The Mission for Public Service Broadcasting in a competitive digital
15 January 2003
made at the Oxford Media Convention, Oxford University
panel this afternoon we are asked to think about the role and remit
of public service broadcasters in a competitive digital environment.
to be a question that comes up about once every decade in a big way
– usually associated with a new piece of legislation or with the
renewal of the BBC's Charter.
the merchants of gloom – from my perspective, perhaps of joy if
you work for News International – say that the time has come to
stop intervening in the broadcasting market, that the market alone will
provide all that everyone needs and that only minimal competition regulation
the most, they concede only that PSBs should exist but with a very tight,
wishing to appear complacent, each time the argument has been lost and
indeed public service broadcasting – whether in the BBC or in
ITV or Channel Four and now Five - has gone on to flourish.
everyone says, "but this time it is different" - digital will
remove the raison d'etre for PSB if not now then at least by the time
of digital switchover since by then market failure will no longer exist.
in the publishing world, all tastes will be catered for.
one way they are right. Some of the old arguments are more difficult
as the number of channels proliferates. For example, one of the things
which has struck me most forcibly since I took over this job is the
opposition there has been to new digital BBC services which we felt
were undeniably at the heart of our traditional Reithian remit.
expects there to be problems with getting consent to launch BBC THREE
or the new Children's channels, but the controversy surrounding BBC
FOUR – traditional heartland in the mould of Radio Three and Radio
Four – took us all by surprise. As did the strength of feeling
against our plans to launch the digital curriculum – approved,
I'm happy to say, last week.
Yet, I would argue that opposition to these services is based on a view
of the public purpose of public service broadcasting which is not only
too narrow now, but has always been too narrow.
for public funding for the BBC, or regulatory intervention to support
ITV and Channels Four and Five, has never been based on a simple market
failure argument relating to certain genres of programmes.
of public service programming in the UK has, since its inception –
and this has been its great strength - always been a broad one, not
one based on particular genres. Coronation Street and EastEnders have
always lain at its heart, as much as Doctor Zhivago and Daniel Deronda.
within this broad tradition, however much it may irritate our opponents,
that the case for public service broadcasting will continue to be made,
even in the age of television plenty.
be clear, the licence fee is an enormous privilege and an enormous responsibility.
It is right and proper that we should have to justify our continued
access to it, and that that access should only come if we are seen to
be living up to the obligations it brings.
ITV and Channel Four have to justify their privileged access to spectrum
and in C4's case the great responsibility of having neither shareholders
nor Governors to whom they are answerable to ensure they serve the public
would I justify our privileged life?
To my mind
the answer lies in what until recently had been two rather unfashionable
words but ones which have now come much more into their own. It comes
down to 'citizenship' and 'society'.
start of the 21st century, I believe that PSB continues to have a central
role within the UK's broadcasting ecology to deliver content which serves
British society by meeting the fundamental needs of UK citizens.
broadcasters without PSB responsibilities (and here, to be clear when
I talk of PSBs I am including ITV and Channels Four and Five), what
they do is deliver principally to audiences as consumers because that
is the way in which they best (and rightly) serve shareholders' and
work like this – yes, it aims to deliver to audiences as consumers
but it has a raison d'etre beyond that, it has to serve their needs
as citizens, too.
it do this? I would argue there are three main ways. It serves the interests
of citizens in UK society, in UK democracy and in UK culture.
and foremost this is about supporting communities locally, nationally
and globally. At our best we help them to connect and communicate.
– through radio and now through online. Local radio used to be
the Cinderella of the BBC, when times got hard it was the thing we always
thought of axing.
Now it lies increasingly close to the heart of what we should be doing.
For example in Hull, where the local radio station has been turned into
an open centre, offering people an internet café, but also where
we have teamed up with Kingston Communications to run a really exciting
local broadband pilot linking local schools and providing scope for
community drama and other activities.
the BBCi Where I Live sites are really coming into their own. For example,
at the time of the countryside march all the sites with an interest
did their own features and message boards, then BBC hosted a joined
up chat on the day after the march between communities across the country
with interests in the issues raised, with a Government minister, official
of the Countryside Alliance and someone opposed to the CA case to answer
took part. Finding local communities with an interest and linking them
up with other local communities with the same interest – that's
one of the key things we are about.
the local community we have a role in bringing the community together
nationally and last year of all years was an illustration of this.
the population of the UK watched at least one of the special Jubilee
programmes on the BBC, then there was the World Cup coverage by us and
ITV and of course the Queen Mother's funeral.
also have a key role in serving the full diversity of British society
– explaining ourselves to ourselves and even encouraging us to
laugh at ourselves.
Four has a particularly honourable track record here. But on the BBC
the BBC TWO Islam season would be a case in point as would the Kumars
at Number 42, and of course our recent launch of BBC Radio 1Xtra and
the Asian network.
finally globally - the motto above the World Service of 'Nation shall
speak peace unto Nation' is now uncomfortably apt. And just a month
after we have celebrated the World Service's 70th birthday with a broadcast,
which illustrated just how powerful a medium of communication radio
a day of special programming presented from the site of the World Service's
first re-broadcast – the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
took part from around the world through phone and e-mail and their birthday
party concert linked five countries across four continents and was broadcast
on all 43 language services including in Afghanistan, a country where
music could not be heard two years ago.
So we have
a major role in bringing communities together at all levels, but we
also serve the interests of citizens in society in a plethora of other
ways – not least through lifelong learning opportunities.
experiments with online and interactive back up to our big landmark
factual programmes have been a stunning success and show how if you
harness the new technologies to the old television skills you can really
make a difference.
The Blue Planet, some 1,000 viewers undertook a formal course in marine
biology; and 8,000 fans of Alan Titchmarsh's How to be a Gardener were
able to sign up for a course created in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural
way in which PSBs serve the interests of all citizens is in UK democracy:
citizens with the information with which to make informed democratic
choices through authoritative, impartial news.
It is no
accident that on 11 September 33 million British citizens watched, listened
or accessed a BBC news bulletin.
that in the last election we started some very interesting experiments.
For example, Vote 2001 online material – the Why Vote? site, which
provided a forum where those who were not intending to vote debated
with those who were.
thing the BBC is most proud of is its absolute determination to bring
news to all audiences, through specially produced bulletins and services
designed to attract people whatever their tastes and age.
service carries three bulletins of Newsround each day. Radio 1 has an
honourable tradition through Newsbeat, which was carried a step further
at the election when it acquired its own specialist politics reporter.
Radio 1Xtra is continuing in this vein with a dedicated and newly recruited
news team and when it launches next month BBC THREE will not just have
its own news service but current affairs and satire shows as well.
commercial service could ever justify this sort of investment. It plays
a key part in making our democracy work.
we serve the interests of all citizens in UK culture:
long been a crucial component of all PSBs, however, it may be in the
future we are coming to a parting of the ways between the BBC and the
commercially funded PSBs as the competitive climate and the ownership
changes allowed in the Communications Bill will undoubtedly make it
more difficult for those companies to invest in UK content in the way
they have done in the past.
after all, we have seen Channel Four move its reliance on US imports
from the margins of its existence to almost its USP, to such an extent
that when it launched a digital channel to make money it was E4, a channel
heavily dependent on US imports.
the BBC's tradition of investing in UK content is, if anything more
pronounced than ever. Gone are the days of the seventies and eighties
when Dallas and Starsky and Hutch graced our peak time schedules.
the BBC spent around £1.2 billion on new British programmes, over
£100 million more than the year before.
is a good example: we are committed to making around 90% of its output
in the UK/EU. This compares with the other children's channels, most
of which have less than 10% of their schedule made in the UK. And, of
course, the key point is that audiences in this case love the British
output. Within a year of its launch CBeebies is already the number one
UK children's channel.
Our support for UK production means we are able ourselves to run a flourishing
in-house production business. But more than that, it means we can invest
in independent productions too. In 2001/2 we increased our overall investment
in independent productions to £257 million spent with 151 different
companies. This year we'll be investing even more.
house production base helps us unearth and train new talent.
Merchant and Ricky Gervais had a programme commissioned which Stephen
first made when he was taking part in a BBC trainee assistant producer
scheme. That programme became the hit comedy series The Office.
we invested £40 million in 3,700 training courses for over 18,500
people inside and outside the BBC. People trained by the BBC can now
be found throughout UK broadcasting.
course we are absolutely at the forefront of UK cultural expression
above all in our support for music and the performing arts.
spends more each year on the arts in the UK than the Arts Council itself.
In classical music we support five national orchestras and the Proms
but our remit runs wider.
organises live open air concerts throughout the UK every summer and
the Music Live festival this year brought concerts to literally hundreds
of towns and villages throughout the UK.
go on and on, we have taken over Channel Four's role as the patron of
the UK film industry for example.
But I know
just how aggravating long lists of the BBC's virtues are to audiences.
here is that this is what I understand Tessa Jowell to mean when she
talked of the licence fee as "the venture capital of the creative
industries". We have an absolute obligation to use it to support
a wide range of UK culture and this is not only what we are proudest
of doing, but what we intend to do even better in the future.
BBC the crucial phrase is that we exist 'to make great programmes which
enrich people's lives'. Enrich. In other words our task is not just
about eye balls watching a flickering screen – it must help people
connect, make them better informed, offer them opportunities to acquire
new skills, help them relate to their neighbours but also extend their
horizons to the rest of the world. By doing this I would argue it plays
a significant role in UK society. Not least in supporting and promoting
our cultural base.
much the Himalayan heights of market failure, more the broad, well watered
Savannah on which much else can flourish.