Andy Burnham at Oxford Media Convention

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At the annual ‘big media’ shindig in Oxford today, at which Andy Burnham – Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is making the keynote and, in his own words, not ‘playing safe’.

He is making his speech in the shadow of Obama’s inauguration – and like Obama – Burnham spends alot of time drawing of lines in the sand. ’The old media world has ended’ Burnham said, and ‘… with it must go old thinking’. He called this ”A year of decision’, and even went so far as to call for ’Change we can all believe in’. All very Barack.
Burnham said he wanted to get away from ‘fevered and introverted industry debates’. Although then, rather bizarrely, cited the debate about Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand as evidence that the public care about standards, and showed that ‘quality and standards matter’. Curious, that seemed to me more like a ‘fevered and introverted industry debate’.
The government is committed to public service broadcasting provision beyond the BBC, the Secretary of State said, and gave three reasons for this: (1) because it ‘provides range of voices and perspectives’ that is crucially important in, for example, news and current affairs (2) it creates competition which is inherently good for the public and (3) it lays a ‘bedrock of quality’ from which other quality grows.
So what does public service provision mean? Well, news, current affairs and childrens (of course). Non-metropolitan (i.e. London) output. Independent producers. Encouraging risk taking & innovation.
All pretty motherhood and apple pie at this point. Though Burnham then pointed to programming that was missing – even from the Timbuktu end of the cable TV spectrum. More Shakespeare. Programming for the over-65s. Coverage of women and girls sport (?).
Then onto the meat. The ‘public interest’, Burnham said, should be sustained by upholding the BBC and other public service broadcasters. The BBC will have to change, and maybe this means putting ’partnership into the BBC’s DNA’. We should, the Minister suggested, add ‘enable’ tothe BBC’s ‘inform, educate and entertain’.
Local news provision ‘has to rise up the political agenda’. Ahhh, more politicians recognising the crisis in local news (see previous blog). Here Burnham argued we needed to look at all options for new partnerships to help local news – private, public and community bodies. A possible solution might be ‘a national network of local consortium’ he said.
Still, having stressed the importance of local news, Burnham then accepted  that the regional news obligations of ITV should be relaxed.
Finally Channel 4. It is, the Secretary of State stressed, here to stay. But… it may have to have ‘A more specific remit’, it will need to explore partnerships – and not just with WorldWide or Five. Oh, and neither did he shut the door on using the digital surplus.
Hmmm… year of decision or audacity of hope?

Written by Martin Moore

January 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 am

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