On the future of public service media…

There’s a meeting of the DCAL committee just beginning in the Senate chamber today, which means it will be streaming live. The focus is going to be on Broadcasting and in particular the sustainability (or otherwise) of Public Service Broadcasting within a local commercial context as a counterpoint to the BBC. It should be said at the outset that this remains largely a reserved matter for Whitehall, but the debate may throw up some useful perspectives. One reader has already written to call my attention to the issue (text below the fold). I’ll be dipping into the debate all day, and posting quotes. Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment zone below…

Brian Walker’s contribution yesterday raises issues around the media in the future.

Can I just take a moment to remind people that the media of the moment is under very real threat.

Ofcom has proposed a cutback in the number of hours that UTV has to produce as part of its license agreement with the regulator. Remember these proposals are a floor not a ceiling.

Importantly this is a consultation – not a Jeff Rooker PPS14 style consultation, but one which Ofcom says everyone who is interested should involve themselves in. It ends on December 4th and doesn’t report until early next year.

But within nearly hours of the Ofcom proposals UTV PLC puts PSB (public service broadcasting) under real threat by taking the Ofcom plans as a de-facto decision and announcing that nearly 35 jobs at the company are to go.

It blames regulatory decision (ignoring consulation) and economic circumstances.

The media has in the main made this a personality/jobs story given the high profile of many of the presenters and reporters involved. But the reality is that this is a very real public story. The only reason UTV does what it does is because it is regulated. That independent factor provides real competition for the BBC. It also provides real plurality – different perspectives on our world. As it stands we’re on the cusp of losing a major part of that locally.

Unfortunately UTV is only grasping one side of the argument and that allows it to consider cutting jobs and spend. It is ignoring a very real part of Ofcom’s new thinking about how to solve the problem – a separate fund administered locally in Northern Ireland which would preserve not only some of mainstream public service provision but also addresses Brian Walker’s focus around new media.

Today the Culture Arts and Leisure Committee at Stormont is addressing this issue. It should be streamed live on the Assembly website from around ten or ten thirty when the committee becomes a public sitting. Sit in.