OFCOM PSB Review 3: “Now Where Did I Put That?”

April 25, 2008

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here

Peter Bazalgette’s speech to the RTS is here and worth reading in full.

He’s had this obsession for a while about selling off Radio 1 and Radio 2.

Suffice to say this that this idea is not even mentioned in OFCOM’s review. All it would do is undermine the licence fee and I doubt if it would help commercial radio either. Not a runner at all.

I share his doubts about taking public money damaging C4.

But would privatisation be the answer? Seems old fashioned.

And the reason that Today is the best current affairs programme is not really to do with competition or the lack of it. It’s just radio is a better medium for presenting current affairs and news than television and breakfast is an ideal time to listen. The future for current affairs may be to collaberate rather than compete but that’s another blog post.

However much to my surprise I found myself agreeing with the broad thrust of the speech.

Increasingly this whole review/debate seems old fashioned to me. Is the real answer to what’s happening in media to give Channel 4 public money to make more television programmes?

The sections in the speech about funding museums and other public institutions to make video and other content brings us neatly on to the next two documents from OFCOM’s review: Annex 8 and 9 (I read these next partly because Hilary Perkins suggested I did!)

These are curious documents and I’m not sure how they fit in with the rest of the review. My thoughts are:

It’s untrue that there isn’t enough public service content on the internet. There’s a lot in some genres, but in others there isn’t enough. I pondered the irony of the suggestion that education/learning content is a weak spot. Perhaps we need something like BBC Jam?

The definition of “public service content” seems extremely broad. A couple of people have said to me that if Guido Fawkes blog counts as public service content then pretty much anything does. Mind you the definition of what public service is in the UK has always been pretty broad. And that’s because at its very inception PSB it wasn’t so much about genre as much as who it was for. Reith wanted the home service to be for everyone.  But the internet is becoming more dominant and sometimes the internet feels like a series of niches, not a broad mass medium. TV too is becoming a series of niches.

“Discoverability” seems to be a key problem as outlined at length in Appendix 9 particularly in genres where there’s not enough content. But will this be solved by spending more public money on content/programmes? Not much point if people can’t find them.

I was intrigued by the amount of public service content being produced by Government bodies in Annex 9.  Is this money being spent wisely? Could it be spent more efficiently? Could it be more joined up/easier to find/discoverable? Should it be given to the Tate to make video content instead?

Mind you Bazalgette’s solution (“Boggle”) seems just like OFCOM’s public service publisher, which has already been ruled out. Some on Organ Grinder have unkindly implied that he’s pushing this as a way of expanding his empire. But there’s a bigger problem.

Again and again in this work you come back to the same dilemma. If you spend public money on content/programmes it has to be tightly regulated in some way. That inevitably leads you to an “Arts Council of the AIr” idea, no matter what you call it. Will “grants for outcomes” (Ed Richards latest idea) actually produce more diversity, more competition, better content and make it easier for people to access content?

Boggle feels like another quango waiting to happen. Do we need more bureaucracy and regulation?

Do we even actually need more content?


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