Carter leaves media future unsettled

Having worked for two national media treasures of different sizes, the BBC for 30 years and the Belfast Telegraph for just four, I miss them but I’m often relieved that I don’t have to cope with the increasing pressures of media competition and technological change of today. I’m now at the stage of life when cabinet ministers and not just police officers are getting younger. And so it was a pleasure the other day to greet a former junior colleague Ben Bradshaw on becoming Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. People might say that once a BBC person, always a BBC person, but having been a World at one reporter 15 years ago doesn’t make Ben a died-in-the-wool BBC loyalist. He has bigger fish to fry these days. Ben and the media world generally are digesting the Digital Britain report by Stephen Carter. Its aims are to set the parameters for media ownership, regulation, structure and technology for an age of media convergence, when familiar distinct formats like “ newspapers” and “broadcasting ” are just part of “multimedia platforms.” A pretty massive task, with lots of competing interests to sort at a time of lightening fast change and acute financial nervousness. Out of habit, I home in on the broadcasting bit. In a controversial and radical new approach, Carter sees the licence fee as a funding mechanism for public service content generally by for instance, using it to subsidise local news on ITV. But is this the right approach? Instead, why shouldn’t the tech companies, the ISPs, the satellite channels not cough up with say, a 1% levy on profits? Their revenues are booming even in recession, their revenues dwarf the BBC’s and their investment in creative content ranges from nil to pathetic. There’s much more to Carter than the future of broadcasting. Unauthorised filesharing to be policed and punished ( gulp!). Non DAB radios to be junked after analogue (FM, AM ) switch-off. Landline phone subscribers may have to pay an extra £6 a year levy to finance universal broadband. But Carter has been criticised as a fudge; no decisions are imminent. My old Bel Tel colleagues sometimes found the BBC threatening and overbearing by encroaching too far into local news, although they approved of its journalistic mission. Here, Polly Toynbee defends the BBC from even its candid friends. P.S. the BBC licence fee is £142.50 p.a.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London