa.wales/news/2015/11/iwa-wales-media-audit-2015/">increasing realisation</a> that this has to change. </p><h2 dir="ltr">BBC Wales</h2><p dir="ltr">In the animated discussions about transforming Wales’ media landscape, the BBC has featured heavily. To understand the role the BBC can and will play in Wales’ future, it is first worth reflecting on the history and nature of the BBC as an institution in Wales. </p><p dir="ltr">The role of the BBC in Wales, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, is complex and contradictory. Like the British state (and indeed Britishness) itself, which has always been flexible and accommodating to national minorities, the BBC has always had to balance its commitment to the Union and status quo with a strong commitment to Wales. The BBC first established establishing Welsh transmission in 1937. After pressure, BBC Wales Cymru was launched as a distinct service in 1964, moving to Cardiff permanently in 1967. The new service provided both Welsh language and English language broadcasting. This was <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/cymruwales/history">followed</a> in the 1970s by the establishment of BBC Radio Wales &amp; BBC Radio Cymru. </p><p dir="ltr">Many nationalists in Wales view the BBC in simplistic terms, as an entity which simply pumps out ‘Britishness’ at the expense of Welshness. This is easy to sympathise with when one looks at the Olympics coverage (‘COME ON OUR BOYS’) and the twee nationalism of shows like Bake Off, amongst other things. </p><p dir="ltr">Thomas Hajkowski’s ‘<a href="http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9780719079443/">The BBC and British national identity</a>’ challenges the traditional assumption that the BBC simply pumped out state propaganda from London, arguing instead that the regional BBC offices were nearly autonomous from London, and developed a strong Welsh national culture. He argues that “in an era of local or provincial newspapers on the one hand, and a London or Hollywood dominated cinema on the other, the regional BBCs were the only truly ‘national’ media in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’, although this was later somewhat fractured by the advent of commercial broadcasting. </p><p dir="ltr">In other words, whilst the BBC has always been central to <a href="http://www.renewal.org.uk/articles/blair-and-the-importance-of-being-british">promoting a sense of Britishness</a>, it has also simultaneously functioned in many ways as a de facto Welsh national broadcaster and has always had an influential role to play in shaping Wales’ imagined community (within the boundaries of the UK, of course), something which <a href="http://www.viewjournal.eu/index.php/view/article/view/jethc038/72">continues today</a>. Indeed, such was the BBC’s ostensible sympathy for the Welsh language and ‘cultural issues’, the great Welsh Marxist Gwyn Williams once <a href="http://banmarchive.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/81_12_14.pdf">spoke of</a> two rival ‘establishments’ within Wales: the formidable Labour party apparatus on one hand, and the ‘nation-conscious Welsh BBC’.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet pointing out the central role the BBC has played in recent Welsh history does not make the BBC a benevolent, neutral entity. Hegemony does not mean the absence of domination or the absence of a self-aggrandizing ruling class, but rather speaks of a “<a href="https://newleftreview.org/II/35/leo-panitch-sam-gindin-superintending-global-capital">quality of rule on the part of particular ruling classes</a>”. Raymond Williams tells us that the state will attempt to incorporate ‘harmless’ subaltern narratives and cultures - evident in the BBC’s recognition and co-optation of ‘cultural’ Welshness - but when this is not possible, threatening discourses will be “extirpated with extraordinary vigour”. So for example, whilst the BBC always recognised and helped promote the Welsh language, Hajkowski argues it did also attempted to marginalise &nbsp;Welsh (and Scottish) political nationalism, which it saw as beyond the pale and a threat to the established order (for example by barring Plaid and the SNP from making political broadcasts until the 1960s). </p><p dir="ltr">This constant <a href="http://orca.cf.ac.uk/89096/1/1464884916648094.full.pdf">balancing act </a>is why the BBC in Wales &amp; Scotland is often accused of being nationalistic by Unionists, and Unionistic by nationalists.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The BBC and the devolved political</h2><p dir="ltr">Devolution was meant to rejuvenate Wales, including its media. But just like all the other issues that devolution was meant to solve, the structural problems of the Welsh media have gotten <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pa.198/pdf">worse</a>, not better. The lack of any other Welsh media and the lack of interest in Wales from commercial television ultimately means that post-devolution Wales is now even more dependent on the BBC as a source of local news and affairs than other part of the UK. BBC Wales remains the most watched Welsh news outlet. The BBC Wales news website is where the majority of people get their online news about Wales. The BBC continues to reflect the realities of devolution better than its commercial rivals, although as Stewart Lee puts it, this is a bit like being the world’s tallest dwarf, and the BBC’s Welsh political coverage has been criticised for <a href="http://orca.cf.ac.uk/5524/">lacking substance</a>. The BBC’s ‘lift and shift’ policy (where it is obliged to have a certain production outside London) has made it a significant employer in Wales, producing the likes of Dr Who, Torchwood etc., (although of course these are basically English shows made in Wales). </p><p dir="ltr">Despite this centrality to the Welsh ‘public sphere’, the BBC’s Welsh outputs have declined steeply in quality and quantity in recent years: Welsh language output has fallen by 15% since 2006/7; English language Welsh programmes have been impacted by a 32% cut in spending. In other words, the BBC, Wales’ only beacon of hope, is failing to accurately represent Wales. </p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">The lack of any other Welsh media&nbsp; ultimately means that post-devolution Wales is now even more dependent on the BBC as a source of local news and affairs than other part of the UK. </p><p dir="ltr">How do you solve this problem? One huge obstacle is that media policy and broadcasting are not <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408587/47683_CM9020_ENGLISH.pdf">devolved to Wales</a>,&nbsp; meaning that the Welsh government doesn’t have the tools to sort the information deficit out. More worryingly, as with so many other things, the Welsh government also does not really seem interested in equipping itself to deal with the problem. Academics and other experts working on the Welsh media have<a href="http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uwp/cowa/2006/00000018/00000001/art00013"> passionately called </a>for media policy and broadcasting to be devolved, only to be met with <a href="http://www.senedd.assembly.wales/documents/s7672/The%20future%20outlook%20for%20the%20media%20in%20Wales%20-%20Report%20-%20May%202012.pdf ">resistance or fatalism</a> from the Welsh government. The weaknesses of the Welsh devolution settlement- constantly having to ask for permission to do something- have, over time, produced an institutional culture of helplessness and impotence which permeates everything the Welsh government does. Its first instinct always seems to be to assume that something is not possible –‘we couldn’t do that’- to fundamentally misunderstand that the function of government is to legislate and rule. A cynic might also say that the Welsh government simply enjoys the lack of responsibility and scrutiny, and is therefore not serious about wanting to change a situation which suits it very well.</p><p dir="ltr">Wales’ lack of power over broadcasting means that the relationship between the Welsh government and the BBC has to occur via Whitehall and the Secretary of State, normally through the timeless Welsh tradition of establishing committees, which then make recommendations which are sent to Westminster. This is basically a form of lobbying, except The Welsh government doesn’t have any political leverage (bizarrely, numerous Welsh Labour leaders seem to think Wales’ reluctance to rock the boat represents a negotiating strategy in itself, and have claimed Wales’ political docility should be rewarded with <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-29287647">greater crumbs</a> from the <a href="//hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2014-10-15/debates/141015104000247/WalesBill">top table</a>. The reality, of course, is that their timidity means that Wales is simply easy to ignore). </p><p dir="ltr">These Welsh ‘demands’ are complicated further by the wider political context in which the BBC operates. The BBC as a whole is undoubtedly under threat. It is faced with severe cuts from a Tory government that is itching to <a href="http://bjr.sagepub.com/content/27/3/37.full.pdf+html">privatise the BBC</a> (like everything else), as well as paradoxically attempting to erode the institution’s independence from government, (<a href="http://cnc.sagepub.com/content/13/1/7.extract">reflecting</a> the <a href="http://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/5431">twin pillars</a> of Thatcherism). So the weak Welsh government is making demands of an organization which is already overstretched. This is why BBC representatives have implied that in this environment, increasing services to Wales would mean diverting resources from elsewhere. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The demands from Wales on the BBC have belatedly become somewhat more urgent and aggressive. The latest Enquiry into the BBC Charter Review writes:</p><p dir="ltr">“it is incumbent on the BBC to ensure that its output reflects the diversity of Welsh life and culture. It is in this regard that we believe the BBC has fallen short of its obligations…. The significant decline in the BBC’s investment in English-language programming over the last ten years has resulted in fewer hours of Wales specific programming and a schedule that has failed to capture and explore adequately the lives and experiences of Welsh communities, as well as the changing political landscape post-devolution. Further, this decline in investment has been more severe in Wales than the other nations of the UK. &nbsp;Whilst the <a href="http://www.assembly.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld10602/cr-ld10602-e.pdf">BBC Executive</a> has publicly acknowledged these shortcomings for some time, it seems to have done little to address them.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, after pressure from Welsh civil society, the Welsh government has called for an extra 30 million to be spent by the BBC on English language programming to better reflect Welsh culture. However, experts in the same report also correctly note that the timidity of the Welsh Government is an obstacle to radical reform, stating&nbsp;“a number of witnesses questioned what political pressure would be brought to bear by the Welsh Government if this additional £30 million funding was not forthcoming”. &nbsp;</p><h2 dir="ltr">The BBC draft charter and Wales- problems solved?</h2><p dir="ltr">From this milieu, a draft of the latest BBC charter (the BBC’s rolling constitution) has emerged, complete with updates which impact on Wales. Most noticeably, Wales will now have a non-executive representative on the BBC’s new unitary board. The BBC is also now to be made <a href="https://assemblyinbrief.wordpress.com/tag/bbc-charter/ ">accountable</a> to the Assembly for its Welsh output, which will be quantified and scrutinised by the Assembly and Ofcom. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">These changes have predictably been <a href="http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/politics/how-radical-changes-proposed-bbc-10971202">portrayed as radical</a> but &nbsp;there are significant caveats. Money is still a very big issue. The demand that more programmes being made in Wales is problematic, for these will not necessarily be Welsh in content. What counts as distinctly Welsh programming? If more English language shows are actually made, what aspects of modern Welsh life will be reflected? (I suspect more focus on the valleys at the expense of everyone else).</p><p dir="ltr">At best, these new measures are stopping the rot, but hardly progress. It is difficult to foresee an actual increase in the BBC’s Welsh political coverage. In all likelihood, BBC Wales’ politics and Welsh news coverage will remain a ‘round up’ after the ‘proper’ news. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The Future</h2><p dir="ltr">The struggle over the Welsh media and the begging letters to the BBC sums up the failures of Welsh devolution. Twenty years on, Wales remains powerless and dependent.</p><p dir="ltr">So long as Wales remains in the UK, and as long as the British state remains interested in keeping Wales on side, BBC Wales will always provide some concessionary coverage to Wales and will remain the main pillar of Welsh broadcasting. The only issue will be about the amount and quality of this provision, which will alternate depending on who is in government: like the civil service, the BBC tends to absorb and reflect the ideologies and hegemonic strategies of whichever government is in power in Westminster, and some are more inclined to pursue strategies of consent than others. But so long as the BBC also remains committed to the Union, Wales and Scotland will never be provided any more than the absolute minimum, for the simple reason that this might, in the words of John Bird, ‘<a href="http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14745594.Scottish_Six_news_programme_plans_are_dead__Whitehall_insiders_confirm/">foster separatist tendencies</a>.’ </p><h2 dir="ltr">The people of Wales should be asking themselves: is this is good enough? </h2><p dir="ltr">All this is about democracy. The idea of the ‘public sphere’ is thrown around a lot these days. It simply refers to an idealized image of a democratic society whereby all citizens are involved in the decision making process. It is about political participation and the belief that the public can be a check against the state and abuses of power. This requires a politically educated public, and this is facilitated by an accessible and open flow of information.</p><p dir="ltr">When Wales voted for devolution in 1997, these high minded ideals were prominent, but have sadly faded from view as Welsh expectations have successfully been managed downwards. </p><p dir="ltr">Like all dependent peripheral nations, Wales is basically used to change coming from the top, rather than from the bottom- everything is always sorted out by someone else. Changing this culture of dependency is perhaps the most important step in achieving a Welsh public sphere: instead of waiting for small concessions to be granted by the BBC, or trusting our incompetent government to sort this out for us (they won’t), the future for the Welsh public sphere lies in exploring innovative non-statist alternative media forms, a la <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/nov/24/the-national-scotland-newsquest-pro-independence">Scotland</a> . We also have to realise that the public sphere goes beyond just ‘the media’ but also depends on the contribution of Universities, schools and civil society, and that ultimately we all have a part to play in creating it.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/sam-coates-paul-atkins/forward-wales-five-ways-welsh-progressives-need-to-take-back-control">Forward Wales: five ways Welsh progressives need to take back control</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/angela-graham/towards-better-broadcasting-in-wales">Towards better broadcasting in Wales </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/hywel-ceri-jones/wales-and-changing-union">Wales and the changing Union</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK what is public service? Daniel Evans Thu, 22 Dec 2016 14:34:49 +0000 Daniel Evans 107858 at https://www.opendemocracy.net BAFTA/BFI Film Diversity Measures may not lead to BAME employment https://www.opendemocracy.net/simon-albury/baftabfi-film-diversity-measures-may-not-lead-to-bame-employment <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The press should not exaggerate the effectiveness of the film diversity measures introduced by BAFTA this week. They deserve only a small welcome.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-25522188.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-25522188.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="347" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Actor Leon Herbert protests lack of diversity at the BAFTA film awards. Jonathan Brady PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The press has overblown the film diversity measures announced by BAFTA this week. </p><p>The Guardian reported they mean “nominees must show they have boosted opportunities for ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged film-makers.” That is not true. On Talk Radio, Julia Hartley-Brewer said a film that was “too white, too straight and too male” couldn’t win a BAFTA. As her 12.45pm phone guest, I explained why that wasn’t true. The Telegraph suggested that I had said that BAFTA’s membership requirements and old awards system had “blighted progress in the industry for decades”. Again not true.</p> <p>Let’s look at what is true. When it comes to membership, BAFTA has done well. Last week in the members’ bar, Sugar Films supremo and industry big wig Pat Younge was doing business with a large diverse group at one of BAFTA’s big round tables and, as usual, there were many other BAME people around the room. So, on membership BAFTA starts from a good place. </p> <p>Now Variety reports that, for 2017, BAFTA has “abolished the requirement for new member applicants to need proposers and seconders from the existing membership”. If true, this removes the “who you know” hurdle from joining BAFTA and is a great move and deserves a big welcome. As I did tell the Telegraph – on diversity “who you know” has blighted progress in the industry for decades. </p> <p>What has caught the press’ eye is BAFTA’a announcment it will add the <a href="http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/bfi-diversity-standards-leaflet-2016-05-11.pdf" target="_blank">BFI Diversity Standards</a> to the eligibility criteria for the Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer categories from 2019. <em><span>This is welcome but it might have no impact on BAME or disabled employment on-screen or off.</span></em> To understand why, you have to look at the full detail of the criteria in the BFI document.</p><p>1. To meet the standard only two out of the following four criteria areas needs to be addressed: </p><ul><li>- On screen representation, themes and narratives</li><li> </li><li>- Project leadership and creative practitioners</li><li> </li><li>- Industry access and opportunities</li><li> </li><li>- Opportunities for diversity in audience development.</li></ul> <p>In practice, a film could meet the diversity standard by employing the following combination: an expert advisor, providing one off student work experience, added value in a specific UK region and reaching new audiences through alternative distribution and marketing strategies (e.g. VOD, special events, targeted pricing strategies). All these taken together are very nice but they will not drive the necessary structural change.</p> <p>2. The most challenging disadvantaged groups may be ignored as, to qualify, a production can choose to focus on only one group from disability <em>or</em> gender <em>or</em> race <em>or</em> age <em>or</em> sexual orientation <em>or</em> lower economic status. The BFI criteria can be matched without addressing BAME or disabled employment at all. As I’m now in my seventies, I might be in with a chance on age!</p> <p>The most recent Creative Skillset Census 2012 reported for Diversity in Film Production the makeup was:</p> <p>47% Women</p> <p>5.3% BAME</p> <p>1.5% Disabled</p> <p>For matching some paltry measures, a multi million pounds film will now be able to display an impressive Screen Diversity mark of good practice. The idea that a film that is “too white, too straight and too male” couldn’t win a BAFTA is clearly nonsense. </p> <p>With the BFI Diversity Standards, a very small step has been made. It deserves only a very small welcome.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/claire-westall-michael-gardiner/bbc-and-british-branding">The BBC and British branding</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/simon-albury/diversity-what-ofcom-needs-to-do">Diversity - what Ofcom needs to do</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/trevor-phillips/british-tv-not-quite-black-and-white">British media: not quite black and white</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb uk UK Simon Albury Mon, 19 Dec 2016 12:48:48 +0000 Simon Albury 107771 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is BBC Question Time’s audience producer really a fascist? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/tim-holmes/is-question-time-s-audience-producer-really-fascist <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A freak Twitter storm engulfed the audience producer of the popular current affairs programme last week, as it was revealed she had shared Facebook posts by far right groups. But is there more to it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="western"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-11997235.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-11997235.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Question Time at Westminster Hall. Dominic Lipinski PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A freak Twitter storm engulfed the audience producer of Question Time last week. Alison Fuller Pedley, who picks the BBC panel show’s audience, received a hail of online attacks and condemnations. By Tuesday, she had removed her Facebook profile and deleted both Twitter accounts.</p><p class="western">Critics had good grounds for rage. In September, Pedley had invited the Boston, Lincolnshire EDL to apply for the show’s audience – drawing complaints from anti-racist campaigners and local MP Matt Warman. The backbencher was told the show approached the EDL repeatedly, but contacted neither the Conservatives nor any other local group. In a <a href="http://www.mattwarman.co.uk/2016/10/06/letter-bbc-director-general-regarding-question-time-edl-boston/">letter</a> to the director-general, he accused the BBC of misrepresenting Boston, “fanning the flames of division” nationwide, and “giving the impression that abhorrent views are widespread enough to be acceptable.”</p><p class="western">On Monday, things kicked off again. People discovered Pedley had shared posts by far-right group Britain First, tweeted supporting Vote Leave and joined facebook group the “British Patriot Front”. On Thursday, Bella Caledonia discovered a UKIP councillor claimed to know Pedley, and said he persuaded her to bring Question Time to his town. The same day, campaigner Jack Monroe <a href="https://twitter.com/MxJackMonroe/status/806721058539769856">cancelled</a> her licence fee in disgust, branding Pedley a “blatant neo-Nazi supporter.”</p><p class="western">Mainstream coverage has been woeful. The BBC press team focused its denials on the Britain First posts, claiming Pedley shared them “unwittingly”. Sure enough, the media followed suit: the <em>Mirror</em>, Huffington Post and <em>Daily Mail</em> omitted all other new revelations.</p><p class="western">Yet further damning evidence is not hard to find. The British Patriot Front, which hosts Islamophobic and racist material, is riddled with “likers” of the BNP and EDL. The group’s creator posted extreme Islamophobic images to a “BNP EDL NF [National Front]” group. Its other admin is an active member of “UK Nationalists For Our White Race And Culture”.<br /> <br /> Scrolling back through November, I saw a poll on whether to hang or deport <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gina_Miller">Gina Miller</a>, or burn the three “traitorous” <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/04/enemies-of-the-people-british-newspapers-react-judges-brexit-ruling">judges</a> who upheld her appeal; a video claiming Muslims threatened to rape children; a clip alleging a “Clinton sex ring”. In October, one member posted a crucified figure with neo-Nazi slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”.</p><p class="western">But it’s not just the facebook group. Far-right Islamophobe Douglas Murray is “always a great panellist” on Question Time, Pedley writes. She “likes” far-right journalists Melanie Phillips and “shock jock” Jon Gaunt. In May, she “liked” a clip of Nigel Farage obliquely excusing violence. The same month, she encouraged Brexiteers “Better Off Out” and UKIP South Leicestershire to join a Channel 4 audience. In 2008, she invited two Republican groups to apply for a US Question Time audience. It seems these right-wing groups are the only ones Pedley publicly contacted.</p><p class="western">None of this takes place in a vacuum. Recent Question Time audiences seem angrier and more Europhobic, a fact that has not passed viewers by. “I haven’t been able to watch it due to the absolute absurdity of the audience”, <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/unitedkingdom/comments/5glxao/audience_producer_at_bbc_question_time_has_links/">writes</a> one reddit user – “very extreme nowadays and not just your average opinionated types who just want to vent. There’s no nuance to it anymore, it’s all highly polarising rhetoric.” When Question Time aired from Boston (where Pedley invited the local EDL) people <a href="https://medium.com/@_phage/bbc-invite-edl-members-to-join-question-time-studio-audience-via-facebook-50eafcdebd2a">tweeted</a>: “Since when was the agenda on #bbcqt set by the National Front?” “#bbcqt is the worst I’ve ever seen, can’t watch any more. Vile, racist and disgusting #switchingoff”.</p><p class="western">This issue can’t be brushed under the carpet. The audience producer plays a pivotal role and wields real power. As journalist Teo Beleaga <a href="https://blogs.journalism.co.uk/2010/02/11/behind-the-scenes-at-bbc%E2%80%99s-question-time/">revealed</a> in 2010, Pedley’s background checks are supposed to ensure audiences “embody the image of their city”.</p><p class="western">Yet the selection process is a closed box. The BBC claims audiences are representative and balanced, but how does it make sure? In 2010, a member of the public <a href="https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/selection_criteria_for_question">tried to find out</a> through the Freedom of Information Act. The Corporation refused the request.</p><p class="western">This is an intolerable situation. The Question Time audience, one of few political fora that represent the public week after week, is selected by opaque and unaccountable means. If a producer has their thumb on the scales, we need to know. If a far-right sympathiser is in a position to apply that thumb, we <em>definitely</em> need to know. So the BBC, Pedley, Mentorn Media and Full House Audience Management must all take some flack.</p><p class="western">That, then, is the case for the prosecution. Now here’s a (qualified) case for the defence. I found no concrete evidence of Pedley’s far-right politics, and some counter-evidence. She shared an article predicting “dark times” under Trump, and, shortly after his 8 November victory, a popular meme of the despairing statue of liberty. Granted, Pedley might back British nationalism while disdaining vulgar American populism. But we can place a question mark over cries of “fascist”.</p><p class="western">It’s not even clear that Pedley backed leave. That might sound ludicrous, given that she tweeted her support – but a week before the referendum, she tweeted supporting Remain. She likewise enjoyed seeing not only Douglas Murray on Question Time, but social democrat Will Hutton and cosmopolitan liberal Simon Schama (or “Sharma”, as she dubbed him). If she “likes” Melanie Phillips, she also “likes” left-leaning economist Noreena Hertz.</p><p class="western">What about those Britain First posts? Pedley only ever shared generic right-nationalist material – “support our troops” and “wear a poppy”. Britain First thrives on this stuff, because most sharers won’t notice or recognise its source. Is that also why she joined the “British Patriot Front”? I found no evidence Pedley was an active member of this or any similar group, though clearly she considers herself a “patriot”, duty-bound to support Britain’s armed forces. Did she know what she’d signed up to? (Could she <em>not</em> have known?)</p><p class="western">Here’s my personal theory, which I believe best fits the evidence. Pedley is a right-wing Tory. We know she’s a landlord who believes landlords deserve more power, and joined her local Conservatives on facebook. She’s a “moderate” in that she favours democratic pluralism, probably sees herself as open-minded, and enjoys a knockabout debate – for reasons professional as well as personal. By June, I believe she was supporting Remain, possibly convinced by David Cameron on Question Time. But, because her political “centre of gravity” is hard right, she’s more open to “respectable” far-right voices like Farage, Phillips or Murray than left-wing “crazies” like Corbyn. “Crypto-fascist” material appeals to her because it dresses in right-nationalist clothes.</p><p class="western">Does this explanation reassure? Not especially. As Jack Monroe wrote: “Her JOB is to conduct POLITICAL BACKGROUND CHECKS on up to 4k people a week.” “You cannot be responsible for researching 4,000 political character profiles a week, &amp; claim to be ‘unaware of the context of Britain First’”.</p><p class="western">If Pedley supported Remain, why did she tweet supporting Leave? Therein lies a tale. She posted the tweet on 16 May. It was the first tweet from @fullhouse21 in over a month; another month would pass before the next one. The same day, Pedley was working on Channel 4 News’s “EU referendum special”. The audience was supposed to divide evenly over Brexit, so she scrabbled around seeking Leave-supporters. She contacted UKIP South Leicestershire and Better Off Out. She tried to reach Vote Leave – but instead, clumsily posted an invitation message and “vote Leave” link on facebook. I think that’s when she tweeted “vote leave”, and I think it was an accident.</p><p class="western">In contacting the EDL, UKIP, Better Off Out and GOP, what was Pedley doing? Stacking the deck with favoured right and far-right voices, or plugging gaps to “balance” the crowd? There’s no transparency here, so we don’t know. But either is a scandal. Asking activists to represent the public is like asking trainspotters to represent commuters: enthusiasts just aren’t normal. Particularly enthusiasts for race hate.</p><p class="western">Maybe that’s what broadcasters want – after all, fireworks make “good TV”. But good TV does not equal good democracy. Question Time offers the public a rare mass media platform; how it selects audiences needs to become transparent and accountable. The BBC must record methods used, demographic and polling data consulted, applications, invitations, approvals and rejections, and publish them. Media companies shouldn’t get to decide in secret, by secret means, who’s in, who’s out and who’s invited. It’s our audience, not theirs. Let’s take back control.</p><p class="western"><em><strong>Update: This piece was amended at 17:57 on 15 December 2016. An earlier version of this piece stated that a UKIP councillor claimed to be friends with Alison Fuller Pedley; in fact he only claimed to know her. The piece also stated Gina Miller is a QC. This has since been corrected.</strong></em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK Tim Holmes Thu, 15 Dec 2016 16:54:38 +0000 Tim Holmes 107710 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rethinking the BBC: A book launch https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/ellie-mae-ohagan/rethinking-public-book-launch <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Prominent thinkers on the BBC joined Our Beeb for an evening of debate in London. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/rethinking-the-bbc-public-media-in-the-21st-century/"><em><em>Rethinking the BBC: Public Media </em>in the 21st&nbsp;Century</em></a> is a FREE e-book from Our Beeb, which brings together industry insiders and outsiders, cultural figures, academics and activists, to not only provide fresh analyses, but concrete proposals towards a BBC fit for the future. It draws on more than three years of debate and argument at openDemocracy’s OurBeeb project and there is no cosy consensus about how the corporation should be reformed.<br /><br />Contributors include Mariana Mazzucato, Anthony Barnett, Michael Gardiner, and Aaron Bastani; cultural figures including Brian Eno, Philip Pullman and Ian McEwan; and broadcasters and journalists including George Monbiot, Sarah O’Connell, Meirion Jones and Lis Howell.</p><p>To mark the publication of <a href="http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/rethinking-the-bbc-public-media-in-the-21st-century/"><em><em>Rethinking the BBC: Public Media </em>in the 21st&nbsp;Century</em></a>, Our Beeb hosted a book launch in Shoreditch, East London to debate the future of the BBC. We hosted media students, campaigners and journalists for a panel discussion with journalist <strong>Owen Jones</strong>, writer and former BBC employee <strong>Fiona Chesterson</strong>, and academic and campaigner <strong>Des Freedman</strong>.</p><p><strong>DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY <a href="http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/rethinking-the-bbc-public-media-in-the-21st-century/">HERE</a>.</strong></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8255_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8255_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Invitees gather to hear the panel discussion. Photo: Theo McInnes. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8268_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8268_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Invitees debated the BBC before and after the main discussion. Photo: Theo McInnes. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8391_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8391_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fiona Chesterson argued that the BBC needs to be be bolder in defending itself. Photo: Theo McInnes. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8442_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8442_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Des Freedman encouraged the audience to make sure the BBC hears their views through the complaints system. Photo: Theo McInnes. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8178_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/IMG_8178_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="448" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The audience continued the debate after the panel discussion was over.</span></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc">Re-shaping Britain must include the BBC</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK bbc Ellie Mae O'Hagan Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:44:38 +0000 Ellie Mae O'Hagan 107413 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why is the BBC giving licence fee cash to the companies who have slashed local journalism? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/jonathan-heawood/why-is-bbc-giving-licence-fee-cash-to-companies-who-have-slashed-local-jour <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Under its new charter, the BBC will be subsidising Britain's biggest newspaper publishers.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/newstand.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/newstand.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="616" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image, Bobbie Johnson</span></span></span></p> <p>With only a month to go until its current Charter expires, some big questions about the BBC’s future remain unanswered. Will anyone foolhardy enough to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/nov/29/bbc-struggles-with-chair-shortlist-dearth-top-candidates">chair the new unitary Board</a> be found? Does Ofcom know how it is going to <a href="https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-1/proposed-annual-plan-2017-18">begin regulating the BBC</a>? And why is the BBC getting into bed with some of the biggest newspaper publishers in the UK?&nbsp; </p><p>What – you hadn’t heard about that one? It is true. The BBC has struck a deal to divert at least £8m of licence fee payer’s money into the pockets of newspaper publishers in every year of this Charter period – £88m in total.</p> <p>Why has the BBC done this? How will these funds be allocated? How can the BBC possibly balance the demands of public service broadcasting with the fiercely (and rightly) partisan nature of newspaper publishing? Once again, there are no clear answers to these questions. But there are reasons to be very concerned.</p> <p>The so-called Local Democracy Reporter scheme emerged out of the lobbying which surrounded the febrile process of BBC Charter renewal earlier this year. At that time, many newspapers were calling on the government to curb the BBC’s autonomy. One of their main arguments was that the BBC’s local journalism hollows out the space for their own activities. </p> <p>This ignores the fact that a similar erosion of the local newspaper market has taken place across the English-speaking world, not least in the United States, where there is no BBC to blame. However, the BBC took the lobbying seriously enough to sit down and negotiate with newspaper publishers under the auspices of their trade body, the <a href="http://www.newsmediauk.org/About">News Media Association</a> (NMA). </p> <p>On 11 May, a partnership agreement, jointly signed by Ashley Highfield, Chair of the NMA, and James Harding, Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, was published simultaneously on the <a href="http://www.newsmediauk.org/write/MediaUploads/PDF%20Docs/BBC_and_NMA_Partnership_Agreement_LetterFINAL_11.5.16.pdf">NMA’s website</a> and the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2016/bbc-nma-partnership">BBC’s website</a>. The letter identifies four initiatives on which the NMA and the BBC plan to work together, including a ‘local public sector reporting service’ (since redubbed the Local Democracy Reporter scheme), through which the BBC will award £8m of licence fee funds to local newspapers in order to employ 150 local journalists per year, to generate reports on local democracy. </p><p>The day after this agreement was signed, the government published its White Paper on the future of the BBC, in which it backed away from earlier threats to the BBC’s funding and autonomy.</p> <p>Did the publishers call off the dogs in return for concessions that were reached in the partnership agreement between the NMA and the BBC? Is the Local Democracy Reporter scheme a pound of flesh which the BBC was prepared to sacrifice in order to retain the licence fee? We do not know. However, it is clear that the scheme effectively constitutes a form of top-slicing, whereby a sizeable chunk of the licence fee is siphoned off from the BBC and used to subsidise the operations of other news providers.</p> <p>Now, a bit of subsidy for local news would not be the end of the world. The erosion of local news in the US has already led to calls for a ‘<a href="http://mediashift.org/2016/11/post-election-time-radical-rethinking-news-ecosystem/">radical rethinking of the news ecosystem</a>’ in the era of post-truth politics. A similar democratic deficit in the British media has created black spots in local news coverage which may have led to the national media’s failure to see Brexit coming. The <a href="http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/policy-institute/CMCP/local-news.pdf">latest research</a> shows that two-thirds of local authority districts in the UK are not effectively served by a dedicated local daily newspaper.&nbsp; </p><p>We all want to see local authorities and other powerful bodies held properly to account. Maybe public funds should be made available to a range of independent news publishers? In fact, shouldn’t the Local Democracy Reporter scheme be welcomed with open arms if it helps to meet these needs?</p> <p>Perhaps – if only the scheme was truly likely to strengthen the local news ecosystem. But in its current form, the scheme is unlikely to deliver any benefits, either for the BBC or for local democracy. Because, rather than working with news organisations that are genuinely committed to addressing the democratic deficit, the BBC has got into bed with companies including <a href="http://www.mediareform.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2015/10/Who_owns_the_UK_media-report_plus_appendix1.pdf">Archant, Johnston, Newsquest, Tindle and Trinity Mirror</a>, which together own 80% of local newspaper titles, control 85% of revenue in the sector and have arguably done as much as anyone to cause the problem which this scheme purports to address, by closing local and regional newspapers across the UK.</p> <p>Whilst the big five publishers continue to cut and consolidate, a dynamic new sector is emerging. A growing number of independent news outlets have been established by professional journalists and grassroots activists who believe that their communities deserve better than this. They include a blend of hyperlocal operations, fact-checking watchdogs and investigative journalism units. The latest research shows that there are more than <a href="https://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/C4CJ-Report-for-Screen.pdf">400 hyperlocals in</a> the UK, seven million of us visit them on a weekly basis, more than two-thirds have supported local campaigns in the last two years and almost half have run investigative reports.</p> <p>If you were serious about supporting local democracy, surely you would want to work as closely as possible with this sector? Yet, notwithstanding a ‘hyperlocal forum’, in which the BBC met a few such publishers, it has not signed any kind of partnership agreement with them, but with the News Media Association, a body that exists solely to represent the interests of the dominant publishers.</p> <p>Surely, these group should not be in the driving seat of any attempt to take money from the BBC and into the private news sector? But they are, as the partnership agreement makes absolutely clear:</p> <blockquote><p><em>‘The delivery of the proposals, and the broader relationship between the BBC and its local news partners, will be subject to a joint annual review by the BBC and the NMA’.</em></p></blockquote> <p>Even worse, the agreement states that the funds should be directed towards ‘qualifying providers of local news’ such as ‘IPSO-accredited organisations’. This formulation is meaningless. IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) does not ‘accredit’ publishers. It simply handles complaints against them. Membership of IPSO is no guarantee of any particular quality of journalism. </p> <p>So why should IPSO’s members be singled out for preferential treatment? Could it be because IPSO is funded and overseen by the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC), a body which operates out of the same premises and with the same personnel as the NMA? Is it relevant that members of the NMA are almost all members of the RFC – and therefore IPSO? </p> <p>This situation would be laughable if it were not so alarming.</p> <p>Our membership at IMPRESS includes a number of independent news publishers who are not represented by the NMA and who did not feel that their voices had been heard by the BBC. In light of their concerns, we wrote to the BBC to propose that – if the BBC is determined to go ahead with this initiative – it should take urgent steps to ensure that the licence fee is top-sliced in the interests of the public, not a small number of newspaper owners. We recommended clear and transparent criteria by which publishing partners should be selected under the scheme, and appropriate oversight by an independent group – not a trade body with a clear conflict of interests.</p> <p>We eventually received a reply, more than two months later, in which we were assured that development of the Local Democracy Reporter scheme is ‘not exclusive to the NMA, and is open to all interested parties’; that ‘management and operation of the proposals will be independent from the NMA’; and that ‘oversight, like any other BBC activity, will be subject to a single, independent regulator, Ofcom’.</p> <p>This was news to us and might be news to the NMA and its members if they had taken seriously the terms of their partnership agreement with the BBC. The discrepancy between the partnership agreement and these statements only enhances the urgent need for clarity.</p> <p>Why? Because the future of public service media is at stake here. £8m a year may be a very small amount in comparison the BBC’s annual budget of £5bn. But the true danger here is the dilution not of the BBC’s funding but of its autonomy.</p> <p>It would be strange in any circumstances for the BBC to sacrifice editorial and commercial control to outside interests. It is positively bizarre for it to hand over the reins to a trade body that represents the interests of some of its staunchest foes. The Vice Chair of the NMA, in case you did not know, is David Dinsmore of News UK, part of the Murdoch empire which also includes the BBC’s largest rival in the UK, Sky.</p> <p class="Default">The risks which this scheme poses to the BBC, and to local journalism, are clear. Immediate action is necessary to address the risks. But, at a minute to midnight, is the BBC brave enough to press pause?</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk Jonathan Heawood Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:43:58 +0000 Jonathan Heawood 107302 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Our Beeb - Book Launch and Drinks Reception https://www.opendemocracy.net/ellie-mae-ohagan/our-beeb-book-launch-and-drinks-reception <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Limited space is available for an evening with some of the country's top experts and influential thinkers on the BBC.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/swHdHJNr.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/swHdHJNr.jpg" alt="" title="" width="350" height="350" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Limited places are available for a launch, panel discussion and drinks reception for the newly-published,&nbsp;<a href="http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/rethinking-the-bbc-public-media-in-the-21st-century/" target="_blank">Rethinking the BBC: Public Media in the 21st Century</a>, which is a collection of some of the best work published by openDemocracy's project&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb" target="_blank">ourBeeb</a> over the last few years.<br /><br />Featuring panellists <strong>Owen Jones</strong>, <strong>Fiona Chesterson</strong>, and <strong>Des Freedman</strong>, the event will ask how a vast establishment media institution like the BBC can respond to recent political events; what is its role and future in this dramatically changing world?<br /><em>Rethinking the BBC</em>&nbsp;brings together contributions from the political activists and theorists, including Mariana Mazzucato, Anthony Barnett, Michael Gardiner, and Aaron Bastani; cultural figures including Brian Eno, Philip Pullman and Ian McEwan; and broadcasters and journalists including George Monbiot, Sarah O’Connell, Meirion Jones and Lis Howell.</p><p><strong>When: </strong>29 November 2016, 6.30pm<br /><br /><strong>Where: </strong>71A Leonard St, London EC2A 4QS UK</p><p>Places for this event are very limited. RSVP to <strong>eleanor.ohagan@opendemocracy.net </strong>to secure yours.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc">Re-shaping Britain must include the BBC</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb uk UK Ellie Mae O'Hagan Fri, 25 Nov 2016 17:14:16 +0000 Ellie Mae O'Hagan 107129 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Aberfan and Orgreave: The BBC in moments of national trauma https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/ioan-marc-jones/aberfan-and-orgreave-bbc-in-moments-of-national-trauma <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>During moments of national trauma, the public turns to the BBC for shared experience and understanding. But how well is the corporation doing at honouring the experiences of the victims?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28969256.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28969256.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The graves of the victims of the Aberfan disaster in the village's cemetery in Wales, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. Andrew Matthews PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Hegel argued that the newspaper serves a purpose akin to the Morning Prayer. In Hegel’s era, ‘realists’ settled down every morning with their breakfast and routinely read the same stories as their fellow compatriots. Like the Morning Prayer, the newspaper offered a shared experience of the world and informed the collective consciousness. While newspapers have lost ground to other mediums in the present day, notably television and the Internet, and the Morning Prayer seems relatively absent, Hegel’s sentiment persists: media informs our shared experience.</p><p dir="ltr">Media in our time offers myriad perspectives that often skew our shared experience with positive and negative results. Differing interpretations open the wider political and cultural debate, for example, and offer voices to the marginalised, which is undoubtedly positive. But rent seeking and misinformation often inform these varying perspectives and serve to undermine national discourse, which is undoubtedly negative. During moments of national trauma, however, folks tend to ignore the more compromised and thus unreliable outlets and turn instead to the BBC for a sense of shared experience. Two principal reasons explain this trend: the public fund the BBC and thus there exists a sense of ownership, which instils trust, and the public seldom seek a compromised position due to the sensitive nature of the event and opt instead for assumed neutrality. </p><p dir="ltr">The BBC thus has a huge responsibility in moments of national trauma. As a service relied upon by the public, the onus rests on the BBC to offer balanced coverage that includes marginalised voices and avoids rent seeking and misinformation.</p><p dir="ltr">The fiftieth anniversary of the mining disaster at Aberfan, serves as an example of the BBC at its best. Few other outlets covered the anniversary of Aberfan in detail and none offered anything close to the BBC’s extensive programming. The BBC explored the different voices of those involved: survivors and campaigners, experts and historians, politicians and workers, poets and artists. There was a profound sense of national purpose in the BBC’s coverage and the coverage was, as demonstrated below, reliable and profound. </p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07zk9fl/aberfan-the-green-hollow">Aberfan: The Green Hollow</a> explored the tragedy through a film poem that brought my mum, who travelled to Aberfan as a working class fifteen-year-old the day after the disaster, to tears. Huw Edwards gave viewers historical context with expected neutrality in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07zk6fj/aberfan-the-fight-for-justice">Aberfan: The Fight for Justice</a>, which examined the voices of the survivors of Aberfan and scrutinised the various failures that led to the disaster with composure and a necessary dose of anger. </p><p dir="ltr">The historian Dai Smith’s radio programme, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07zf7wv">Aberfan: Meaning and Memory</a>, investigated the ways in which the men and women of Aberfan made sense of their loss, exploring the Adornian question of how to create meaning after tragedy. Max Boyce’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07yt4qy">The Voices of Aberfan</a> injected hope and humour into the national conversation through an assessment of Welsh choirs. Boyce spoke to folks about the evenings spent in the wake of Aberfan singing for three hours at a time before they visited pubs and working men’s clubs. The choir members explain that singing, and to a lesser extent beer, offered a sense of relief, a momentary respite from the foreboding shadow of Aberfan. </p><p dir="ltr">The BBC’s coverage was balanced and reliable. The aforementioned programmes, and there are plenty of others worth mentioning, gave a voice to the folks affected by Aberfan and enlightened the public debate by scrutinising different perspectives. The Aberfan coverage showed the BBC as a balanced and neutral broadcaster. This is how the BBC, an organisation ostensibly dedicated to public service, is supposed to cover such events. </p><p dir="ltr">There have been occasions of national trauma, however, where the BBC has failed to remain neutral and has equally failed to offer a voice to the marginalised. Coverage of the Battle of Orgreave, a defining moment in the 1984–85 miners’ strike, serves as <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/22/orgreave-truth-police-miners-strike">an example of this failure</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Folks tuned into the BBC on the evening of the strike for a shared experience, expecting reliable information. Viewers witnessed footage of miners hurling missiles at police, followed by mounted officers charging. This existed in what seemed like chronological time and thus the BBC’s footage awarded the police justification for the charge. The miners gratuitously attacked the police, it appeared to the unknowing eye, and thus the police response seemed defensible.</p><p dir="ltr">This was not, however, the chronology of events. Miners and activists, particularly the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, have long argued that the BBC reversed the footage. They claim that strikers hurled missiles after being attacked, and thus the police charge, not the hurling of missiles, was unprovoked. In recent years, an IPCC report has corroborated these claims, suggesting that the BBC had indeed reversed the footage. </p><p dir="ltr">At that pivotal moment, therefore, the BBC was a friend to the authorities and an enemy of the working class. Their neutrality was compromised. The tampering of footage informed the shared experience at the precise moment when the public was deciding their loyalty. It would be difficult indeed to argue that a reversal in the footage, altering the sequence of events, was somehow accidental, as the BBC ambiguously claims. A more reasoned argument is that the BBC coverage purposely undermined the miners and skewed the shared experience in favour of the authorities. </p><p dir="ltr">The BBC at the time and indeed in the years following Orgreave offered little traction to working class voices and instead repeated theories advocated by the authorities. The notion that miners were to blame was prominent in the BBC’s coverage. Despite miners losing their jobs and in many cases suffering the loss of their communities, the BBC perpetuated the miners not as victims but as perpetrators. It is perhaps unsurprising considering the lack of working class perspectives during the BBC’s coverage of Orgreave, offered quite literally from behind police lines, that many viewers deemed working class people, not the authorities, culpable. </p><p dir="ltr">The BBC, so often relied upon for their ability to obviate rent seeking, abused rent seeking practices at a pivotal moment that defined the history of the labour and trade union movements in Britain. This is verily unforgivable. Misinformed and misleading coverage of this kind, which overlooks the voices of the working class and relies instead on the prevailing voices of the authorities, shows the BBC at its worst: a public service dedicated to perpetuating the mythologies of the establishment.</p><p dir="ltr">If properly performed, the BBC’s coverage of national trauma informs our shared experience with neutral perspectives. If improperly performed, however, the BBC skews public opinion in favour of prevailing and often undeserving voices. The parallels of Aberfan and Orgreave are evident: both disasters in their own right, both occurred in mining communities, both essential moments for the working class. The BBC’s coverage of these events, however, differed entirely. </p><p dir="ltr">Coverage of Aberfan demonstrated the BBC’s ability to offer disparate opinions that scrutinised the authorities in reliable historical context. Coverage of Orgreave demonstrated the BBC’s ability to skew our shared experience in favour of the authorities, verily lacking proper historical context. One highlights the success of the BBC – serving the public through neutral coverage – while the other highlights the failure of the BBC – serving the authorities through biased coverage. It is worth remembering in the context of these events, therefore, that the public, not the authorities, own the BBC and thus the BBC should serve the public and not the authorities. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/geraint-rhys-whittaker/welsh-football-brexit-and-future-of-british-national-identity">Welsh football, Brexit and the future of British national identity </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/sujata-aurora/grunwick-40-years-on-lessons-from-asian-women-strikers">Grunwick 40 years on: lessons from the Asian women strikers</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK what is public service? Ioan Marc Jones Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:47:30 +0000 Ioan Marc Jones 107072 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Review: The Fall, series 3 https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-elstein/review-fall-series-3 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The much-praised – but also much-criticised – BBC2 drama series “The Fall” has completed its third and final run. How far did its strengths out-weigh its weaknesses?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28696088.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28696088.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jamie Dornan. Niall Carson PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Too often, UK drama series are re-commissioned simply because of audience figures, irrespective of whether their quality or inherent open-endedness justifies such extension. So “Broadchurch 2” on ITV was a complete bust, despite the success of the first series; “Missing” (on BBC1) and “Humans” (Channel 4) have started their second series, neither very promisingly (“Missing” has mysteriously become “The Missing”). Fine writing and clever plotting allowed “The Affair” (Sky Atlantic) to escape this trap (despite promising not to, I watched and admired series 3), and “Line of Duty” (BBC2) – keeping some core characters but finding an entirely new story – actually improved in its second outing (sadly, the third series collapsed into absurdity in its final episode).</p><p dir="ltr">The first 5-episode series of “The Fall” (also BBC2) was self-evidently incomplete. The sexual predator and serial murderer, Paul Spector (played by newcomer Jamie Dornan), had not yet been caught, though his pursuer, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson), had worked out his identity, and they had made glancing contact before he slipped away to Scotland. There was also a promising but unresolved police corruption storyline, which under-pinned why Gibson had been brought over from Scotland Yard to take over the investigation, at the behest of her former lover, Jim Burns (played by John Lynch), now the Assistant Chief Constable in Belfast.</p><p dir="ltr">Season 2 brought Spector and his family back from their bolt-hole to Belfast, where he kidnaps a former lover, Rose, in revenge for her having helped Gibson identify him as the serial killer. His family baby-sitter, 16-year-old Katie, develops an overwhelming obsession with him, which he carefully exploits. He is also being pursued by a tough Protestant gunman, whose wife has recently lost a child, and who is convinced that Spector has abused his role as a grief counsellor to help her escape to a shelter for abused wives. Eventually, Gibson captures Spector, who agrees to lead her to where Rose is hidden. The gunman forces a police officer to disclose the location of the rescue operation, penetrates the cordon, and shoots and wounds both a policeman and Spector before being killed. The last we see is Spector being ferried by helicopter to hospital, with Gibson fearful of losing him before he can be brought to justice. Rose, meanwhile, has been found alive.</p><p dir="ltr">Season 1 of “The Fall” was heavily criticized (for instance by Bea Campbell in open Democracy) for its seeming misogyny: drawing the viewer into the mind and method of a dangerous psychopath, detailing his proclivities and violence. The writer of the series, Allan Cubitt, tried to rebut the charge, but the excellent script, remarkable acting from Jamie Doran and bravura direction from Jakob Verbruggen combined to create scenes of a deeply disturbing nature. The atmosphere of menace and danger – re-inforced by the background of sectarian violence – permeated every episode. At one point, Spector even manages to invade Gibson’s hotel bedroom, and read her “dream diary”. </p><p dir="ltr">It was perhaps Verbruggen’s frank admission that his shooting style was “voyeuristic” which led to his replacement by Cubitt as director for series 2. Cubitt’s direction was further proof that most writers know exactly how their scripts should look on screen. However, there was no denying that the compelling drive of the first series had given way to a steadier – for my taste, too steady – development of the Gibson/Spector relationship. The police corruption sub-plot had completely disappeared. As some loose ends were being tied up, Cubitt introduced a cliff-hanger: Spector, in police custody, is shot – but not killed – by the Protestant gunman who has been pursuing him. Frankly, this felt like a classic case of the habit I had criticised two years ago (“Sequelitis: A Dramatic Affliction”) of TV commissioners being reluctant to let a hit show come to an end. After all, a third series could scarcely start with Spector dying, he was in custody and could not escape, so how would six hours of screen-time be filled? As it turns out, it was Cubitt, as much as BBC2, who needed the extra screen time.</p><p dir="ltr">The star of “The Fall” is Anderson, whose participation was surely a key factor in its financing. She is also credited as an executive producer (along with Cubitt and two long-term colleagues of producer Gub Neal, Justin Thomson and Patrick Irwin). Yet her presence on screen – improbably glamorous, defiantly feminist and ostentatiously bisexual – arguably unbalanced the production. As with most crime dramas, the detective is at the heart of the action, but “The Fall” was as subversive in its intent as in its form, to the end.</p><p dir="ltr">When I first wrote about the series (After “The Fall”, July 16 2013), I noted the Miltonic origins of the title. All the individual episodes were sub-titled with quotations from “Paradise Lost”, though these were only available on-line (presumably the BBC thought they were too portentous, or pretentious, for even the BBC2 audience – one is reminded of Dr Johnson’s comment on Milton’s “gigantic loftiness”). But Milton’s epic poem tells of two “falls” – the expulsion of Lucifer from Heaven, choosing to reign in Hell rather than serve above, leading to his scheme to tempt Adam and Eve into the disobedience that forces their expulsion from Eden.</p><p dir="ltr">It is Spector’s character that in the end defines “The Fall” – and James Dornan’s remarkable inhabitation of Spector is a true tour de force of acting which throws into question the production’s pre-occupation with Anderson. Yes, the third series marks time for the first two episodes, as Spector recovers from his life-threatening injuries. Critics compared those episodes to scenes from “ER”, which was fair enough – but Cubitt could scarcely ignore Spector’s medical crisis, and uses it to good effect, as the “patient”, emerging from his medical coma, claims to have lost his short-term memory (conveniently covering the years of his murderous attacks), so providing a first line of defence for his legal team.</p><p dir="ltr">We are also able to observe how he captures the sympathy of his front-line nurse, Sheridan, played by Aisling Bea as a look-alike for his female victims. With Spector’s symptoms requiring expert analysis at a secure psychiatric unit, headed by a Dr Larson (a Swede played by the best interpreter of the detective Wallander, Krister Henriksson), Nurse Sheridan presses a folded banknote into Spector’s hand as he departs the hospital. He reads the biblical message she has written on it – “he that loves not abides in death” – and then discards it as he enters the unit. Gibson spots this on CCTV and retrieves the note, but is unaware who has written the message: on her eventual return to London, she pins the £20 note to her wall, still puzzling over its content and provenance.</p><p dir="ltr">Spector’s purported amnesia requires him to recognize his daughter, Olivia, born before its supposed start (though he appears puzzled by how old she is – eight rather than two – and expresses surprise to learn that he has a son, Liam). However, it also spurs Gibson’s team to search for crimes using his modus operandi from the time he was in London, using the name Peter Baldwin (Baldwin was not his biological father – that was a British soldier who left his mother before he was born – but a man who lived with his mother for a time). &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">It is this plot twist which sets up two gruelling hours of viewing, as Cubitt delivers the content that must have been – for him – at the core of “The Fall”, but obscured for much of the time by the conventions of a police procedural thriller. The London investigation challenges Spector’s claim to Gibson that he had suffered no abuse at the orphanage to which he had been sent at the age of 10 after failed attempts at fostering. It was Burns himself who had exposed the vile regime at the orphanage, which had led to the imprisonment of the paedophile priest, Father Jensen – and who interviews Jensen in prison about Spector. “He was a pretty boy” murmurs the unrepentant Jensen, played by the ever-watchable Sean McGinley: is your coming here anything to do with the Belfast sex murders?</p><p dir="ltr">Burns warns the London-bound team that those running the orphanage had forced all the boys, every day, to masturbate publicly, as well sexually stimulate staff members. Few could have survived that experience undamaged. By this time in the inquiry, with Gibson under investigation for having failed properly to protect her prisoner against the Protestant gunman, and Spector potentially evading prosecution, Burns has resorted to heavy drinking.</p><p dir="ltr">The London murder which has attracted the attention of the police team is a death during sex, apparently by strangulation: but another man is serving a life sentence for the crime – David Alvarez. Reading through the interrogation records, the Belfast detectives work out that Alvarez had been fed by his interrogators nearly all the details of the crime: almost as if he had not actually been there. They also find that the CCTV footage that has survived shows not only the victim and Alvarez on the street together, but – just behind them – someone who looks just like Spector.</p><p dir="ltr">Alvarez is interviewed, and identifies this CCTV image as Peter Baldwin, the name by which Paul had been known before his eventual adoption, at age 13, by the Spector family. They had been at the orphanage together, where Peter had been Jensen’s favourite for a whole year – “pretty boy” is what Alvarez says Jensen called him (and is how Jensen had described him to Burns). When it fell on Baldwin to nominate his successor, Alvarez had felt sure he would be chosen – and was eternally grateful to Baldwin for choosing someone else, and so saving him from that hellish ordeal. </p><p dir="ltr">The two had met up again as adults in London, and on the night in question had picked up Susan Harper and taken her to Alvarez’s flat. After he had had sex with her, he had left her with Baldwin. He had not seen him since. The Belfast detectives ask him why he has taken the blame for a crime he did not commit. He shrugs off the question.</p><p dir="ltr">Once the police charge Spector with the Harper murder, which pre-dates his claimed period of amnesia, his options narrow. Far from denying the encounter, he claims her death was accidental, whilst experimenting with placing a plastic bag over her head during sex, after Alvarez had left the flat. Under interrogation, and during interviews with Larson, he steadily reveals more and more about the roots of his psychopathic behaviour, most specifically in his relationship with his mother.</p><p dir="ltr">After Baldwin had abandoned them, on Spector’s eighth birthday, he remembers sharing his mother’s bed. But she was sad, and angry – angry with him, though he can’t remember why. Ten days later, he came home from school – she had failed to collect him – to discover her hanging from the back of her bedroom door. He had called 999, not knowing if she was dead or alive. When a social worker told him she was in a better place, he wondered if that meant she was alive, but no longer encumbered with him.</p><p dir="ltr">He claims to be “intrigued” by what he has heard of the Belfast murders, slyly noting that laying out clothes in the shape of a body is something he used to do with his mother’s underwear. This had aroused him, and stealing underwear had later been an aid to masturbation. He had found spying on people’s homes – on “real people” – satisfying: when he progressed to breaking into those homes, he planned it carefully, and found it easy. </p><p dir="ltr">He didn’t want other people to feel safe. As he edges closer to admissions, and as Gibson joins the questioning – “she speaks!” – he looks directly at her. She urges him to give up the charade of amnesia, to abandon the performance and the need to be noticed, and to “own” his confession. As he glares at her, his solicitor calls for a break. Spector stands up at the interview table, and – taking advantage of the absence of handcuffs and momentary loss of attention by Sergeant Anderson – suddenly attacks Gibson, with brutal punches and kicks. When Anderson – who had been wounded in the arm during the shoot-out at the search site for Rose Stagg – tries to intervene, Spector viciously twists and breaks the arm, before finally being over-powered. Burns – who had been monitoring the interview – is one of those who pitches into the struggle with Spector, before being pulled off by a colleague, horrified to find him drunk.</p><p dir="ltr">Gibson’s injuries are superficial. On hearing that Spector’s former babysitter – and co-conspirator – Katie has been self-harming in custody, Gibson visits her. She reveals that she, too, still sometimes cuts herself, out of continuing anger at the loss of her father when she was a teenager (she has previously told the doctor treating her cuts and bruises that the last time she was happy was when she was a child, and her father was alive). Katie admits her own anger at her father, killed in a motorcycle accident when she, too, was 14, blaming him for loving his dangerous motorbike more than his teenage daughter.</p><p dir="ltr">Katie’s letter to Spector – “my pain is for your pleasure”, “I can feel you crawling through my veins”, “I exist for you” – has been intercepted by the police. Gibson tells her that Spector by now barely knows she exists: his anger and rage have carried him too far. She, however, is not yet lost. Gibson urges her to let those who love her do so. As a glimmer of hope enters Katie’s eyes, a phone call interrupts the interview: news from the secure hospital.</p><p dir="ltr">Spector has been cultivating one of the other inmates, Mark Bailey, who claims to have been held in the ward for five years, after breaking his sister’s arm in retaliation for her mocking his sexuality. A warder tells Spector that Bailey actually then raped his sister, dragged her outdoors and threw her in front of a moving vehicle, killing her. When Spector sees Bailey again in the recreation area, doodling in an exercise book, he takes the book and the pencil, and recites a macabre poem (“There was a man of double deed”), writing in the book the final words, “Twas death, and death, and death, indeed”, before signing his name. He asks Bailey for a favour.</p><p dir="ltr">The ever-observant Spector has been noting how Dr Larson keeps his various keys in a locker. He tells Larson he has dreamed of seeing his body in a coffin, cut into pieces, but still connected to his nervous system. We know he has dreamed of suicide, throwing himself from the top of a high building. He asks Larson if his condition could be treated, even cured – and Larson cannot give a positive reply. The stage is set for a devastating denouement.</p><p dir="ltr">Bailey starts a disturbance in the recreation room. Spector slips unnoticed to the doors through which he expects Larson to try and enter. When that happens, he pounces on Larson, punching him into unconsciousness. He seizes the locker key, and opens the locker. But he does not take Larson’s car keys – this is no escape attempt: instead, he grabs a cell pass key, and removes Larson’s belt. Then he opens one of the locked cells and hides inside. The warders have meanwhile overpowered Bailey, and carry him back to his cell, throwing him inside, slamming and locking the door. </p><p dir="ltr">It is there that Spector lurks. He wraps the belt round Bailey’s throat, slowly strangling him. At Bailey flails and dies, Spector seems to experience a sexual climax. Then he takes a plastic bag from a waste basket, places it over his own head, ties the belt tight round his neck, and hangs the buckle from the door hook. We watch him (if we can look – in my days as a broadcaster such a detailed depiction of a suicide could not have been transmitted) as he suppresses his instinctive struggle, and succumbs to asphyxiation. By this time, the warders have realised what has happened, and burst into the cell: but both men are dead, and a bloodied Larson has been hospitalized. It is then that the call is placed to Gibson, interrupting her session with Katie.</p><p dir="ltr">Spector’s final acts are open to more than one interpretation. Killing Bailey could be retribution for the murder of his young sister (Spector believes that children are inherently innocent in his Miltonic scheme of the world visible and the world invisible). There may even be a hint of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, where the Chief smothers McMurphy, as a kind of mercy killing, before fleeing. </p><p dir="ltr">But Spector’s dominant motivation is surely to deny Gibson her desire to bring him to trial and see him imprisoned for the rest of his life. As she told him, when he teasingly recalled hearing – distantly – someone say “we’re losing him” after he was shot (so, again, partially casting off the cloak of amnesia), that was not – as he put it – because “there must have been one person at least who cared”, but her deciding that death would have been too easy for him: he needed to confront the dreadful black hole of his heart. So Spector exercises and displays his power over others, even in a secure hospital, and power over himself. True to Lucifer, he asserts that “the mind is its own place, and can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”.</p><p dir="ltr">In making Spector comprehensible, Cubitt does not ask for audience sympathy. As Gibson warned early in the drama, Spector has spread poison all around him. “How will you explain your crimes to your daughter?” she asks him when he calls her in series 1. Now that daughter, Olivia – like Gibson and Katie – will have to deal with the early death of her father, as well as his terrible acts, even as she recovers from her distraught mother’s attempt to drown herself and her children. Spector’s wife remains traumatized. </p><p dir="ltr">Six murders, an attempted murder, a kidnapping, at least two violent assaults: the families of Spector’s victims lack even the closure of a trial. Burns has resigned as Assistant Chief Constable. Sergeant Anderson’s detective career is surely ended by the physical damage inflicted by Spector. Poison, indeed: though almost the last scene Cubitt offers us is of Rose Stagg reading a fairy tale (“when wishing still did some good”) to her daughter, Nancy, for the love of whom, and in certain knowledge of whose love, she had defied Spector’s tortures. At least there were two survivors. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">To the end, the production team clung to phrases from “Paradise Lost” for their episode titles. Well, almost the end: one episode title – “What is in me dark illumine” – was actually a misquote for “What is Dark in me Illumine”; and another title – “Silence and Suffering” – is not from “Paradise Lost” at all, though there is a phrase in one of Milton’s letters about “silence and sufferance” being “the best apology against false accusers”. Cubitt and Neal have maintained a dignified policy of “silence and sufferance” with regard to the latest spate of criticisms of “The Fall”: and I respect that, taking the view that the overall achievement of their 17-hour epic far out-weighs its few weaknesses, and speaks for itself. The largest faults seem to me the result of the artificiality of a linear broadcaster’s needs.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, BBC2 owes “The Fall” a full narrative repeat of the entire drama, so that we can more fairly take its measure, by-passing the structural constraints of spreading across three broadcast years a story that runs in “dramatic time” for just a few months. After all, how reasonable is it to expect an audience to remember the brief scene of Burns’ visit to Father Jensen in series 2 nearly two years after it was first transmitted? Of course, such a re-run would also expose the loose threads in the narrative, but that is a risk worth taking. </p><p>The world of linear television, and renewable series, is being overtaken by web delivery. These days, as Netflix is demonstrating with its launch of the big-budget drama “The Crown”, the highest quality content does not even require a TV set for viewing. Meanwhile, Sky Atlantic has just broadcast a re-make by HBO of the BBC drama series “Criminal Justice”, re-titled “The Night Of”, which enlarged and transformed the original as it transferred the action from London to New York. It was not just the sheer quality of the new version which compelled attention: the freedom that HBO allowed the creative team (novelist and screenwriter Richard Price and film director and writer Steve Zaillian) meant that individual chapters – the word “episodes” seems so limited – of their television novel could run to whatever length was required (89 minutes in one case) whilst the whole work could be viewed as a continuous downloaded sequence. Surely, somewhere and somehow, Cubitt and Neal deserve the same opportunity. &nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beatrix-campbell/serial-killersthe-fall-0">Serial killers/The Fall</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/david-elstein/sequelitis-dramatic-affliction">Sequelitis: a dramatic affliction</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb UK drama bbc David Elstein Wed, 16 Nov 2016 11:15:57 +0000 David Elstein 106857 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Re-shaping Britain must include the BBC https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/niki-seth-smith/re-shaping-britain-must-include-bbc <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the next few years, the UK’s constitution will be re-shaped. This includes the BBC. A new book, from openDemocracy and Commonwealth Publishing, rethinks what Britain in the 21st century needs from its public media.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/BOOK.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/BOOK.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="355" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong></p><p><em>OpenDemocracy’s new book,&nbsp;</em><strong><em>Rethinking the BBC: Public Media in the 21st&nbsp;Century</em></strong><em>, brings together industry insiders, outsiders, academics, activists and cultural figures to propose how the BBC can meet the challenges of the next decade.</em></p><p><em><span>Read it for free</span><span>&nbsp;</span><a href="http://commonwealth-publishing.com/shop/rethinking-the-bbc-public-media-in-the-21st-century/">here</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></em></p><p><em><span>***</span></em></p><p>In the next few years, the UK’s constitution will be re-shaped. As a nation, we are yet to recognise the enormity of this. It’s exciting - and terrifying. And this includes the BBC. Why? Not only because it is the single most important media operation in the country, but because it belongs to the peoples of these islands and is part of our informal constitution.</p> <p>Yet the debate about the BBC is in a bizarre place, post-referendum. On the one hand, there are calls to protect this key component of British soft power. While our academic prowess falters - Cambridge has just dropped out of the top three universities for the first time since rankings began - our cultural production must remain world-class.&nbsp;On the other extreme, there’s the shock doctrine approach- the Centre for Policy Studies chose a good time to pounce with their recent attack-report. Yet they’re right to say that the case for “radical changes to the BBC” to make it “much smaller … will become even more compelling over the next few years”. Whatever your post-Brexit economic analysis, the decade until 2027 - when the Charter now being drawn up will run out - will not be one of overflowing public coffers. </p> <p>But behind the tug of war over funding and delivery of value, there is a deeper question: does the BBC still serve the public? If Britain is truly a divided nation, Auntie’s role as consensus-maker becomes unworkable - or even, dare we say it, unwanted.</p> <p>Into this space we publish <em>Rethinking the BBC: Public Media in the 21<span>st</span>&nbsp;Century</em>, bringing together industry insiders and outsiders, cultural figures, academics and activists, to not only provide fresh analyses, but concrete proposals towards a BBC fit for the future. It draws on more than three years of debate and argument at openDemocracy’s OurBeeb project and there is no cosy consensus about how the corporation should be reformed.</p> <p>Thus we have Nick Fraser, editor of BBC Storyville, calling for a revamp of the “egalitarian poetry of self-enlightenment”, dramatist Peter Jukes proposing a cure for ‘Breaking Bad Blues’ and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow advocating that we open up the archives. Ideas for innovation from established figures at the Corporation come alongside voices such as Sarah O’Connor’s on coming from a working class background into the BBC bubble, or Chimene Suleyman on the need to break away from minority group cliches. </p> <p>If it’s surprising to read David Elstein, openDemocracy’s Chairman and the chief exec who launched Channel 5, and communist activist and journalist Aaron Bastani, both arguing for sharing the licence fee, then we’ve done our job. It has been fascinating editing ‘<em>Rethinking the BBC…’</em> for many reasons, but ultimately due to the discovery of how these diverse voices, from Peter Hitchens to Becky Hogge, Phillip Pullman to Aaqil Ahmed, can be read as pushing in the same direction. &nbsp;</p> <p>What they share is a concern about the future of the BBC, as part of the future of the nation. And they don’t see the Charter now being drawn up as taking this challenge seriously. What will Britain look like in 2027? The United Kingdom (if it exists in its present form) will have transformed its relationship with Europe and the world - we will have been forced to confront the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, as well as climate change and new forms of conflict. The Brexit referendum showed us our capacity for division when meeting the big issues of our age, and the media’s hungry complicity in this.&nbsp; For all its weaknesses, the BBC has stood in the way of a US-style media landscape that has institutionalised this hunger. </p> <p>Yet the authors collected here are not complacent defenders. They ask what successful public media in the 21<span>st</span>&nbsp;century will look like, and present workable ideas. So economist Mariana Mazzucato and Cian O’Donovan propose a new framework for judging PSB success; Meirion Jones, who led the original (pulled) Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile’s abuse, sets out a detailed plan for a BBC investigations unit; Brian Eno proposes a controversial new programme to be named ‘What Actually Happened’.&nbsp; Many go so far as to suggest that the BBC will not recognisably survive without strengthening its claim to belong to the British public. Some see other public service broadcasters, and in some instances the market, as more able to deliver the public service content Britain needs. &nbsp;</p> <p>The Conservative government is committed to its vision of the BBC. It wants a corporation that runs alongside, rather than challenges, the market logic of private media. It wants a BBC that doesn’t cause too much trouble - paying tribute to diversity, while continuing to produce a central consensus that sets a standard on which voices, and opinions, to exclude. </p> <p>Read this book, and you will see that many other kinds of BBC are possible. Far from wishful thinking, fresh ideas are urgently needed. If the corporation is to survive the transformations of the next decade, drawing on them may, sooner or later, prove inevitable.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk Niki Seth-Smith Fri, 04 Nov 2016 10:44:57 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 106469 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Channel 4: a national treasure? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/david-elstein/channel-4-national-treasure <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Channel 4 has been named Channel of the Year at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. But what does the future hold?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-26285011_3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-26285011_3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Channel 4 headquarters in Horseferry Road, London. Philip Toscano / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved</span></span></span>Channel 4’s new drama series, National Treasure, strikes familiar notes: politically engaged, contemporary, challenging. An ageing comedian, played by Robbie Coltrane, now reduced to presenting a daytime show on Channel 4 (where else?), is accused of sexual crimes in the distant past. A pair of odiously fashionable commissioning editors at Horseferry Road tells him his hosting duties will not be needed for the time being. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Channel 4’s own transition from national institution to national treasure was reinforced by the TV industry’s accolade of Channel of the Year, bestowed at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in August. That vote may have been influenced by the industry’s instinctive support for any of its key players seen to be under threat, which has been the perception of Channel 4 ever since a civil servant was photographed last September carrying a document referring to possible privatisation of the channel. </p><p dir="ltr">The EU referendum seemingly put paid to that risk, as the Secretary of State who had initiated the process, John Whittingdale, was unceremoniously booted out of his job by Theresa May. His successor, Karen Bradley, is an unknown quantity in terms of media policy, but most commentators doubt her interest in the issue, not least because Channel 4 has nearly always enjoyed a remarkably wide level of political and public support. Its editorial stance has long appealed to Guardian readers and parties of the left, whereas its championing of independent television production resonates with Conservative free marketers.</p><p dir="ltr"> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;**********************</p><p dir="ltr">This dual attraction is rooted in Channel 4’s creation. Through the 1970s, two versions of a fourth TV channel had been espoused: an ITV2 – which would have allowed ITV to compete head-to-head with the BBC’s two channels – and an independent alternative, publicly owned, commercially funded and encouraging new entrants to television (guess which version the BBC supported).</p><p dir="ltr">In 1977, heavily influenced by one of its members, the Labour MP Phillip Whitehead, a Committee of Inquiry into broadcasting chaired by Lord Annan recommended an Open Broadcasting Authority to occupy the vacant fourth terrestrial channel: a variation of the idea for a National Television Foundation conceived by Whitehead’s former colleague at BBC TV Current Affairs Group, Anthony Smith, latterly ensconced as an academic at Oxford.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the OBA found few political friends, not least because of the difficulty of financing it, and the Conservatives entered the 1979 election with a manifesto commitment to launch ITV2. Yet within days of Margaret Thatcher’s first victory at the polls, the left-wing TV union, the ACTT – a natural supporter of an ITV2, with its promise of entrenching ACTT power within the industry – surprisingly voted for an independent Channel 4. </p><p dir="ltr">Encouraged by this, a small group of would-be independent producers (whose numbers then could be counted on the fingers of two hands, such was the hostility to the idea of independent production from within the established broadcasters) launched a lobbying effort. The primary targets were the new Home Office ministers, Willie Whitelaw and Leon Brittan, as well as the Tory free market guru, Sir Keith Joseph, to whom they outlined their model of a lean publisher-broadcaster, funded by advertising sold on its behalf by ITV, and gathering much of its programme supply from low-cost, fresh-start production companies, who would bring new ideas and new techniques to the industry.</p><p dir="ltr">The ministers were persuaded. So, too, was the regulator that would supervise the fourth channel, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (which had previously endorsed ITV2). By 1980, a bill was ready, which set out the new broadcaster’s remit as essentially being innovative and educative, providing an alternative to ITV (and only ITV), and sourcing a “significant proportion” of its programme supply from the nascent independent production sector. “Significant” was taken to mean at least 15%, with the rest presumed to come from the ITV companies – nobody, including Jeremy Isaacs, Channel 4’s first Chief Executive, imagined that independents would become the predominant supplier of content.</p><p dir="ltr">To begin with, Channel 4 was funded by a subscription from the ITV companies, in return for their retention of the monopoly on TV advertising. As the subscription was deductible from ITV’s penal special taxation system, the levy, the cost of Channel 4 in its initial years was actually primarily borne by the Treasury. Flourishing under the Thatcher and Major governments, Channel 4 saw off the first suggestions of privatisation. This was thanks to its Tory chairman, airline entrepreneur Sir Michael Bishop, inveighing to a Tory premier against the wicked desire of private companies to pay dividends – an argument still being deployed 20 years later.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4 managed to escape from the unhelpful embrace of ITV and win the right to sell its own airtime (whose value had been cynically suppressed by the ITV sales teams). With ambitions to expand its operations, it also persuaded the incoming Labour administration to release it from the statutory constraints preventing it from spending its surpluses on anything other than the core channel. </p><p dir="ltr">Soon it was splurging hundreds of millions of pounds on buying and launching new businesses – such as film distribution, subscription-funded TV channels, radio stations and horse-racing ventures. Most of the money was lost, but by 2002, the newly invented Channel Four Corporation had settled on a portfolio of free-to-air channels – Film4, E4, More4 – to supplement its public service offering. Channel 4 itself had developed its rudimentary original statutory duties into a complex remit of programming quotas, enforced by its regulator, the Independent Television Commission (successor to the IBA).</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***********************************</p><p dir="ltr">This set of obligations – much more detailed than the three objectives set out in the original legislation – became the famous Channel 4 “remit”, developed over 20 years by successive management teams, of which the most influential was the first. The emphasis on education (which was allocated 15% of the total budget), on multiculturalism and on support for the arts and film (though these two were not expressed directly in quota terms) came from Isaacs. Not just ethnic minorities, but social minorities – especially the gay community – came to see Channel 4 as their natural home. Channel 4 is now famous for its coverage of the Paralympic Games, but Channel 4’s opening night in November 1982 was built around its first Film on Four, Walter, starring Ian McKellen in a drama about a man with a learning disability.</p><p dir="ltr">The quota regime evolved organically as a formalisation of Channel 4’s actual output. The template for a long-form early evening news, controversial current affairs programmes and documentaries, high-falutin’ arts and discussion programmes (Brook’s Mahabharata, Ignatieff’s Voices), feature films (My Beautiful Laundrette, Four Weddings And A Funeral), in-your-face entertainment (The Comic Strip Presents..., The Tube), a range of multicultural programming (Desmond’s, The Bandung File) and swathes of peak-time education (4 What It’s Worth, Equinox) was set in that first decade and consolidated in the second, which actually saw broadcast operas supplemented by specially commissioned ones, such as Thomas Ades’ Powder Her Face and Jonathan Dove’s When She Died: Death Of A Princess.</p><p dir="ltr">Because Channel chose to invest in training (committing a higher proportion of its revenue than the BBC managed), that became a licence obligation, too. Eventually, the huge success of out-sourcing nearly all production (apart from Right to Reply) led to the enshrining in legislation of the publisher-broadcaster model for Channel 4. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">By 2001, Channel 4 was required to broadcast every week 4 hours of peak-time news, 4 hours of current affairs, 7 hours of formal education, 3 hours of multi-cultural content and 1 hour of religion. Most of these quotas were comfortably exceeded (education by 5 hours a week): the obligation to supply 330 hours of schools programmes a year was over-subscribed by 235 hours. </p><p dir="ltr">60% of its output had to be UK origination (70% in peak-time hours): Channel 4 delivered 69% (82% in peak). 60% had to be first-run (80% in peak). En route to an obligation in 2002 to spend 30% of its budget outside London, Channel 4 spent 29% in 2001. </p><p dir="ltr">Like all public service channels, Channel 4 was required to meet a quota of 50% for European productions (of which 10% had to be from independent producers, as part of its wider obligation to commission 25% of its output from such producers): its delivery of these quotas was 73%, 42% and 61% respectively. The unique obligation to spend 0.5% of its revenue on training and development was significantly over-delivered, at 0.7%.</p><p dir="ltr">Fast forward to 2016, and we find a very different version of “the remit” on offer. Most of the fixed quotas have disappeared: education, multicultural, religion and training. News and current affairs remain (4 hours a week of each), and Channel 4 claims to deliver 5 hours of current affairs (I defy anyone to find these hours: I have scoured the listings, to no avail). The schools obligation has been reduced to a token 1 hour a year: Channel 4 reports delivery of 27 hours (better than 2014’s 4 hours), but it is not clear where these hours are to be found (certainly not on Channel 4 or any of its portfolio channels). </p><p dir="ltr">The origination requirement has been cut from 60% to 56% (but still 70% in peak). There is no longer any obligation to broadcast even a single hour of first-run material, so not surprisingly the proportion of repeats has risen from 39% in 2001 to 60% last year. </p><p dir="ltr">The only quota that has increased since 2001 is that for out-of-London production (now 35%, instead of 30%, with delivery at 39%); of which there is now a requirement for production in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to constitute 3%. This minimal obligation (the three nations constitute 18% of the UK population) will rise to 9% by 2020 (2015 delivery was 7%). After 33 years of operations, Channel 4 managed to commission just 7 hours of material from Northern Ireland last year.</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year, a book of essays was published (What Price Channel 4? Abramis 2016), discussing possible privatisation of Channel 4. It included a contribution from Farrukh Dhondy – one of the earliest of Isaacs’ recruits as a commissioning editor – entitled “Remit, Schmemit”. He observes that “a few weeks watching Channel 4 in 2016 leads inexorably to the conclusion that the ‘remit’ does not exist – I must have missed the Act of Parliament that changed or relaxed it”. Indeed he did: so did most of the rest of us.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ********************************</p><p dir="ltr">In 2003, the Labour government passed the Communications Act and created Ofcom, which replaced not just the ITC, but three other content regulators, along with the telecoms watchdog, Oftel. The thinking behind this change was that telecoms and broadcasting were converging as technologies, and a converged regulator was therefore needed. In truth, virtually no issue that has emerged since 2003 has required Ofcom to exercise both sides of its supposed expertise. Even with some of the largest clashes on which it has had to adjudicate – such as the complaint from BT (and others) about the wholesale prices Sky charged for its sports channels – Ofcom acted purely as a competition regulator, regardless of the fact that the protagonists were the UK’s leading commercial players in telecoms and broadcasting.</p><p dir="ltr">As far as public service broadcasting (PSB) was concerned, the Act has proved to be little short of a disaster. Anticipating that digital technology would enable hundreds of new channels to be launched, greatly increasing competition for the incumbent PSB providers, the Act provided for relaxation, or abolition, of most of the specific content quotas previously imposed on the commercial PSBs (ITV, Channel 4 and Five). They had accepted these in exchange for privileged access to scarce spectrum, “must-carry” status for their PSB services on cable and satellite, and the top slots in the electronic programme guides that featured on all digital televisions.</p><p dir="ltr">It was certainly true that the old analogue spectrum had room for only five terrestrial channels, and that Whitehall was keen to retrieve that spectrum, so as to auction it for telecoms use. This would force all broadcasting into a purely digital mode, but the level of risk for the old PSB channels would be mitigated by the launch of a new digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) system, to counter-act the threatened dominance of cable and satellite platforms.</p><p dir="ltr">The practical result of this concerted effort by ministers and the old PSBs was to create a new scarcity, in terms of DTT capacity. The PSBs – the BBC and the three commercial providers – were granted special access to the most favourable DTT multiplexes. They used that capacity to wrap a dozen or more digital channels round their original PSB services: remarkably, nearly all the audience losses that the old channels suffered from new competition were recovered by the portfolio channels. Since digital switchover was completed in 2006, the hundreds of satellite and cable channels have actually lost a fifth of their audience share to the PSBs and their portfolios.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***********************************</p><p dir="ltr">Within the PSB sector, there was an anomaly. The ratio of audience share between Channel 4 and its portfolio channels is almost 50:50 (by comparison, the ITV ratio is 70:30 and Five’s is 75:25). Quite why this has happened is not clear: cross-promotion between the main channel and its siblings inevitably favours the latter, but the balance of content spending between them is roughly 5:1, so the outcome is surprising. Whatever the cause, the result has two troubling consequences. </p><p dir="ltr">First, although Channel 4 claims that its remit applies “across all genres and all channels”, it is perfectly obvious that the public service element in its output is overwhelmingly to be found on the main channel. As its audience declines, the effectiveness of Channel 4 as a public service provider diminishes. The abandonment of most quotas has allowed Channel 4 anyway to run down its supply of the programme genres that in the past – before 2003 – it acknowledged were the most important in PSB terms: news, current affairs, documentaries, education, religion, arts, children’s and multi-cultural, on which it used to spend about £150 million a year, or 35% of its programme budget. These days, it tries to pass off drama and comedy as public service genres, but if we ignore this blatant fudge, we can see that spend on core PSB is now about £85 million a year, less than 15% of the programme budget, delivering about 10% of all programme hours. As Channel 4’s audience declines – it is now viewed on average for 10 minutes a day per person – we can calculate that its contribution to consumption of public service content has fallen to less than 1 minute a day per person.</p><p dir="ltr">The second problem is Channel 4’s increased reliance on the entertainment channel, E4, as a financial support. E4’s appeal to the 16-24 age group is very strong (it scores fifth out of all channels with that audience), helping it to win an audience share of nearly 2% (compared with the main channel’s 5%). However, it achieves this with perhaps the most cynical schedule of any in public ownership: 75% US acquisitions and 95% repeats. In some weeks it broadcasts up to 150 US sitcom episodes, including up to 70 of The Big Bang Theory alone. </p><p dir="ltr">This schedule is in clear breach of E4’s Ofcom licence, which – like all Ofcom licences for broadcasters operating in the UK – requires at least 50% of transmission hours to be European works. The obligation derives from EU directives aimed at supporting European production, and has been incorporated for nearly 30 years into the UK regulatory regime.</p><p dir="ltr">When I asked Channel 4 Chief Executive David Abraham about this persistent and deliberate breach of the E4 licence, he murmured words to the effect that Channel 4 “needs the money”. When I pressed Ofcom Chief Executive Sharon White on the issue in August, she just shrugged. One of her predecessors put this down to “favourite child” syndrome, a verdict shared by a former member of the ITC. What Channel 4 does is too important for the regulator to worry about such peccadilloes. </p><p dir="ltr">A source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport wondered whether Ofcom was relying on the exception to the 50% rule written into the directives, whereby they only apply “where practicable”. For instance, Ofcom-licensed UK-based channels relying by definition or default on US content, such as PBS, CNN, CBS Drama, Sky Atlantic and virtually all film channels, including Film Four, would be exempt. But that clearly does not apply to E4, which actually had no difficulty meeting the 50% rule in its early days, when its limited transmission hours included endless amounts of Big Brother spin-offs. After that show ended, and 24-hour transmission started, it just ignored the rule.</p><p dir="ltr">Ofcom itself responded in 2015 to the EU consultation on the current directive thus: “the requirements for European works have helped to foster growing investment in European content for a wide range of linear and on-demand television services...without the flexibility the arrangements provide [ie, the “where practicable” exemption], new market entrants would find it much more difficult to establish themselves, and then build investment in European production...we therefore consider the provisions in the directive remain relevant, effective and fair for promoting cultural diversity and European works”.</p><p dir="ltr">By no stretch of the imagination can E4 – which launched in 2001 – be described as “a new market entrant”. Indeed, its predatory scheduling and the audience and revenue it generates must add to the difficulties genuine market entrants face in trying to reach the 50% threshold. Arguably, one of the reasons BBC3 failed to achieve wider penetration of the crucial 16-24 market was the difficulty of breaking young people’s addiction to The Big Bang Theory. </p><p dir="ltr">Despite their collective success in fending off the challenge of digital competition, the old PSBs have been allowed by the 2003 Act to let their old obligations wither away. ITV has effectively abandoned children’s programmes, arts, adult education and religion, while its documentary and current affairs output is a shadow of its former output. Even drama has been cut back by two-thirds (not that it was ever subject to a quota). </p><p dir="ltr">What was once ITV’s core strength – its regional news service – had its budget slashed, during the post-2008 advertising downturn, with ITV effectively telling Ofcom it was walking away from its licence terms, leaving the regulator to choose between ITV merging services across its regional network, or reducing resources in each and every region. Ofcom did not have the wit to demand that ITV re-instate the lost provision once profitability was restored. ITV currently makes profits of over £800 million a year: there has been no re-instatement.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ********************************</p><p dir="ltr">Displaying an unexpected sense of irony, Parliament also charged Ofcom in the 2003 Act with the duty of monitoring all PSB output (including the BBC’s) and reporting its findings every three years (the results have been so depressing that the coalition government eventually decided to abolish the triennial reporting duty).</p><p dir="ltr">In practice, of course, Ofcom has no powers to influence the level of output from the BBC – and even when it becomes the BBC’s external regulator next year, will still lack such powers. But what Ofcom has done is track what it sees as the key indicator of PSB provision – spending on original UK content. This has declined by 20% in the last decade, as much at the BBC as within the commercial sector. Excluding sport, investment in new UK content has fallen from £2.5 billion a year to £2 billion a year. Yet in that decade, the combined revenues of the BBC and the commercial companies have actually risen.</p><p dir="ltr">When Ofcom addresses the detail of which genres have suffered most, it lays the blame equally on both sets of broadcasters (although it mostly exonerates the BBC on provision of children’s content, where it is now effectively the sole supplier). In all the other areas of what has traditionally been seen as the key public service genres, Ofcom reports dramatic declines: including a 25% reduction in spend on arts and classical music since 2008, a 77% reduction in formal education, and a 26% reduction in religion and ethics (“provision has all but ceased”). &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Until recently, the BBC treated Ofcom with ill-disguised contempt. When I used to read out sections from these PSB reports at industry conferences, BBC executives would ask me, in all innocence, where such information came from. Next year, Ofcom will take over from the BBC Trust the role of external regulator, overseeing the various service remits for BBC television and radio, as well as enforcing compliance with broadcasting codes. As it happens, Ofcom has built up a good track record in judging code breaches, including those at the BBC, though taking over adjudicating BBC impartiality may stretch its resources. </p><p dir="ltr">Where Ofcom has simply no capacity is in performing the role of quality controller. The old ITC – and its predecessor, the IBA – had a cadre of professionals who judged performance at the licensee and individual programme level. Ofcom employs none. It has tried to beef up its content board in anticipation of taking on quality control at the BBC, but that board has just lost its newly appointed chairman, Bill Emmott (former editor of The Economist), because he declined to give up expressing his trenchant views on political issues in print – something Ofcom feared would undermine its rulings on impartiality. Now it must hire at least 60 experienced professionals – perhaps the entire staff of the outgoing BBC Trust? – before the end of April 2017, to carry out its proposed new duties.</p><p dir="ltr">Will it use its new powers to encourage, or induce, the BBC to invest more in new programming, especially in the “endangered species”? Judging by its past behaviour with Channel 4, that seems unlikely. Even as it bemoaned the steady decline of PSB, it failed to use its role as licensor and regulator of Channel 4 to bring about change in its programming priorities in any significant way.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; *******************************</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the 2003 Act did not actually erase public service obligations for Channel 4: indeed, an enlarged version of the original 1981 formula was put in place. Channel 4 was required to provide “a broad range of high quality and diverse programmes which, in particular, demonstrated innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes, appealed to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society, and made a significant contribution to meeting the need for programmes of an educational nature, and other programmes of educative value; all whilst exhibiting a distinctive character” (section 265 Communications Act 2003).</p><p dir="ltr">Ofcom was required to insert this public service remit into the Channel 4 licence. But the primary mechanism for ensuring compliance was no longer quotas (though a few remained), but an annual “statement of programme policy”, formalised in the 2010 Digital Economy Act. The first such statement from Channel 4 ran to 5,000 words. These days, reporting on “media policy” can take up to 100 pages in the channel’s annual report, sometimes to comic effect, as every last nomination for every obscure award is slavishly documented.</p><p dir="ltr">Essentially, this is – outside the fixed quotas – self-regulation. Channel 4 helpfully designs and commissions special opinion surveys to establish how well it does, compared with the other public service channels, in perceptions of “innovation, experiment and creativity”. Not surprisingly, Channel 4 performs rather well in these tests, as the other four public service channels are not normally in the business of innovation and experiment.</p><p dir="ltr">Equally unsurprising is that these programme policy statements rarely include any quantifiable measures of performance. Sometimes targets are set: but there are no consequences for missing them. As Sam Goldwyn might have put it, these are verbal promises, not worth the paper they are written on. Even those achievements claimed can seem absurd: so the broadcast on the Film4 channel of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” – 60 years after its first release – is cited as a contribution to “diversity”. That category itself has been expanded from the statutory reference to cultural diversity to a catch-all that includes ethnicity, disability, sexuality and even religion.</p><p dir="ltr">Small wonder that Dhondy – Channel 4’s first commissioning editor for multi-cultural programming – ruefully acknowledges that “there are reasonable arguments on both sides for reviving a multicultural remit or for re-defining it and calling it something else – but please not DIVERSITY!”</p><p dir="ltr">The most egregious breach of the letter and spirit of the Act is the abandonment of educational programming. In the old days of the IBA and ITC, Channel 4 would broadcast a dozen or more adult education series every year, and be required to demonstrate to the regulator their formal educational content. At that time, I had the same task at ITV, as the Director of Programmes for Thames TV, which managed the weekday schedule for the network: the regulator was no soft touch.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4’s last head of education, Janey Walker, was made redundant in 2010. Schools programming had been successfully finessed out of the broadcast schedule, on the grounds that there were more efficient ways of distributing such content. The statutory duty to “make a significant contribution to meeting the need for...programmes of an educational nature and other programmes of educative value” has been evaded much more cynically. </p><p dir="ltr">The education budget has been decimated since the 2003 Act. Nominally, £5 million is allocated to in the Channel 4 budget, and 16 hours of content is shown across the Channel 4 portfolio of channels (compared with well over 1,000 hours a year on Channel 4 alone previously). The executive now in charge of what is deemed education is the head of formats, Dominic Bird, who inherited a teenage-oriented education strategy that was “online and game-focused”, and – using a “Trojan horse approach” – has inveigled some programmes into main channel peak-time (“which requires them to be “not overbearingly ‘educational’”). He is reluctant to attempt infiltrating E4, as “anything that felt too obviously educational would sit particularly uncomfortably on it”. Even so, in a verdict that might surprise Jeremy Isaacs, he enthuses: “I don’t think we have ever been so bold and ambitious with our education content”.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps Channel 4 is embarrassed by these musings. Astonishingly, in its Annual Report, it claims to have broadcast on the main channel last year, not just the 16 hours of designated education, but 2,757 hours of “education” – which a footnote tells us consists of “programmes (originated or acquired) that are educational in nature” – without specifying how many of them fulfil the statutory requirement that they be “of educative value”. </p><p dir="ltr">2,757 hours a year translates into 55 hours a week, over and above news, current affairs and documentaries (which are separately listed). What are these hours? For once, Channel 4’s love of lists and exhaustive exposition of all its achievements fails us. Clearly, a list of these hours exists, but Channel 4 declines to publish it (no doubt fearing endless ridicule by Private Eye for ever after). Ofcom could ask it to publish the list. Silence reigns.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; **************************</p><p dir="ltr">Does any of this matter? Even Liz Forgan – one of the stalwarts of the early Channel 4 – believes that the age of box-ticking is over, and more sophisticated ways of judging Channel 4’s role as a PSB are needed. I don’t agree with her – look at the outcomes – but I am in a very small minority. The last time Ofcom held a consultation on the Channel 4 licence, primarily focused on the out-of-London quota, barely three dozen people and organisations responded.</p><p dir="ltr">And the truth is that Channel 4 still stands out from the broadcasting crowd, with brave, provocative and ground-breaking programming. National Treasure offered a highly intelligent script, fine acting, remarkable cinematography and music, and a persuasive set of outcomes. The channel has built a brand that has particular resonance with younger audiences, including a strong online presence. It may have dropped its licence obligation for spending on training, but this year has invested £1.6 million in its indie growth fund and donated £1.5 million to the National Film and Television School (one of the key driving forces of our creative economy). Even E4 has managed to win an award for a rare venture into experimental comedy with Michaela Cole – Chewing Gum.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ***************************</p><p dir="ltr">What has placed Channel 4’s performance – especially compared with the pre-2003 era – centre stage has been the revived idea of privatisation, and the promise from ministers that this would only be pursued if it delivered a strengthened Channel 4 remit.</p><p dir="ltr">This pledge has provoked disbelief – even hilarity – amongst Channel 4’s many supporters. After all, if the government is trying to extract some cash from a sale of the business, from a new owner who will want to make a profit, what room could there be for investment in the least commercial, public service, part of Channel 4’s output? As the current management succinctly put it – echoing the arguments from Sir Michael Bishop in 1996 – a new owner would want to make a 20% return, which would surely come at the expense of the programme budget.</p><p dir="ltr">Curiously, fifteen years ago, the Conservative Party, whilst in opposition, had made a similar pledge as part of its then proposal to privatise Channel 4, using some of the proceeds for “an enhanced remit to deliver high quality drama, current affairs, news and minority programming on its core channel”. The rest of the sale revenues were reserved for a trust to support the arts more generally. Given that the remit in 2001 was far more demanding than it is today, that promise was pretty challenging.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet, at the time, I was inclined to believe it. In 2000, when I was Chief Executive of Channel 5, I proposed to Channel 4 that we merge our back office functions, leaving the programme and marketing teams otherwise completely free to fulfil their respective licence obligations. By combining our teams for finance, airtime sales, HR, administration, transmission and acquisition, there were savings of at least £130 million to be made, with which each channel could strengthen its schedule.</p><p dir="ltr">Channel 4 rejected my approach at the time, but soon afterwards, a new Chief Executive there – Mark Thompson – raised the issue again, only to be blocked by his board. That was a political decision: what was beyond argument was that two broadcasters of a similar size could obviously make large savings by merging, as well as generate significant synergies. So it was no surprise when Channel 4, a decade later, offered £100 million to buy Channel 5 – only to be marginally outbid by Richard Desmond – and then the same amount to buy the Living TV portfolio of channels, only to be massively outbid, this time by Sky. The economic logic of scale is simply too glaring to ignore.</p><p dir="ltr">So it is easy to see how Viacom – the current owners of Channel 5 – could pay between £500 million and £1 billion for Channel 4. The level of savings I envisaged in 2000 would have grown simply as a result of inflation, and Viacom would reap the additional benefit of gaining an airtime sales team, so no longer needing to pay fees to Sky. The savings and synergies would run to at least £200 million a year, and Viacom would also derive the benefit of the £250 million of Channel 4 reserves (no longer needed once Channel 4 is owned by a major media corporation) and a building worth £100 million. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Such a level of savings would give the government the chance to impose strong new remit requirements: for the first time, the Channel 4 budget could be guaranteed and inflation-proofed, with key ingredients within it, such as news and current affairs, ring-fenced with their own guarantees (the present Channel 4 licence has no actual spending obligations at all); specific commitments to arts, children’s, education and programming for minorities could be created and enforced; a requirement to commission from at least 300 qualifying independent production companies each year, especially those with turnover below £5 million a year, would re-invigorate that sector (currently, Channel 4 commissions from just 164 of them, compared with over 500 in the 1990s); there could be a weekly quota for programmes created by ethnic minority producers and directors.</p><p dir="ltr">Whereas fines for failure to perform by a publicly-owned Channel 4 make little sense (they just reduce ability to invest), penalties are entirely realistic to keep a commercial operator in line: perhaps £10 million for a first offence, and £20 million thereafter. </p><p dir="ltr">A new owner would have to make sense of a programming paradox. It is a reasonable assumption that “remit programming” attracts fewer viewers than straightforward entertainment, so pushing the overall audience share for Channel 4 closer to 7%, with a stronger mainstream offering, would be as much of a spending priority as fulfilling a tougher remit. Indeed, there is little point in delivering improved public service content if viewership of it continues to fall. That kind of strategic approach – reversing the long-term decline in Channel 4’s audience share – is something a change of ownership could more easily accomplish.</p><p dir="ltr">Would a Viacom – or anyone else – take on a tougher remit? Oddly enough, when Viacom bought Channel 5 (now called Five), it volunteered the strengthening of a number of its licence obligations, perhaps to the surprise of Ofcom. The reality is that nearly all the potential buyers of Channel 4 pay little or nothing by way of dividends (something the Conservative document of 2001 also pointed out) – the issue is, not squeezing money out of the Channel 4 programme budget, but growing its revenues and public service salience by re-investing savings achieved through greater operational efficiency.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps fortunately for the present Channel 4 management, the government has been somewhat half-hearted about privatisation, has never taken up the challenge of issuing a tougher version of the remit and inviting bidders to respond to it, and has lately retreated to a notion of part-privatisation – a concept which delivers none of the benefits of cost savings and synergies, whilst only complicating the task of actually running the channel.</p><p dir="ltr">Part of the Conservative problem with their privatisation project has been its supposed rationale: a claimed problem with Channel 4’s sustainability. Yet this diagnosis collapsed at the first hurdle. Not having checked the current status of the remit, ministers failed to realise that it was so perfunctory that it required virtually no cash spend to fulfil – perhaps £25 million a year for news. The history of the last 13 years shows that Channel 4 can reduce its spending in every area of programming if it so chooses, abandon any category of output except news and current affairs, reduce first-run programming to minimal levels, increase the volume of acquired material and place as much cash in its reserves as it likes without fear of any regulatory intervention. By definition, Channel 4 is almost infinitely sustainable.</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, in the absence of ministers forcing Ofcom into a full re-consideration of its relationship with Channel 4, it is hard to see what the regulator would choose to do in order to secure a stronger delivery of public service content from the current management. Ofcom has the power to replace Channel 4’s non-executive directors, but has never used it – indeed, it explicitly declined to become involved in appointing non-executive directors to the new BBC board, ostensibly on the grounds that this would clash with its duty to regulate BBC performance in the future (which is puzzling, as it is already supposed to regulate Channel 4’s performance).</p><p dir="ltr">A stronger regulator is the key to delivering a Channel 4 that provides a much better version of public service broadcasting. This month, Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer, Jay Hunt, revealed that she “cannot imagine” a privatised Channel 4, and its finance director, backing a “genuinely shocking” documentary. Yet for decades tightly regulated, profit-seeking ITV companies delivered hundreds of powerful documentaries and current affairs programmes, because that is what was required by their regulator in order for them to stay in business. It is the idea that any finance director at Granada TV, Thames TV, LWT, Central or Yorkshire TV would have been consulted before the commissioning of episodes of World In Action, This Week, Weekend World, The Cook Report or First Tuesday which is “genuinely shocking”.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; *****************************</p><p dir="ltr">After a year of procrastination by the government over what to do with Channel 4 – a year which Channel 4 claims has destabilized its commercial relationships and undermined staff morale – the pursuit of any kind of privatisation appears to have stalled, with the only rumour emerging from Whitehall relating to a possible re-location of the channel, perhaps to Birmingham, as a counterbalance to the dominance of London in broadcasting (and perhaps a snub to a management deemed uncooperative). &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Then, in September, Channel 4 managed to score a spectacular own goal, by capturing a BBC programme that was approaching “national treasure” status. The Great British Bake Off has – improbably – become BBC1’s most popular series, attracting as many as 15 million viewers for the final stages of its elimination process, in search of the UK’s supposedly top amateur baker.</p><p dir="ltr">In the past, Channel 4 has occasionally intervened in the sports arena, taking over England Test Matches, the Paralympics and terrestrial coverage of Formula 1 motor-racing when the BBC was either faltering, or exiting. However, it has – for obvious reasons, given its remit obligation to innovate and experiment – never attempted to poach a rival broadcaster’s established ratings winner. </p><p dir="ltr">It had long been known that the indie providing GBBO to the BBC, Love Productions, had very much fallen out of love with the broadcaster that had nurtured the show from its early tentative forays on BBC2. The BBC contract was running out, and Love was perfectly entitled to seek better terms or an alternative outlet (that it is 70% owned by Sky TV suggests that it would always have found a home on Sky 1 in the absence of a satisfactory deal elsewhere).</p><p dir="ltr">It is not clear if ITV was invited to bid, but Love decided – in the midst of the current run of the show – to declare dealings with the BBC at an end (despite the Corporation’s offer to double the value of the contract). A call to Channel 4’s Jay Hunt invited an urgent sign-off on a three-year deal at £25 million a year – a stupendous amount for a production that had previously delivered a solid profit when priced at £7.5 million.</p><p dir="ltr">What Ms Hunt failed – or never tried, or did not think worth bothering – to establish was whether the foursome of presenters and judges who were an integral part of the production had agreed to transfer to Channel 4. Quickly, the two presenters, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, announced that they would not be “following the dough”. A week later, one of the judges, the veteran TV cook Mary Berry, also withdrew, citing loyalty to the BBC. As Channel 4 will not be able to broadcast a full series of GBBO till 2018 – thanks to a holdback clause in the BBC contract – there is every likelihood that a BBC baking show involving the three female members of the old team will air in 2017, a full year earlier, further taking the wind out of Channel 4’s sails.</p><p dir="ltr">It is not the ineptitude of the capture which is most damaging to Channel 4, however much schadenfreude it might occasion amongst BBC loyalists. It is the scale of the investment – so lavish, so unnecessary, and in pursuit of some other channel’s hit – which has provided fuel for supporters of privatisation such as Lord Grade (who had determinedly fought off any sale when he was the channel’s Chief Executive in the 1990s). How can it make sense to allocate £75 million to a pre-existing format when so much of Channel 4’s old, distinctive remit has been jettisoned on grounds of cost?</p><p dir="ltr">The argument might be that the revenue GBBO can generate would recover the investment, over time, and that the programme would deliver a “halo effect” to the rest of the schedule, boosting audiences for the programmes transmitted before it and after it. Even a modest rise in Channel 4’s overall ratings performance would add saliency to its offer to advertisers.</p><p dir="ltr">Against that must be measured the risk of the show’s audience falling so far below the old BBC level that it becomes identified as a failure. Even the modest decline in ratings for Top Gear on the BBC since its old presenting team departed has been seized on by the Corporation’s critics, who blamed it for going too far in firing the lead presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, for assaulting a producer who failed to ensure that there was a hot meal awaiting the crew after a long day’s filming.</p><p dir="ltr">Ms Hunt could scarcely have chosen a less opportune political time to shower largesse on the producers. Her rationale – that she was “saving the show for free-to-air viewers” – rang particularly hollow, as the pay-TV company that owns a majority of Love could have secured that status by simply instructing Love’s executives to accept the BBC offer of £15 million.</p><p dir="ltr">Even Ofcom’s eyes must have been opened by the lavishness of the GBBO contract. Only two years ago, Channel 4 had assured Ofcom that it could not afford to commit to spend anything more than 9% of its budget in the Nations. When even Ofcom’s Northern Ireland advisory body demurred at this, Channel 4 insisted that there were simply not enough suppliers in the province to justify more than the £1.2 million it spends there each year.</p><p dir="ltr">Northern Ireland, of course, basks in the fame of being selected by the US pay-TV giant, HBO, as the primary base for Game of Thrones, the most successful and expensive drama series in television history. BBC2 managed to base two of its most acclaimed recent drama series – The Fall and Line of Duty – in Northern Ireland, without sacrificing any technical or creative quality. Indeed, one of the earliest of Channel 4’s drama successes, the very fine Lost Belongings by the late Stewart Parker, was based there too.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps the result of this fiasco will be a decision from Karen Bradley to require Channel 4 to move, not to Birmingham, but to Belfast. If Viacom were to buy Channel 4, probably 500 out of the 800 staff would lose their jobs, but most would quickly find alternatives in the buoyant London media market. But Belfast?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/anthony-smith/twenty-year-gestation">The history of channel 4: a twenty year gestation </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/channel-4-case-for-privatisation">Channel 4: the case for privatisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-elstein/great-british-bake-off-defects-to-channel-4-what-does-it-all-mean">The Great British Bake Off defects to Channel 4 - what does it all mean?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK David Elstein Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:27:07 +0000 David Elstein 105918 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The draft BBC Charter is “distinctively” fishy https://www.opendemocracy.net/mike-flood-page/draft-bbc-charter-is-distinctively-fishy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The latest twist in the Bake Off<em> </em>saga is a reminder of why we should be suspicious about the draft BBC Charter’s emphasis on “distinctiveness”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-26282461.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-26282461.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="313" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Great British Bake Off wins Best Feature at the BAFTAS. Ian West PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>One of the most significant differences between the recently published <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-bbc-charter-and-draft-framework-agreement">draft BBC Charter</a><strong><em> </em></strong>and the current one is a new requirement for the BBC to be “distinctive”. The most recent development in the Bake Off<strong> </strong>story served up by <a href="http://www.damiancollins.com/">Damian Collins MP,</a> Acting Chair of the <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/cmscom">Select Committee for Culture Media and Sport,</a> is<strong><em> </em></strong>a timely reminder that this “distinctiveness” requirement has the potential for long-term damage to the BBC. </p> <p>According to<strong> </strong><a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/1897522c-8348-11e6-9fe8-eb3b63b4157a"><em>The Times</em></a><strong> </strong>Collins has warned that if the BBC should choose to retaliate to the loss of its biggest hit show by scheduling a new cookery series against the refried Channel 4 version, Ofcom might have to investigate. Then, he suggested: “I think it would be fair to say that it wouldn’t be a distinctive programme.”</p> <p>Under the new Charter it’s proposed that all BBC programming and services on TV, radio and online must be “substantially different” from those available from “other providers…both in prime time and overall”. This is new. Search <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/regulatory_framework/charter_agreement.html">the current BBC Charter f</a>or the word” distinctive” and you will draw a blank. Distinctive is set out in terms of” “the mix of different genres, programmes and content; quality; proportion of original UK output; level of risk-taking, innovation, challenge and creative ambition; and the range of audiences it serves.”&nbsp; </p> <p>On the face of it, this must be right. The criterion appears unexceptional and perhaps even overdue. Why have a BBC, and why pay for it with a form of hypothecated tax if it doesn’t offer something distinctively different from the commercial alternative? We want to taste the difference. If the market can provide then who needs public service media? </p> <p>Yet Damian Collins’ remarks on <em>Bake Off</em> illustrate, and as <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2016/05/13/is-it-possible-to-regulate-broadcasting-for-distinctiveness/">LSE’s Damien Tambini</a><strong><em> </em></strong>has argued, the concept of distinctiveness can be used in an attempt to “constrain and diminish the BBC”. </p> <p>The thorny question is how to measure and implement the new “distinctiveness” criteria.&nbsp; From next April that task will fall to the media regulator Ofcom. In the first instance, the BBC itself will make a judgement, and then in the event of further challenge it will be up to Ofcom to decide. &nbsp;Its Chief Executive Sharon White has indicated that true to the regulator’s consumerist remit she will look to the audience to guide <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/11/bbc-ofcom-sharon-white-diversity-complaints">Ofcom’s interpretation</a> of “distinctiveness”. </p> <p>What this may mean in practice is not entirely clear. And Damian Collins’ intervention makes it less so. The devil lies in the detail. So Damian Collins may have been speaking prematurely; but the charm of “distinctiveness” from the point of view of the BBC’s rivals is how convenient the term may prove if you’re looking for a BBC-bashing weapon. </p> <p>Is the BBC which has been in the business of making successful cookery shows since time immemorial to get out of the business altogether, in prime time, or only at a point in the schedule when it will/might directly compete with a commercial rival’s programme? And what about other hit shows which have been poached, or cloned? ITV, always the worst offender when it comes to copycat shows and scheduling complaints, has announced a <em>Strictly-alike </em>celebrity talent show, to be called <em>Dance, Dance, Dance</em>. Under the new Charter will the BBC be obliged to get out of the way, and demote <em>Strictly</em> to some backwater of the schedules to protect ITV’s sovereign right to prime time? What of the new Clarkson vehicle? When that comes on stream on Amazon later this year, will the BBC be asked to pull <em>Top Gear</em>? </p> <p>This is what happens when you start to measure public service output by market criteria, and the more you do so the worse it gets. The problem arises because for the past twenty to thirty years the BBC has increasingly been called upon to retreat from areas the market would like to exploit. The once common and taken-for-granted understanding of what we mean by “public service” has become problematic, under assault from proponents of marketisation. And the familiar Catch-22 has begun to operate: if the BBC has a hit it is accused of duplicating the market and dumbing down; if its programming is unpopular, usually because too highbrow- arts, current affairs, education – the public and the critics ask how it can justify the Licence Fee.&nbsp; But as &nbsp;<a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mediapolicyproject/2015/11/20/theres-no-public-benefit-in-bbc-programmes-being-distinctive/">Patrick Barwise</a> has argued the chief risk of the distinctiveness criterion is that it smuggles in a market failure definition of public service that could in time reduce the BBC to a marginal role. &nbsp;He makes the case that the BBC should be able to compete on quality, at the very least to keep its commercial competitors up to the mark. Or as Lord Grade says he put it when he was Chief Executive at Channel 4: “It’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/speeches/stories/bpv_grade.shtml">the BBC that keeps us honest</a>.” </p> <p>&nbsp;The very vagueness of the term is a potential bear-trap for the BBC. How can we be sure? Because we have been here before. As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/mike-flood-page/bbc-may-soon-be-unable-to-compete">I pointed out</a> on the publication of the May White Paper, the last time the BBC had to face a test of “distinctiveness” was when it launched its ambitious Digital Curriculum service in 2006. Within months competitors had complained, and the very ambiguity of the term made the BBC output impossible to defend. The result was that the BBC abandoned its flagship schools project and became far more risk averse when launching new projects, with <a href="http://theses.gla.ac.uk/6779/1/2015floodpagephd%20.pdf">a chilling effect on</a> new service and new media innovation, in particular its capacity to offer audience participation; an issue as <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/becky-hogge/how-bbc-can-create-better-digital-public-sphere">Becky Hogge</a> has argued that remains as relevant as ever.</p> <p>&nbsp;If anything could inhibit the BBC from engaging in “risk-taking, innovation, challenge and creative ambition” as it is bound to do under the disinctiveness provisions of the new Charter, it is the liberal use of the same distinctiveness criterion to put the squeeze on the BBC every time it creates a hit. Innovation is risky. The BBC has nurtured these hit shows in the face of fierce competition, the usual stumbles and failures and some industry scepticism. This illustrates Mazzucato’s point that we have a long tradition of the public sector taking the risk and the private sector (in this case Love Productions) reaping the reward.&nbsp; </p> <p>But as the recent <em>Bake Off</em> example highlights the BBC Is now on a hiding to nothing: if it takes a risk and fails, then that’s an example of a waste of public money. Nurture and create a hit show, create a valuable property, and it will only be a matter of time before someone poaches it. At which point the private sector cleans up, and the BBC is prohibited from launching another. </p> <p>&nbsp;Damned if you do….</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-elstein/great-british-bake-off-defects-to-channel-4-what-does-it-all-mean">The Great British Bake Off defects to Channel 4 - what does it all mean?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/julian-petley/bbc-charter-renewal-invisible-actors-and-critical-friends">BBC Charter renewal: invisible actors and critical friends</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/lis-howell/over-by-christmas-%E2%80%93-non-debate-that-is-bbc-charter-renewal">Over by Christmas – the non-debate that is BBC Charter renewal</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb uk UK Mike Flood Page Fri, 07 Oct 2016 14:01:22 +0000 Mike Flood Page 105826 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC must improve its religious affairs coverage https://www.opendemocracy.net/bbc-must-improve-its-religious-affairs-coverage <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The BBC looks set to keep its religious coverage, but in a society where people increasingly identify as irreligious, how can it remain relevant?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28612425.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28612425.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Religious leaders discuss the refugee crisis. Picture by Daniel Leal-Olivas PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When the BBC white paper was released earlier this year, much of the national discussion concentrated on the fairness of the broadcaster’s political coverage. Whether it was giving attention to under-reported social issues, or reporting on the ongoing issues in the Labour party fairly, the case for both reforming, and privatising the broadcaster seemed to rest on its benefit to the public on a political level. </p><p>There was no doubt that the white paper had made some feel alienated. And one of those just happened to be a national institution : The Church of England. A few days after the white paper was published, the CofE expressed “concern that the coverage of religion and other beliefs is barely mentioned in the White Paper and only in passing in the draft Agreement” &nbsp;adding that “Christian churches and other faith communities play a key role in our national and international life. “The BBC needs to depict this contribution fairly across its output, including by recognising the role religion plays in world affairs and reflecting this in news, current affairs, documentary and drama.”</p><p dir="ltr">The role of religion at the BBC has always been a contentious one, and in recent years, the case of cutting- or even scrapping- the department for religion and ethics has gotten stronger. According to the BBC Charter, the organisation is bound to broadcast at least 110 hours of faith-based content per year, spanning across television and radio- considerably larger than it’s rivals at ITV and Channel 4. And while BBC religion coverage <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8507403.stm">has been criticised</a> in recent years by many Christian bodies, not least the Church of England, for treating Christianity as a “rare species”, others have argued that the department is “too Christian,” leading its current head Aaqil Ahmed to <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/15/bbc-is-too-christian-and-could-broadcast-muslim-prayers-to-refle/">announce his desire</a> to produce more content focusing on Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and other minority faiths. </p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">Around half of Britons declared themselves to be ‘irreligious’, outpacing the number of those identifying as Christians.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the <a href="http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/38958/bsa28_12religion.pdf">British Social Attitudes survey </a>published this year, around half of Britons declared themselves to be ‘irreligious’, outpacing the number of those identifying as Christians for the first time. At the same time, many religious institutions claim that restrictions on their ability to broadcast information has ultimately hindered their ability to prove themselves to be a public good. Just last year, the Christian Institute think tank <a href="http://www.christian.org.uk/resources/theology/apologetics/christian-freedoms-and-heritage/religious-broadcasting/">criticised OFCOM’s</a> strengthening of the communications act 2003, which it claimed had &nbsp;“banned [religious organisations] from holding many types of broadcasting licences,” adding that the OFCOM code “singles out specialist religious channels for targeted prohibitions against “exploitation” of audience susceptibilities and “abusive treatment” of other beliefs” - a condition which “didn’t apply to secular organisations”.</p><p dir="ltr">The apparent double-edged sword puts the BBC in a precarious position when it comes to broadcasting issues of faith: How should the broadcaster cover issues to do with religion, in a society that is becoming increasingly irreligious? Is there a justification behind cutting faith-based broadcasting, even as a portion of license fee payers believe faith is core to their identity? And, if the BBC does continue to devote part of its budget to faith-based broadcasting, how does it go about this in a way that benefits both the religious and non-religious?</p><p dir="ltr">In the course of writing this article, I spoke to a number of current and former BBC employees familiar with the religion and ethics department. Naturally, few would speak on record, but nearly all said that the department had long struggled with these questions. “You have various problems when it comes to delivering value-for-money on religious programming,” one staff member told me. “When people talk about getting value for money, it’s generally rooted in their own opinions or values, and in religion its very much the case. You’ll have Christians who’ll say there isn’t enough Christian content, Muslims who say there isn’t enough Muslim content and so on. And then you have the second issue of more people becoming sceptical of religion itself, and wondering why the BBC, which in their mind is often a ‘progressive’ institution, is giving airtime to what they consider to be regressive belief systems. And the third is a bureaucratic problem- ie. as a state broadcaster, complaints from license fee payers must be addressed - and [Religion &amp; Ethics] gets a considerable amount of complaints- not just about the nature of the content, but the perceived value of the content itself.”</p><p dir="ltr">For other media personalities in Britain’s faith based circles, the problem isn’t with the department representing religion, but a lack of diversity or intellectual conversation when entering conversations about faith. One of the programmes that receives this criticism the most is the BBC’s “Big Questions”, a Sunday panel show that discusses issues to do with religion in contemporary British society. &nbsp;After appearing on the programme in May, TLS religion editor <a href="http://timescolumns.typepad.com/stothard/2016/05/the-bbc-blind-spot-about-religion.html">Rupert Shortt wrote</a>: “While not censored entirely, faith-based perspectives [on the BBC] tend to be confined to special zones such as Songs of Praise and “Thought for the Day,” adding: “The unacknowledged assumption here is plain: atheism is the default neutral stance for grown-ups; religious voices, even highly self-critical ones, are biased.” &nbsp;Meanwhile, In<a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/04/bbc-s-big-questions-worst-thing-television"> the New Statesman</a>, Willard Foxton calls the show “the worst thing that the BBC airs.” Later in the essay, he highlights the criticism that many viewers- and even those working in the department- have about faith based broadcasting: “The Big Questions format is just terminally broken – answers to these points, by definition, are big, complicated ideas – and you can’t articulate a complex, nuanced position in a 30-second soundbite.”</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">Could more intellectual, high brow broadcasting be the key to making BBC religion and ethics have more value for money?</p><p dir="ltr">Could more intellectual, high brow broadcasting be the key to making BBC religion and ethics have more value for money? Elizabeth Oldfield, a former BBC journalist and now director at the <a href="http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/">Christian think tank Theos</a>, says that ‘devotional content’ - programmes like Songs of Praise, are of “High value to older audiences and will continue to be part of the BBC’s charter obligations.”</p><p dir="ltr">“However, factual output has seemed to decline somewhat in recent years, both in prominence and quality. It is one of the few areas which could have the resources to cover religion in a world class manner, but too often treads predictable paths- probably due to under resourcing and a continuing lack of understanding of its importance across wider management.”<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />Though Oldfield says the department could prove its worth by “taking more risks”, she admits this could be challenging under the charter- especially as religion has the capacity to “offend people more than other areas of public life”. More importantly, she says that delivering high quality religion broadcasting- be it in devotional or factual content, requires more religion-literate journalists:<br class="kix-line-break" /><br class="kix-line-break" />“The media industry is slowly waking up to the need to cover religion as part of general news, although pressures on resources have meant most specialist reporter posts have been cut. This means huge pressure on already stretched non-specialist journalists to cover a complex area well. Compared with the 2011 census, where &nbsp;28% of Britons declared they practiced no religion, 61% of journalists claimed &nbsp;<a href="http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/">no religious affiliation</a>. This may make it more difficult for them to build understanding and contacts quickly, and to comprehend the role it plays in people’s lives. The combination of these things means much religion coverage is ill-informed and lacks depth.”</p><p dir="ltr">These could be addressed if programme production was all in house. But as a number of BBC staff members told me, decentralisation and the inclusion of independent production houses “has made addressing these problems even more difficult”, as production companies bid for money using “glossy pitches appealing to mainstream vices- some of them are really interesting programmes, but programming that attempted to appeal to actual religious communities were pitched considerably less. I can only imagine it’s because they knew they were unlikely to recieved the funding they needed.”</p><p dir="ltr">A report commissioned by the <a href="https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/9653892.pdf">University of Glasgow</a> in 2008 hits on how some of the wider BBC changes have affected the department too : “As the definition of the ‘public interest’ changes, and there is a subsequent change in the organisational culture [of the BBC], these have affected the position and formed many of the disputes at the heart of public religion broadcasting”. While the research showed the BBC was still committed to producing religious based content, it added that, in an effort to appeal to the mainstream, religion and ethics programming had undermined “traditional worship formats, serious journalistic approaches to religious themes particularly on television and institutional representations of religion. The cumulative effect of this is that although certain religious programmes may still be viable it is from an increasingly narrow range of entertainment-based formats. </p><p dir="ltr">Despite these structural changes though, it’s unlikely that commitment to religious broadcasting will be removed from the BBC charter, and if the white paper is anything to go by, there is a chance that its budget may increase. It’s also likely that the BBC will continue to lead its competitors in faith-based coverage, especially as many channels face greater cuts and more demand for viewers. But if it is to assert relevance to a society that becomes increasingly suspicious of religious institutions, it won’t just have to be innovative with its programming - it will also have to embrace taking more risks than its counterparts. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/elizabeth-poole/how-is-islam-represented-on-bbc">How is Islam represented on the BBC?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/aaqil-ahmed/bbc-must-lead-effort-against-religious-illiteracy">The BBC must lead the effort against religious illiteracy </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK what is public service? Hussein Kesvani Wed, 05 Oct 2016 14:29:37 +0000 Hussein Kesvani 105678 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Facebook has become a public service. It needs to start acting like one. https://www.opendemocracy.net/facebook-has-become-public-service-it-needs-to-start-acting-like-one <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Facebook has created an echo chamber by only showing its users what they want to see, which means political polarisation, hyper-partisanship and culture wars. Facebook needs to face up to its responsibilities.</p><p>This piece is part of our What is public service? series.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-10574049.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-10574049.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Obama meets Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved</span></span></span>Facebook has ruined journalism. In May 2016 an American newspaper proved it. As politics on either side of the Atlantic span out of control, unnoticed by most, the Wall Street Journal laid bare one of the greatest problems of the social media age. Hidden away in a corner of The Journal’s website, a little graphic named<a href="http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/"> Red Feed, Blue Feed</a> showed us just what happens when Facebook becomes the primary source of news.</p><p dir="ltr">Take any issue, perhaps gun politics, and The Journal will show how a conservative Facebook user gets an impassioned defence of gun rights, at the same time as a liberal user is told how necessary gun control is. With one graphic, the newspaper illustrated a problem a select few journalists and academics have spent years worrying about: the ‘filter bubble’.</p><p dir="ltr">The term itself is a relatively new one. Designed to highlight how personalised feeds increasingly ensure we live in an echo chamber of ideas and opinions we already agree with, Eli Pariser could probably claim to have coined the term in his book and<a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles?language=en"> TED talk</a> of the same name in 2011. Though still fairly obscure, as Guardian editor Katharine Viner’s<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth"> recent piece</a> showed, filter bubbles are just about starting to enter into mainstream consciousness. Invariably that consciousness is limited to those involved in the media, those who write about it, or those who profess to care about its future. </p><p dir="ltr">However, while it remains a relatively niche concern, its impact is anything but. The filter bubble feeds our biases. Whatever the issue, Remain or Leave, Hillary or Donald, the filter bubble makes sure right-leaning users get right-leaning news, and left-leaning users get left-leaning news. Whatever their political persuasion, Facebook users are unconsciously, trapped in an online echo chamber that continually reinforces prejudices and fails to challenge preconceptions. </p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">Facebook users are unconsciously, trapped in an online echo chamber that continually reinforces prejudices and fails to challenge preconceptions. </p><p dir="ltr">Inevitably, this echo chamber plays out in real life. Political polarisation, hyper-partisanship and culture wars are its by-products. More concerning still, Facebook’s upending of traditional distribution channels has given rise to a completely new set of news organisations. News organisations where the purpose of publishing a story is to excite its audience into sharing it on Facebook and where facts are treated as very much an afterthought. Although they both may be loathe to admit it, The Canary on the one side, and Breitbart on the other, are just two sides of the same coin. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">This wouldn’t matter too much if Facebook was only one of the ways that people found out about the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is increasingly true. By some estimates,<a href="http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/05/pew-report-44-percent-of-u-s-adults-get-news-on-facebook/"> nearly half of US adults get their news from Facebook</a> and the situation only gets more pronounced the younger the audience gets. Whether we like it or not, Facebook has inadvertently become the most important media company in history. A slight tweak to its underlying algorithms can decimate businesses, influence millions of votes, or create entirely new cultural icons.</p><p dir="ltr">This immense power comes with an immense responsibility that Facebook has so far done its best to shirk. Whereas old style newspaper or TV magnates at least paid<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/mar/10/rupert-murdoch-best-quotes"> lip service</a> to the influence they exerted over society and all it implied, Facebook has recently positioned itself as an impartial platform, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/tstocky/posts/10100853082337958">committed to ‘neutrality’</a>, with no right to regulate how people use it, and no interest in public service. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s easy to understand why. Facebook is in the advertising business, and giving the customer exactly what they want is good for that business. The filter bubble is good to the business, so the business will be good to the filter bubble, regardless of whether the entire world’s news consumption begins to look a little bit too much like Red Feed, Blue Feed.</p><p dir="ltr">So where does that leave us? Well, not in a particularly great place. It looks a lot like the only company capable of addressing the filter bubble is one that has every reason to keep that bubble from bursting. A business that relies on advertising will never take the risk of putting stories in front of its audience that might decrease engagement. Our gut reaction was to think impartiality would be key: some sort of independent news source completely free from bias, able to both provide news and challenge opinions equally across the board. </p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">A business that relies on advertising will never take the risk of putting stories in front of its audience that might decrease engagement.</p><p dir="ltr">Luckily, in the UK at least, it seems like we already have a ready made solution: the BBC. The organisation’s commitment to balance and fairness would make it seem like an obvious bulwark against the increasingly polarised media we see online. </p><p dir="ltr">Frustratingly, it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Whilst 30 years ago people might have been willing to trust a single source for all their news, the internet has changed the game. People have become used to hearing multiple voices on any single topic and trying to switch behaviour back to a single ‘authoritative’ broadcaster isn’t really a viable plan, given modern habits. You only have to look at some of the vitriol directed at the BBC, whether by The Daily Mail’s editorial page, or even elements of the left, to realise that it is impossible to elevate one voice above partisan politics. Any solution that ignores this basic fact in pursuit of a totally impartial media is doomed to fail. </p><p dir="ltr">Instead, we think it is platforms, not publishers, that hold the key. Rather than trying to achieve the impossible goal of trying to write an objective version of a story, a platform can concentrate on collating together multiple perspectives on any given topic, whilst avoiding the filter bubble trap. We think you can build a platform where you can easily a rounded view on a story. A place where you’re just as likely to find The Guardian or the New Statesman’s take on Traingate as those of The Spectator or The Times. A platform where stories are grouped by topic rather than by author. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;In order to pull this off, we think it probably has to come with a price tag for the consumer. The publishers, newspapers and magazines whose participation in this project is essential are often businesses that have to worry about their bottom lines, and good journalism does need to be paid for. It just needs to be a price low enough that anyone can afford it. </p><p dir="ltr">All in all, an unlikely prospect, perhaps. That said, 10 years ago a prediction that millions of young people would pay for music and film online would have probably been laughed out of the room. We’re sure that eventually someone will manage to do for journalism for Spotify and Netflix did for music and film. We just hope that whoever manages to pull it off remembers that at its best, journalism is more than just a product, it can be a public service too. </p><p>Fingers crossed.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/jon-alexander/bbc-30-will-not-be-broadcaster">BBC 3.0 will not be a broadcaster</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ian-mahoney/censoring-terrors-of-war">Censoring the terrors of war</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb uk what is public service? Felix Light Mayank Banerjee Mon, 19 Sep 2016 16:12:16 +0000 Mayank Banerjee and Felix Light 105462 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Great British Bake Off defects to Channel 4 - what does it all mean? https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-elstein/great-british-bake-off-defects-to-channel-4-what-does-it-all-mean <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How did a baking show become the BBC's biggest hit? And how risky is it for Channel 4 to bid £10 million a year more than the BBC was willing to pay to poach the programme?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28628302.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hosts Mel and Sue. Ian West / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It took the independent production company, Love Productions, four years to persuade the BBC to try out a baking contest as a series idea. In 2010, "The Great British Bake-Off" (otherwise known as GBBO) launched on BBC2, inauspiciously, with an audience of some 2 million.<br /> <br /> It was a standard elimination show, with a weekly "star baker" and a weekly departee, but the excitement of seeing the ten contestants (12 these days) reduced to a final three, each week trying three different disciplines, one of them with no chance of preparation, slowly built the audience. By series three, GBBO was BBC2's most popular programme, and in 2014 it transferred to the main BBC channel, BBC1, where it also conquered all in the ratings battle, last year securing seven of the BBC's top ten audiences of 2015.<br /> <br /> Cooking and baking have a long history on British television, going back sixty years to the likes of Philip Harben and Fanny Cradock instructing BBC viewers on basic techniques. Such shows became staples in many countries, and some - like The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr - were exported all over the world. Then came the competitions, like Masterchef, with skilled amateurs and semi-professionals tasked with producing complete meals. What GBBO brought to the genre was the emphasis on complete amateurs, and on the kind of elimination process that had generated viewer involvement in programmes like "Pop Idol", "Britain's Got Talent" and "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here".<br /> <br /> What GBBO identified was the chance to give contestants identical challenges, and sometimes identical ingredients, whilst allowing a degree of personal preference to be added to displays of technical skill. As the years went by, GBBO winners became minor celebrities, publishing books, writing columns, and exhibiting their skills at live displays. The most recent winner, Nadiyah Hussein - a diminutive, hijab-wearing housewife with a wonderfully expressive face - has even contributed two peak-time documentaries to the BBC schedule, about her return to her native Bangladesh.<br /> <br /> What has led many commentators to describe GBBO as "quintessentially British and BBC" has been the serendipitous casting of presenters and judges. The comedy duo, Mel and Sue, seemed odd choices as presenters to start with, being both inexpert and obsessed with weak (and suggestive) puns: but they have managed to integrate themselves seamlessly into the format, to surprising effect.<br /> <br /> The judges are a 40-ish blokey Northerner, Paul Hollywood, whose main expertise is in breadmaking, and 80-ish middle-class Mary Berry, with classic Home Counties locution, who has a long pedigree in cookery shows, going back many decades. Their expertise was hard to fault - as they have to demonstrate the technical challenges - and they also found a "good cop, bad cop" chemistry that has served them well.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-left">The format for the Great British Bake Off has been sold to nearly 20 countries.</span>Love Productions has had similar shows commissioned by the BBC, on sewing and pottery, but to much less effect. Meanwhile, the format for GBBO has been sold to nearly 20 countries, with the BBC version being broadcast by PBS in America; but two new US versions - on CBS and ABC, each using one, but only one, of the UK judges - failed dismally. Perhaps what is "quintessentially BBC" is not universally popular.<br /> <br /> This is about to be put to the test. Some months ago, Love Productions announced that the current series of GBBO would be the last under the present contract with the BBC. Out of the current budget of some £7.5 million pounds, for the main series of 10 or 11 one-hour shows, plus multiple spin-offs, the production company probably earns less than £1 million in fees (supplemented by international distribution, format rights and repeats). It decided that it could demand £25 million for an expanded roster of programmes. The BBC declined to bid above £15 million. On Monday September 12th, midway through transmission of series 7, Love announced that, after a year of negotiations, there had been a breakdown. A few hours later, Channel 4 revealed itself as the new home of GBBO, having agreed to pay the asking price.<br /> <br /> Remarkably, no-one at Channel 4 seems to have taken the precaution of checking with the presenters and judges whether they would change channels. Mel and Sue have already declared they would not switch sides, after the BBC had spent so many years nurturing the show. It is open to the BBC to approach Hollywood and Berry directly, and offer them enough commissions to match their current earnings from GBBO. As a long-term bet, without the risk of failure that a transfer to Channel 4 without the presenters might constitute, this could be attractive.<br /> <br /> Before 1982, and the launch of Channel 4, there were almost no independent producers in the UK - the BBC and ITV simply refused to deal with them. Channel 4, as a publisher-broadcaster with no in-house production, suddenly found hundreds of companies pitching ideas. The success of the pioneers led to waves of talented producers leaving the old broadcasters, especially once they too had been required by law to commission at least 25% of their non-news output from "qualifying" independents (those with no shareholder owning more than 20% and also owning a broadcast business anywhere in the world).<br /> <br /> This means that many of the UK's most popular programmes are owned, not by the broadcasters who schedule them, but by mini- or mega-capitalists, out to maximize the value of their creativity. There are now dozens of multi-millionaires who used to be staff or contract producers earning standard salaries. In the last decade, consolidation within the sector, and growing involvement by major US media corporations, has shifted the balance of power within UK broadcasting. "Qualifying" independent producers are now a minority. Channel 4 used to commission from over 500 of them. Last year, that figure was below 180.<br /> <br /> Indeed, Love is 70% owned by Sky, making somewhat ironic its press release celebrating the fact that GBBO would be staying with a free-to-air broadcaster. But what Mel and Sue's snub has revealed is that the format alone is not sufficient to guarantee success. As the BBC discovered when it fired the lead presenter of "Top Gear" - so provoking his two presenter colleagues to resign - re-casting a long-established series is fraught with risk: this year's audiences were well below those for last year.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-right">Re-casting a long-established series is fraught with risk.</span>For the BBC, losing a ratings winner is annoying, but in political terms, being seen to reject prodigious financial demands could play quite well, what with the new Charter still not quite finalised. The obverse is true for Channel 4. Although in the past it has paid very large amounts to keep key elements in its schedule - "Friends", "ER", "The Simpsons", "Big Brother" - it has almost never tried to poach content from another channel (other than sport, where it bid strongly to win - for a few years - the rights to Test cricket and to replace the BBC as the terrestrial broadcaster for Formula One).<br /> <br /> Channel 4 insists that its public service content is at a record level (by my calculations, a record low, but that is a different argument). That has not stopped its longest-serving Chief Executive, Michael Grade - now Tory peer Lord Grade - from claiming it has shot itself in the foot by spending so much money (£75million over three years) on another broadcaster's established show rather than on new creative ideas. He, of course, has been vocal in calling for Channel 4 to be privatised: its acting like a privatised company might weaken its defence against what seems to be a fading push for privatisation from the Conservative government.<br /> <br /> Grade himself, of course, became famous many years ago for trying to seize "Match Of The Day" from the BBC when he was working for ITV. The headlines then were "Snatch Of The Day". This week, they are of GBBO being "poached", the BBC being "baked off", and Channel 4 possibly having "over-cooked" its deal. Because the BBC has a holdback clause in its contract with Love, the first GBBO Channel 4 can transmit will not be till late 2017. Its media rivals will, true to form, be anticipating failure - "knives will be out". Sorry! - Mel and Sue may have "declined the dough", but the puns will keep rolling on without them.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/roger-graef/how-david-beat-goliath">The history of channel 4: how David beat Goliath </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/fate-of-public-service-broadcasting">The fate of public service broadcasting</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/claire-westall-michael-gardiner/bbc-and-british-branding">The BBC and British branding</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb uk UK David Elstein Wed, 14 Sep 2016 10:17:42 +0000 David Elstein 105334 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Introducing our new series: what is public service? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/ellie-mae-ohagan/introducing-our-new-series-what-is-public-service <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Today Our Beeb launches a new series on public service in the post-Brexit age. Here editor Ellie Mae O'Hagan explains what inspired the series.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28503147.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28503147.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The former Shadow Chancellor on Strictly Come Dancing. Picture by: Ian West / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A study released in August by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) revealed the importance of public service media to a healthy democracy. According to the study, countries with stronger public service media have a high degree of press freedom, higher voter turnout than in other countries with weaker public service media, lower levels of right-wing extremism and better control of corruption. While we can’t say these trends are caused by public service media, the study does show how these factors are connected – and therefore how important public service media is for a well-functioning public sphere.</p> <p>The BBC describes itself as the world's leading public service broadcaster. And while the average Brit might associate the BBC with flagship shows like Strictly Come Dancing, or exemplary sports coverage, or Christmas adaptations of Victorian literature, the EBU study clearly shows that the BBC’s role in British society is deeper and more profound than that – and its responsibility towards the British public is greater than that of broadcasters in the private sector. The BBC is an extension of British democracy.</p> <p>So what does this responsibility mean for the BBC at a time when the country is deeply divided? According to a recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the EU referendum essentially revealed two nations, separated along economic, educational and social lines. Chief Executive Julia Unwin <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/aug/31/people-who-felt-marginalised-drove-brexit-vote-study-finds">argues</a> that the study should “act as a beacon for politicians who often talk about representing the concerns of ordinary people.” </p> <p>How can the BBC represent the concerns of ordinary people? And who are these ordinary people anyway? A<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-result-7-graphs-that-explain-how-brexit-won-eu-explained-a7101676.html"> Lord Ashcroft poll</a> commissioned very soon after the Brexit vote revealed that ideas such as multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism were much more likely to be rejected by those who voted Leave than Remain. The divides in Britain are not simply about the economy, but also about our values. How can the BBC be expected to represent everybody and do its duty as a public service, when everybody seems at odds with one another?</p> <p>This new Our Beeb series will explore the BBC’s role as a public service at a time when it must compete more fiercely than ever with commercial providers, address the rapidly-shifting political climate, and respond to the Charter Renewal process which completes in January 2017. Recommendations have already been made about how the BBC can improve its public service remit, from the Puttnam Report in June, which stated: “The BBC needs to demonstrate further commitments to creative ambition and to address shortfalls in specific areas, for examples its services to BAME audiences, its relationships with audiences in the devolved nations, its institutional commitment to impartiality and its willingness to embrace new types of collaborative partnerships.”</p> <p>We’ll be looking at some of these issues, and others – everything from what the BBC is doing in Scotland and Wales, to how it can better report climate change, and how the public can be best served in an era increasingly reliant on Facebook. We want to hear from you too. Send us 150 words on how you think the BBC can better represent the public, and we’ll include them throughout the series.</p><p>Email: eleanor.ohagan@opendemocracy.net</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk UK what is public service? Ellie Mae O'Hagan Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:49:40 +0000 Ellie Mae O'Hagan 105150 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Lessons from Rio: how can the BBC compete with bigger sports broadcasters? https://www.opendemocracy.net/hywel-roberts/lessons-from-rio-how-can-bbc-compete-with-bigger-sports-broadcasters <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Rio Olympics draws to a close, we take a look at the how the BBC can protect itself from losing out to broadcasters like Sky and BT Sport.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28409101.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562240/PA-28409101.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Andy Murray wins gold. Owen Humphreys / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In December 2015, the BBC was forced to pull out of its deal to broadcast Formula 1 races three years early, following plans to slash £35m from its sports broadcasting budget. <br /><br />At the time it was seen as one of the lowest ebbs for the corporation’s sports department. It followed the announcement earlier in the year that the British Open golf tournament was also to be lost to Sky from 2017. Here ended a torrid year for BBC sports’ executives, which left many worried about the organisation’s ability to compete in coming years. <br /><br />But is the future really that bleak? <br /><br />We’re currently in the middle of the Rio Olympics, with millions tuning in to the BBC for the second part of Super Saturday early on Sunday morning. This is possible thanks to the policy of selecting certain sporting events whose appeal goes beyond fans of specific sports, known collectively as The Crown Jewels, and ensuring they remain on free-to-air television. <br /><br />The Olympics tops the list, which also includes the FA Cup final, the World Cup final and the Rugby League Challenge Cup final. It means that even the deep pockets of Sky and BT Sports can’t wrest control of some of the most-loved sporting events from terrestrial channels. There is also a B-list, which includes Premier League football, for which highlights must be free-to-air. This allows Match of the Day to survive, something for which many were thankful this weekend when Gary Lineker kept his promise to present the show in his underwear. <br /><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Premier League football will never be seen on the BBC again. </span><br />But none of this can hide the fact that most of the country’s best-loved sports are now out of the BBC’s reach. Premier League football will never be seen on the channel again. The Six Nations rugby championship was only saved at the last minute in a joint deal with ITV and it seems likely it will be lost completely in the next decade. England’s home test matches had already been lost to Channel Four before being removed from the Crown Jewels list and ultimately lost to Sky. <br /><br />So what can the BBC do to stay relevant in the face of apparently overwhelming market forces?&nbsp; </p><h2>Digital dreams</h2><p>One of the biggest developments in multi-sport events like the Olympics has been the advent of digital options such as the red button and iPlayer. It means viewers are no longer at the mercy of directors chasing ratings and can pick and choose to watch the more obscure events if they wish. <br /><br />In a wider sense this is significant because it partly nullifies the advantage that broadcasters like Sky and BT have by being able to support sport-only channels. Traditionally the BBC’s ability to broadcast sporting events has been limited by having to compete with news, drama and documentaries for time on only two channels. But the digital age means these restrictions have been partially lifted and no tricky scheduling decisions have to be made around upsetting Eastenders fans to show the Scottish FA Cup third round. <br /><br />The red button and iPlayer effectively give the BBC a large number of broadcasting options beyond BBC 1 and BBC 2. Suddenly having competitors broadcasting sport all day on up to five dedicated channels doesn’t seem like such a large hurdle to overcome. <br /><br />It is also a way to show some regional sports outside of England via the BBC’s regional channels. This will go some way to closing the gap with the richer broadcasters, although of course still doesn’t solve the problem of not having the rights in the first place.</p><h2>Out of sight needn’t be out of mind</h2><p>One aspect of the BBC’s offering that is so often ignored is its radio coverage. And in this area the BBC truly is peerless. Test Match Specialist is the obvious choice to highlight the BBC’s prestige in the audio medium. In a recent interview with Michael Parkinson, long-time commentator Jonathan Agnew (known affectionately as Aggers) described why he believes radio to be the purest form of broadcasting: “It really feels like you’re right inside people’s home, in their heads even, and that's a privileged position to be in,” he said. <br /><br />For this reason alone the BBC’s dominance of radio coverage will always be significant. The World Service also crosses borders to offer global coverage that cannot be matched – along with a sound of home that keeps many ex-pats and travellers content when homesickness gets a little too much. <br /><br />Its regional stations also provide a network that offers broadcast options for lower-league football teams and other less fashionable local sports teams across the country that even Sky and BT don’t have the resources (or in many cases motivation) to show. Sky and BT don’t run radio channels simply because they wouldn’t make enough money, which is thankfully a consideration over which the BBC doesn’t have to fret. <br /><br />Put simply, when sports fans are somewhere they can’t get to a TV screen their first thought is to listen to BBC Five Live. Any football fan who travels to an away ground will tell you that listening to the sporting news together on the way to the match and the phone-in on the way back is part of the ritual of the day. Having your brand ingrained in habit and shared experience is one way to ensure cultural relevance for years to come.&nbsp; </p><h2>Local heroes</h2><p>The local element is another big advantage the BBC has over its rivals. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it is able to show football, rugby and other sports with a team of often well-loved and knowledgable journalists who bring a local flavour the satellite giants can’t match.<br /><br />One such character is BBC Wales radio and television presenter Phil Steele. He told Our Beeb that the local angle is a big part of the BBC’s sporting offering. <br /><br />“Here in Wales we’re quite tribal even though we’re a small country,” he said. “So even if you have someone from North Wales speaking to a South Wales audience it can be tricky in terms of the some of the references or style and humour. The BBC has teams everywhere in the UK so it’s brilliant for matching the broadcast to the audience. I don’t think there’s another organisation that can do that anywhere near as well.”<br /><br />To give an example that Steele is involved in, rights for TV rugby in Wales is shared between the BBC and Sky Sports. But it’s the BBC Scrum V brand that every Welsh sports fan knows. And it has a very Welsh flavour.<br /><br />“One thing I do every week select one lower league game, go to the ground and give a match report as we would with one of the professional games,” Steele continues. “And that way everyone feels involved. People are looking out to see if it’s somewhere near them next. That’s something you couldn't really justify doing in some of more commercial channels.”<br /><br />And the BBC does need to offer something different in this instance. Financially there is no reason for the broadcaster should be allowed to show games. The current deal Pro 12 TV deal, signed in 2014, sees the BBC pay £3m for its half of the games, compared to £5 from Sky. <br /><br />And in a sport that needs the money, especially in the Celtic nations, it’s feasible the sport’s governing body could have persuaded to take the £2m a full deal with Sky would bring if they didn’t feel the BBC was adding something other broadcasters can’t. Thankfully due to people like Steele it does. </p><h2>Tradition’s a hell of a drug </h2><p>When the BBC does broadcast sport, whether on television or radio, people tune in. Luckily we get comparison stats when BBC and ITV both show finals of major tournaments – the latest being Euro 2016. <br /><span class="print-no mag-quote-left">For the Euro 2016 final, an average of 10.2m viewers watched the BBC coverage while only 1.9m chose ITV.</span><br />On that evening in July an average of 10.2m viewers watched the BBC coverage while only 1.9m chose ITV. The pattern is similar every time the two go head to head. Steele puts this down to a number of factors. <br /><br />“I’d say trust is a big one,” he explained. “I have a friend who was saying he gets his news from Twitter and checks it on BBC because if he sees it there he believes it’s true. And people want that kind of trust when hearing facts and news on sports broadcasts too.<br /><br />“The other is tradition. People just enjoy watching things on the BBC because you largely know what to expect and there are some of the country’s top names on there. Having said that, I do think the quality of the shows is high, so it’s not a case of resting on our laurels”.<br /><br />So the audience is there if the BBC can secure rights to any sporting events. And its unique structure means it has a number of advantages over satellite channels that will keep it relevant even if it doesn’t have all of the biggest weekly sporting fixtures to show on television. <br /><br />But all of this will be for nought if the corporation can’t maintain its rearguard action against the corporate giants of Sky and BT into the future. Will the inevitable tide of capitalism eventually wash it away in the coming years? The most convincing reason I can give to say it won’t is that if this were to happen it would have done so already. <br /><br />This fight is far from new. Ever since the formation of football’s Premier League in 1992, largely funded by Sky, the future already looked grim for the BBC. Losing the biggest league in the national sport is as bad as it gets. <br /><br />And you may have predicted that Sky would then go on to overpower the public broadcaster. However, even Murdoch’s billions and megalomania can’t smash the joint shield of public good will and regulation that currently protects the BBC. And there’s nothing to suggest the good will is going to fade in the future. But this is not to suggest the BBC will saved by nostalgia alone. <br /><br />At times in the Rio Olympics there have been upward of 40 live events for viewers to choose from on the iPlayer. This is only possible due to the unique arrangement the BBC is able to broker with the IOC and the host broadcaster. It is based on public service rather than profit and therefore something the commercial channels cannot justify to their shareholders, which will always remain their biggest weakness. <br /><br />The government’s protection through regulation may be less secure. The current government is not seen to be hugely sympathetic to the corporation’s needs, so this could be a worry. Former secretary of state for culture, media and sport John Whittingdale was repeatedly accused of meddling with the independent organisation. In May’s Royal Charter he announced plans to remove in-house guaranteed funding for all content except news and news-related programming. <br /><br />The intention is to encourage third-party production companies to tender for production funds. But seeing as that model doesn’t exist in sport and production is in-house, it could leave the department in a dangerous financial limbo. <br /><br />However, Whittingdale has now been replaced by Karen Bradley and the May regime appears determined not to be seen as a harbinger of doom for national institutions. So time will tell how things work out in the years to come. <br /><br />But even though lack of broadcasting rights may continue to take some events from our screens, the BBC will nevertheless have a part to play in the way we interact with sport. This is partly enshrined in the crown jewels and its guarantee the most significant sporting events will remain on free-to-view television. The thought of something as culturally significant as The Olympics moving away from the BBC would be unpalatable to many parties.<br /><br />The Olympic committee and its affiliated sporting bodies would be horrified at the prospect of the next generations’ only exposure to their sports, which is already often limited to once every four years, being determined by parents’ ability to pay for a Sky or BT subscription. <br /><br />The Big Lottery Fund, which goes a long way to funding the sporting infrastructure necessary to produce Olympic athletes, also has a commitment to social mobility at its heart. Moving the Olympics off the national broadcaster and to paid-for television would fly in the face of this aim. <br /><br />The BBC is and will always be unique, not as lumbering or intransigent as some believe in the way it operates and radio will always be its secret weapon. That and the local angle mean it’s not being bullied out of the sports broadcasting marketplace any time soon.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/blog/ourkingdom-theme/tom-griffin/2008/06/11/bbc-falling-short-on-nations-coverage">BBC &#039;falling short&#039; on nations coverage</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/bruno-carvalho/rio-city-of-epithets-olympic-urbanism-in-context">Rio, city of epithets: Olympic urbanism in context</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb UK france sport sky olympics BT broadcasters bbc Hywel Roberts Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:21:05 +0000 Hywel Roberts 104857 at https://www.opendemocracy.net