OFCOM PSB Review 9: “Finished before we’ve even started”

September 30, 2008

N.B. My personal views.

I haven’t had time to look at any of the documents around OFCOM’s second phase of PSB work.

I probably will try. But I increasingly start to wonder if it’s worth it.

If it really is as the Guardian says the “end game”, then it’s unlikely that this next stage of public consultation is worth anything at all.

And as the consultation has ground its way inexorably on, I’ve become increasingly disheartened.

I hesitate to give OFCOM a hard time, particularly as others have already expressed pretty much what I feel (e.g. Maggie Brown).

But, about the only good idea to come out of all this is Channel 4’s 4iP – effectively a “mini PSP”. Mind you that doesn’t mean that C4 should get any of the BBC’s money just because they’ve had one good idea.

As for the rest the whole thing has gone backwards.

What started as an attempt to grapple with real problems has degenerated into a closed, defensive, backward looking set of options which seems to boil down to only one: “we can’t do much about ITV, so we must protect Channel 4 at all costs if necessary by damaging the BBC”. And despite OFCOM’s warm words about the BBC I personally won’t be reassured until top-slicing is taken off the agenda.

And if as Andy Birnham says decisions have to be made in January then the options are pretty unappealing:

Either a fudged compromise will be cobbled together behind closed doors which supports the status quo.

Or (and possibly worse) there be some kind of desperate gamble of a radical option (like top slicing) just to show the government is doing something.

It might make more sense just to write directly to the Minister.

Mark Thompson’s speech is of course music to my ears. Media companies need to work together to find solutions, rather than looking to regulators whose solutions look out of touch with the rapid pace of change.

But a lot will depend on whether the BBC’s response is just warm words or whether we are really ready to grasp the nettle and reinvent ourselves properly. And quickly.

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