Speech given to The Radio Academy - Radio Festival in Birmingham
to be back at the Radio Festival - partly because I know a little more
about radio than I did two years ago when I first gave a speech here.
Although by the standards of most people here, I'm still something of
also good to be back because the last two years has provided no shortage
of things to talk about.
digital radio finally taking off, contrary to popular belief there is
life after Jimmy Young and even that tale of everyday country folk,
The Archers, has been full of surprises. Brian Aldridge has a love child,
Jazzer nearly died after taking ketamine and last month Tom and co headed
off to Glastonbury. Even Ambridge, it seems, has succumbed to sex, drugs
and rock and roll.
it's this ability of radio to evolve which has made it such a survivor.
Abramsky can testify - it wasn't that long ago that some BBC managers
would advise new recruits to set their sights high and make their career
in television rather than find themselves aboard the supposedly sinking
ship of radio.
the young Jenny ignored the advice of her BBC bosses - something I can
assure you she is still quite capable of doing.
I'd like to explain how I believe both BBC and commercial radio can
go on surviving - and indeed thriving - at a time of great change.
I want to talk about the role of the BBC in serving audiences but also
our potential to fulfil a wider purpose, both in this industry and in
the wider society.
I'd like to make a few points on the subject of regulation, both in
the context of the Communications Bill and also in light of recent events
many of you heard Lowry Mays of Clear Channel speak at last year's Radio
Festival. It was the speech of a red-blooded freemarketeer.
as you know, is the commercial success story of American deregulation.
It's become the country's largest radio broadcaster with more than 1,200
we be willing to embrace deregulation here as he suggested?
only have to look at what's been happening in America recently to think
again about any headlong rush down that road.
public demonstrations have been held to oppose further media deregulation
and the greater consolidation it would allow.
Federal Communication Commission has been reviewing the US rules on
media ownership. During this process, the Commission received more submissions
than for any proceeding in its history, nearly all of them from individuals
opposed to allowing further liberalisation.
interest groups ranging from the Consumer Union and the Conference of
Catholic Bishops to the National Rifle Association also voiced concerns
about ownership consolidation as did many distinguished stars of pop
and country music from Pearl Jam to Bonnie Raitt.
a number of people have cited as a warning the consolidation in radio
since the liberalisation of the ownership rules by the FCC in 1996.
the recent media deregulation vote by the FCC, one of the two dissenting
FCC Commissioners observed that:
most constant refrain I heard from coast to coast was complaints about
homogenisation and loss of news coverage and local artists on the radio
dial since 1996. People begged us not to let happen to television what
happened to radio."
Commissioner went on:
group owners downsized local staff, including popular DJs, eliminated
news coverage, began running stations remotely with voice tracking technology,
and standardised programming."
dissenting FCC Commissioner recalled the experiences of musicians and
artists he heard in hearings around the country.
people claimed they simply couldn't secure airtime in the new consolidated
described a situation in which real radio news was dying outside the
largest cities and viewpoint diversity had given way to a "constant
drumbeat of one-sided talk shows".
dissenting views on an FCC which split along party lines but they are
the Chief Executive of PBS in America, spoke recently to the House of
Lords and described American radio as a kind of "media canary"
- providing a warning of the dangers of too much deregulation. Those
canaries, she said, - and I quote - "are barely standing, much
It is also
interesting to note that at the end of their process of review, the
majority of FCC Commissioners who voted three to two to liberalise television
and cross media ownership rules, actually tightened an aspect of the
ownership rules for radio.
isn't about particular television or radio companies as some people
try and present it.
it's about the sort of regulatory regime we believe would best serve
the public interest.
that if we go down the road of embracing excessive deregulation, there
must be a danger that we're going to slide into a country with a homogenised
media and I fear that we will end up with radio stations which are simply
in the business of selling products for advertisers where profit is
the only motive.
anti-commercial. I spent my whole life in the private sector before
coming to the BBC. I know what a pain regulation can be.
me tell you, contrary to popular myth, there's no shortage of rules
governing the BBC. We too will be under Ofcom for certain regulations
and also be subject to scrutiny by the BBC Governors.
certainly not arguing for more restrictive legislation here.
contrary, I believe there is a strong case for fewer rules on both ownership
and output. But there is a need to get the balance right.
our hopes for this industry on a regulatory free-for-all would be folly.
why I'm pleased our Government appears to have modified its approach
to further deregulation in this country.
public interest plurality test and commitment to preserving the character
of local radio are important safeguards in the Communications Bill.
be used to protect the interests of listeners and will, I believe, strengthen
rather than weaken this industry.
we need to be careful in drawing too many comparisons between Britain
and America. Radio here is in pretty good health.
in particular is enjoying plenty of success. We've increased listener
choice with new networks, our figures both nationally and locally are
at record levels and our awards cabinet is full.
question for us is whether this is enough. Is this how we should be
judging the success of the modern BBC and ensuring its long term survival?
certainly important indicators that we are on the right track.
would argue there have been times when we've been a bit too cautious,
a bit too conservative.
important thing for the BBC in the years ahead is to find ways of using
our position and our funding to be more ambitious.
Now I know
there may be some sharp intakes of breath among some of you when I stand
here talking about a more ambitious BBC.
time running private sector companies, I know what ambition means in
that world. It generally has a lot to do with making money and stuffing
the competition in some way. Ideally both.
me reassure you, our ambition has nothing to do with targeting the commercial
contrary, it's about becoming more distinctive and doing more things
which would make no sense in the commercial world.
you can see this spirit emerging in the BBC generally but nowhere is
it more apparent than what we are doing on radio.
we've changed our approach to radio broadcasting in the nations and
regions shows you what is possible.
we fell into the trap of allowing our staff in local radio - and our
audiences - to feel that they were not as important as the networks.
that they were bottom of the pile. You only had to visit some of the
BBC's bases outside London to realise that.
In my first
few months at the BBC I met some great people in local radio but was
shocked by morale amongst some of them.
some of the buildings our local radio stations occupied beggared belief.
I commented on the parlous state of these buildings to staff, who bore
broken lifts and toilets with remarkable fortitude, they generally said:
"If you think this is bad, wait till you see Stoke."
tell you, when I did finally get to Radio Stoke, it certainly lived
up to its billing, although it wasn't as bad as Leicester which houses
both Radio Leicester and the Asian Network.
long, in Leicester and elsewhere, we failed to invest in our buildings,
our equipment our people and our programmes.
guilty of a lack of ambition and limited expectations - both of ourselves
and of our listeners - at a time when the commercial sector was booming.
this situation to arise in the first place was a mistake. Allowing it
to continue was not an option.
radio should be about serving communities in some way.
BBC, it has to be about a lot more besides. We have the means to go
far beyond the traditional boundaries of broadcasting.
be in reflecting the different characters and cultures of local communities,
creating educational opportunities or acting as a focal point for social
ago we took the decision to pursue this potential by substantially increasing
the annual budget for our Nations and Regions division.
allowed us to develop new local services up and down the country. In
places like Swindon, Peterborough, Harrogate and Enniskillen, listeners
now have BBC local radio which is more in touch with their lives.
been able to launch major programme initiatives such as The Century
Speaks and A Sense of Place which have explained our history and culture
through the experiences of our audiences.
invested in our buildings - including Stoke and Leicester, I'm glad
turned eight of our local radio stations into Open Centres where people
can learn computer and broadcasting skills or contribute to programmes.
also got 12 buses taking these facilities on the road to smaller towns
and villages, largely around the north of England.
an ambitious way of pursuing the idea of public service broadcasting
in new ways.
a three-month period, our Blackburn Open Centre was used by something
like 12,000 people. For seventy-five per cent of those calling in to
use the internet, it was their only way of accessing the web.
nearly 60% of visitors to the open centre were from an ethnic minority
and the same proportion using computers on the buses were doing so for
the first time.
on all these developments, I'm very pleased tell you that we are announcing
today plans for a new radio station in Coventry - an area currently
served by BBC WM.
to base it in a modern building, a stone's throw from Coventry Cathedral
in the heart of the city.
We've also been doing something significant which didn't cost a penny.
We've raised our expectations of what the communities we serve can offer
us as programme makers.
Voices, a recent initiative in BBC Nations and Regions.
have been out working in local areas, setting up remote radio studios
and getting to know new audiences.
been talking to school children, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers,
families on deprived estates, farmers and pensioners.
have important stories to tell but sadly too often go unheard. As a
result of Voices, it's their input which is enriching our output on
radio and online and providing the inspiration for scores of community
has been changing that often unequal relationship between the broadcaster
and listener. It's been about listeners becoming good broadcasters and
us becoming a good listener.
been about seeing the public as citizens rather than just consumers,
as people with their own perspectives and value, regardless of their
earning power or appeal to advertisers.
to BBC local radio has undoubtedly played a crucial part in its record
11 million listeners in the last RAJAR report.
confining this kind of ambition to the nations and regions.
services for the whole of the UK can do more too. When I look across
our radio networks I believe we're just starting to see what they're
really capable of.
in particular, is on great form. The Sony Station of the Year accolade
reflects the editorial ambition running right through the schedule.
year's Reith Lectures on neuro-science to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time,
it's a network which is never afraid to stretch its listeners.
journalism too, there is no shortage of ambition.
one of the most memorable recent examples was File on Four's investigation
into how the criminal justice system prosecutes mothers accused of killing
their babies - an award-winning programme which uncovered the evidence
which led to Sally Clarke's conviction being quashed earlier this year.
course, there's the rich mix of news, analysis and insight delivered
by the network's news programmes. They are a focal point for national
discussion and debate and a crucial public service.
with Five Live and our nations and regions output, our radio journalism
continues to be one of our great distinctive strengths.
to the heart of what we are for - it's the common element which runs
through everything we do.
key to our public service on television and online. That's why there
can be no room for compromise on either the quality or integrity of
our journalism at any level.
organisation founded on trust, its strength and independence is the
litmus test for our overall health.
papers are again replaying the row with Alastair Campbell over our reporting
of those famous dossiers, hopefully for the last time. I don't want
to spend too much time on this.
me say this, whatever the background of Alastair Campbell's attack on
the BBC, to criticise the reputation of all BBC journalists by publicly
accusing us of lying and bias is not acceptable and I thank him for
stepping back from that position yesterday.
now dominated the headlines for two weeks and it is time for both sides
to agree to disagree and move on.
these are inevitable in a healthy democracy - government and media have
different roles which inevitably bring them into conflict.
dispute has highlighted is the importance of BBC Radio in delivering
who's come from TV and worked in TV current affairs, it is no surprise
to me that this argument about the BBC's role has centred on a radio
programme - the Today programme, which day after day does what is at
the heart of the BBC - giving the audience the information to allow
them to make their own judgements.
now turn to the subject of Radios 1 and 2. Both these networks are of
critical importance to the BBC. They are essential to our public service
there to entertain but they inform and educate too. They are just as
important to what we do as Radios 3 or 4 - or for that matter, BBCs
ONE and TWO.
find amazing is that some people still try to claim that these two networks
are no different to what can be found elsewhere in the market.
can't work out is whether they are being deliberately disingenuous or
whether they just haven't bothered listening to them for a decade or
networks of real musical and editorial ambition, networks which are
championing the British music industry but they are also networks which
are tackling social and political issues.
claiming they are unique in every respect. Mainstream music will always
be an important part of the mix.
always be plenty of music you won't hear on other networks, whether
it's the 3,000 hours of specialist tracks played on Radio 1 or the huge
range on Radio 2.
I was here, I talked about what a revelation re-discovering Radio 2
had been for me. For years I'd assumed it would still be the same station
my Aunty Muriel listened to.
I have to say, I'm still listening and still finding many programmes
to enjoy - from the recent Annie Lennox concert, which I was fortunate
enough to attend - to Johnnie Walker's fascinating series on Bruce Springsteen.
These are typical of the programmes you won't hear elsewhere.
independently conducted research recently compared the output of Radios
1 and 2 with a number of different competitors.
beyond any doubt that both these networks have a radically different
approach to music than their commercial counterparts.
half the tracks played on Radio 1 were unique to the network - they
were not played by anyone else.
of the tracks on Radio 2 were not played elsewhere and it played the
widest range of genres.
course, both include a range and depth of speech content which singles
them out from what is on offer elsewhere, from Newsbeat on Radio 1 to
the religious output and documentaries on Radio 2.
to Radio 2 any evening of week and you'll come across fascinating programmes.
Which other music station would broadcast a programme inspired by the
anniversary of Thomas More's death, as Radio 2 did on Sunday?
schedule also includes a profile of jazz legend Count Basie, Mark Lamarr's
Beginners Guide to Reggae and the latest instalment of an adaptation
of Joseph Heller's Catch 22.
last week it blocked out a whole evening to stage The Great British
Music Debate on the state of our record industry.
undoubtedly distinctive services. But so they should be.
not a criticism of the commercial sector. The Licence Fee is a unique
funding system which affords us the privilege to do unique things.
our purpose has to extend beyond doing things which are different.
use these services and everything else at our disposal to make a broader
contribution to life in the UK today and to the health of radio more
There's enormous scope in our role as a patron of new British music
and the arts.
is committed to providing an outlet for the best of new popular music.
initiative is a unique source of advice for young music makers who can
also get their material heard on the station's special playlist for
has worked with 750 artists - 100 of whom have gone on to get management
and publishing contracts or released records.
Radio 3 is the largest commissioner of new classical music in the world
- responsible for 60 new pieces this year.
4 provides important opportunities for up and coming writers and performers
- broadcasting some 350 new works in 2002.
All well and good. But can we be more ambitious? I'm sure we can. Can
we do things differently? Absolutely.
at what we are doing in the world of classical music.
the country, our orchestras have been opening up this world to new audiences.
meant playing symphonies in supermarkets and mini- operas in pubs. It's
meant taking up residence for a week in a Welsh village and working
with ethnic minority groups and asylum seekers.
about opening up classical music to the younger generation through special
concerts, including a recent Prom for 1,500 youngsters at Brixton Academy.
ambition to do a great deal more of this. To this end, it's our future
ambition to give 20,000 young people a year the chance to experience
these kinds of events.
our cultural contribution, we can also do more to benefit radio as a
encourage diversity, drive new markets and discover fresh talent. And
we can do that locally, nationally and internationally.
we will be developing our support for access radio stations.
community stations are one of the most exciting things happening in
radio. We don't want to control them but we'd like to help them develop
where we can.
on plans which will see us partnering more of these stations and providing
a range of support. This will include exchanges of information and the
offer of surplus equipment and of training.
we will continue to be the main source of training for the wider industry.
aim to go on sustaining and developing the independent production sector
have played a crucial role in the creative success of BBC radio in recent
years with programmes like Unreliable Evidence on Radio 4 and the Radio
2 Folk Awards which when I attend it is one of my favourite nights of
the year. Watching all the folkies taking over the ballroom of a posh
hotel is wonderful.
we have voluntarily committed ourselves to commission at least 10% of
our eligible analogue network programmes from indies. And that's a floor,
not a ceiling.
undershot it and are on track to exceed it again this year. The 10%
quota is now enshrined in our Statements of Programme Policy and is
something the Governors are committed to monitoring.
also go on driving awareness of DAB digital radio - something even one-time
sceptics like me can see is going to take-off.
and promotion of digital radio has been a good example of partnership
across the industry.
part, we've launched five new networks, designed to serve a range of
audiences and deliver more value from our archive of programmes.
with the consent for these services, we've also committed to promoting
the benefits of digital across all our output.
you've caught our current campaign on TV, radio and online promoting
our portfolio of new services on DAB digital radio and of course as
a result promoting digital radio generally.
in this way not only ensures the licence fee-payer is well informed
about what we offer but is also designed to promote digital radio generally.
Freeview is also playing an increasingly important role in this.
1.6 million homes, it provides a means alongside the internet for sampling
some digital radio stations.
turn is helping extend the demand for digital radio beyond the early
adopters and into the mainstream.
in any doubt about the role of high quality content in this process
should check out the latest research from Digital Radio Development
Bureau. It estimates eight-out-of-ten buyers of digital radios are now
doing so to get access to the new services.
the World Service under Mark Byford continues to develop its global
reputation and reach.
the World Service Trust is also doing amazing things as a charity, involved
in reconstruction in countries ravaged by conflict.
see this work in places like Afghanistan, Africa and the Balkans where
World Service staff have helped local people lay the foundations for
their own independent media.
hope all this doesn't just sound like just another BBC sermon.
It's not my intention to paint us as occupying some public service ivory
I kidding myself that the BBC has a monopoly on ambition or distinctiveness.
such as Classic FM and more recently Kerrang are proof positive that
commercial success is also rooted in creative ideas and great content.
let me say this.
I'm still learning about radio, I've seen and heard enough in the last
few years to convince me that the industry in this country has a bright
BBC, our success will increasingly hinge on our determination to be
also require us to deliver greater social, cultural and democratic benefits
from the Licence Fee - something I believe we are already making significant
also a great deal of unpredictability, whether that's down to the charter
review process for the BBC or the prospects for consolidation in the
amount of consolidation in our market may well be the best way to secure
that investment in the future.
sure that Lowry Mays' belief that consolidation will, as he put it,
"work its magic" for listeners is misplaced.
believed in this country that broadcasting is too important to leave
entirely to the market. Looking at what's happened in America, that's
as true today as it's ever been.
audiences have high expectations of radio.
they will demand more, not less. They'll expect more choice, more quality
and - I hope - more ambition.
expect these things - not just of the BBC - but of everyone.
for us all is to make sure we can meet those expectations.
Notes to Editors
BBC Local Radio station for Coventry & Warwickshire (08.07.03)