On last week’s ToryDiary, ConservativeHome welcomed David Cameron’s decision to include ‘big media’ in his commitment to stand up to big business. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, has today developed Mr Cameron’s commitment in a speech to the International Media and Communications Summit in Oxford.
The speech is reported in this morning’s Times, Sun and Daily Mail. This new Tory commitment to a diverse media will endear the party to media groups that are threatened by the BBC’s state-licenced dominance. Over many years the BBC has stifled diversity in the media (despite its hilarious new commitment to interview minicab drivers about technology) and the Tories are right to protect the possibilities for genuine diversity that are presented by new media technologies.
The same red corner prejudices are apparent in much of the BBC’s old media output and new media offer important gains for all those who value freedom of expression and the emergence of a conservative infrastructure.
For a long time the Tories have complained about BBC bias but have retreated from advocating radical reform of the Corporation for fear of the political fallout. This strategy – if developed – of championing competition to the BBC – is a very sensible way forward. Over time new media will eat away at the BBC’s monopoly and its ability to levy the licence-fee-poll-tax may be increasingly questioned.
Mr Osborne’s words speak for themselves and a key extract is reprinted below.
“From whichever country you’ve come from to be here, I’m sure that
you’ll have come into contact with the BBC. Its internet site receives
1 billion page impressions a month from outside the UK. Its TV and
radio programmes are watched the world over. And the quality of its
news reporting is renowned in every corner of the planet. We can be
rightly proud of the output of the BBC. British broadcasting is
stronger for having three sources of revenue – advertising,
subscription, and the license fee.
But, of course, the BBC receives most of its money from the
compulsory license fee – a tax in all but name. It is sheltered from
the pressures of the market. As new forms of media develop, I believe
that the BBC must be very careful about not abusing its privileged
position and huge resources to crowd out smaller players. I am
concerned that in too many of its non-core activities, particularly on
the internet, it is stifling the growth of innovative new companies
that simply can’t compete with BBC budgets. For example, the BBC’s
license-fee funded ability to hand out quality content free online
makes it very difficult for other providers to move into the new video
Another example is the BBC’s plan to launch programming for local
communities – what it calls ‘Ultra Local Television’. This might sound
like a reasonable idea, but it could have a ruinous effect on local
newspapers and local radio stations. This isn’t in the interests of
the British public – who are denied new products and services, and
ultimately, it isn’t in the interests of the BBC who need the
competition. And so as part of the framework government can provide
for the creative industries to flourish, we should consider
establishing a clear set of rules about what areas the BBC should focus
on, and which it should be made to set aside for creative people like
you. It is not clear to me that the new Charter does that. And the
Government needs to think very carefully about offering an
inflation-busting increase in the license fee as it negotiates the next
seven year settlement. The BBC must not become the Bull in the China
Shop of new media. As the American administrator John Gardner put it
so well – ‘the best thing we can do for creative people is to stand out
of their light.’"