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The Media Show
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Listen to the latest editionHomepage of The Media Show, Radio4's weekly look at the media.  Wednesday 1.30pm.

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5 November 2008

Stephen Carter, Creative Risk and reporting in the Congo
Stephen Carter makes his maiden speech in the House of Lords tonight as Britain’s first ever Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting. He talks to Steve about Channel 4, the licence fee and his mission to draw up a blueprint for "digital Britain". In the aftermath of last week’s BBC Radio 2 Ross/Brand Andrew Sachs voicemail debacle, is the creative process that keeps comedy and drama alive and kicking now under threat as broadcasters strive to keep their noses clean? And we’ll look at the UN backed radio station that tries to run a western style independent news and information service in the middle of a central African civil war.

Stephen Carter

Stephen CarterYou might well not of heard of him but rest assured that what he decides will end up affecting us all pretty directly. Because, now as Lord Carter - he makes his maiden speech in the House of Lords tonight - he’s Britain’s first ever minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting. Taken together these industries are reckoned to employ 500,000 people and to turn over £52 billion pounds a year.

Listen to extended interview with Stephen Carter

The buzz word is “convergence” and his mission is to draw up a blueprint for the development of “digital Britain”. But along with telecommunications, technology and next generation high speed broadband - all the whizz bang bits - he also gets to look at internet child safety, media literacy, the future (or not…) of digital radio and perhaps the oldest chestnut of all – the future of Public Service Broadcasting – on which subject the government has promised decisions early in the new year.

Lord Carter is really no stranger to these issues since in a previous incarnation he was the founding Chief Executive of Ofcom - the converged media regulator. Carter will report to both Peter Mandelson at Business, Enterprise and regulatory reform and Andy Burnham at culture media and sport and his appointment – by Gordon Brown - is being talked up as a “gear change for government.”

DCMS

Radio Okapi

Radio OkapiPublic debate is something we probably take for granted. As are the free press and broadcasting organisations necessary to for it to flourish. But in developing countries, and especially when they are at war, those freedoms are very rarely to be found.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently in the throes of a civil war with some similarly sensitive ethnic and tribal overtones to the war in Rwanda.

But there is one  radio station where you can find all parties to the conflict – even sometimes in the same programmes. Radio Okapi was started 6 years ago by the United Nations and the Hirondelle Foundation –  a group of western journalists who had witnessed the horrors of Rwanda. What’s more all it’s journalists out in the field are Congalese - recruited and trained locally.

Steve heard how Radio Okapi is helping people in the current crisis from Jean-Marie Etter, the director of the Hirondelle Foundation.

Radio Okapi
Foundation Hirondelle

Creative Risk and Comedy

Much Binding in the Marsh; Richard Murdoch, Dora Bryan and Kenneth HorneNow the BBC director general Mark Thompson found himself last week having to sort of face both ways at once. On one hand seeking to reassure licence payers that “manuelgate” or “sachsgate” – depending on which newspaper you read – would not be allowed to happen again at the same time as maintaining that the BBC’s appetite for creative risk-taking remained as strong as ever.

Sentiments no doubt genuinely meant. But can the circle be squared quite so straightforwardly and is it possible to maintain the creative vitality necessary to really challenge and entertain audiences when corporate caution for fear of provoking untoward public reaction is the order of the day?

Steve is joined by Andrew Newman Head of Entertainment and Comedy for Channel 4 – who’s worked, amongst many other things, on Brass Eye, The Big Breakfast and that paragon of good taste and broadcasting virtue – The Word, and Jon Holmes who is a comedy writer and performer with credits including Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. He’s also been sacked for a controversial Virgin Radio stunt entitled “Swearing Radio Hangman for the Under 12s”.

Comments on today's programme

BBC Licence:
Once again the BBC Licence was described as an unavoidable and unfair tax without any analysis of the funding of ITV.The vast range of services that come from the BBC is never high-lighted and neither is that paucity of services that we get from ITV. Personally I think that Radio 4 is worth the fee alone. In the Border TV area we are losing the last of the regional stations and the autonomous TV production that has explained us to ourselves for 47 years. With it goes opportunities to enter the industry locally. Most of the industry has been sucked into the London Maw.ITV is not funded with Lottery money or sea-shells or manna from heaven. It is paid for with advertising revenue. Ads which are transmitted in ever increasing breaks of 5 to 6 minutes. Some programmes have 15 to 20 minutes of advert pollution per hour. The 7 minute per hour limit disappeared long ago thanks to the puscillanimous OFCOM.ITV per annum costs as much as the BBC for an ever decreasing and dumber service. Those costs are paid for by a purchase tax on goods which every one pays whether they have a TV or not. Now that is what I call unfair.Come on BBC. Stop taking it lying down.Fight back.
Alan Marsden, Penrith

With the veritable Pandora’s Box that can be elicited with a prospect of Channel 4 becoming an ‘Public Service Broadcaster’ I will be Devils Advocate with this proposal: Scrap the TV Licence.I for one resent having a sawn off shotgun aimed at my temple for the dubious privilege of enjoying the increasingly tawdry fare passed up by Auntie as entertainment. There is really no difference between her dross and that of Channel 4 or indeed any other TV channel. Coupled with the complete abdication to Sky Sports for coverage of e.g. the Rugby League World Cup, and what good is the licence other than to line the pockets of presenters and execs? American football and indoor cycling world cup indeed call them sports because I don’t?
Barry Cross

Ross And Brand and Comedy:
Your talking heads were totally complacent. One implied that the problem was that Andrew Sachs had not chosen to give consent. So its his fault is it?The abusive nature of the original telephone calls and the Ross/Brand byplay was compounded by the failure of the production team to deal fairly with Andrew Sachs. Their undertaking on consent were valueless and the programme was broadcast in breach of promises as well as taste.The whole thing smells of juvenile bullying. The fact that only 2 complaints were originally received was presumably due to a small as well as supine audience. If your 2 test dummies think that apathy will help their 'all good fun - look at our brave wit' approach will pass they are mistaken. Apathy rules but not to that extent. The constant comparison to the de-bunking role of "Have I got News for You" is weak. Those prctioners are far superior to Ross let alone Brand.The politicos and media folk criticised have signed up for publicity and are usually getting in the neck for hypocrisy and pretence. Your interviewees were weak but no doubt pocketted a good fee for such dullards.
John Hartman  

So this telephone incident was 'just a case of not requesting permission'? Has no one on the show have any knowledge of the Telecoms Act? Quote:- 'Improper use of public electronic communications network (1) A person is guilty of an offence if he— (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or (b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent. (2) A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he— (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false, (b) causes such a message to be sent; or (c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network. (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both'.
Gordon Thom

What your contributors failed to acknowledge is that much modern so-called comedy is simply not funny. Certainly utterly un-amusing to the main body of licence-fee-payers ie middle-aged, Middle-England. So why should we pay for it ? As to Channel 4 - it is ersatz BBC 4. Why not simply integrate the two ? We could then save on overheads - C4’s boss’s £1 million plus wages and the awful Snow person, to mention just 2. 
Edward Wheatley

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The Media Show

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Previous Programmes

1 October 2008
Andy Burnham on public service broadcasting

8 October 2008
Michael Grade on ITV
 
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Stephen Carter

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Lionel Barber and the FT

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Jeremy Hunt, Gaza Reporting and New Talent

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21 January 2009
Ofcom's PSB Review, Ross' return and British News
 
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4 February 2009
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25 March 2009
Future of Journalism, Obama, Radio Caroline

Steve Hewlett

Steve Hewlett

Steve Hewlett is a Guardian Columnist and broadcasting consultant. He is visiting Professor of Journalism and Broadcast policy at Salford University and a fellow of the Royal Television Society.


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