Archive for the ‘MacTaggart’ tag

Murdoch vs Peston; but how do we really sustain public interest journalism?

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Reading reports about the alleged dust up between James Murdoch and Robert Peston in Edinburgh one gets the impression that their views about the future of UK media were diametrically opposed to one another. Yet reading their speeches in full (Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture and Robert Peston’s Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture) one is struck by the frequency with which they agree.

Both emphasise that the lines that used to divide print, broadcast and digital are disappearing. “Broadcasting is now part of a single all-media market” Murdoch said. Peston made the same point but directed it more at journalism: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete”.

Both also noted how digital convergence is a fact of life for the producer if not yet for all consumers. “Even if part of the consumption of media remains in the analogue world”, Murdoch said, “…the production of those creative works is already wholly digital”. Anyone thinking of joining the industry, Peston said, should not, “think of themselves as wanting to be broadcast journalists, or radio journalists or print journalists: [because] increasingly it’s all the same thing”. “[I]n national and international news,’ Peston continued, “convergence has in a very fundamental sense already happened for TV, radio and newspapers. We all do video, audio and the written word.”

And both recognised the unsustainability of contemporary media regulation. Peston was very clear; “Old regulations don’t fit the new media world”. For Murdoch, “we [in the UK] have analogue attitudes in a digital age” and a regulatory framework that constrains “enterprise, free choice and commercial investment”.

Where they differed, of course, was in their attitudes to how this regulation might change. For Murdoch the – rather simplistic – answer to regulatory inconsistency was to get rid of all regulation (well, almost all. Murdoch would like the government to crack down on illegal downloaders). Remove regulation, and cut the BBC down to a fraction of its current size and, Murdoch argued, the UK would release a fountain of pent-up creative energy and investment.

One wonders how familiar Murdoch is with the US. For someone who spends half his life on a plane it seems strange he does not make reference to the crisis in funding of journalism there. Few news organisations have successfully been able to charge for content in the States, despite the lack of a BBC. Still, he could justifiably counter that there has been more investment in innovation in the US, and more urgency to find new digital business models.

Peston’s attitude towards regulation is rather less apocalyptic. Peston is no Pangloss but he does not, like Murdoch, see regulation as inherently regressive. Indeed Peston remarks on the fantastic failure of market mechanisms to prevent financial collapse in 2007/08. Yet though Peston feels uneasy about significant media deregulation, he recognises that his uneasiness ‘may not be rational’. For such decisions to be made rationally, Peston suggests, we need ‘a robust new way of measuring market share’. A sensible observation that could be extended beyond market share to measurement of output. Peston is also, as one might expect, rather less down on the BBC.

Missing from both speeches was a realistic vision of how best to sustain public interest journalism in the digital age. Murdoch made very clear what he was against, but his easy solution to the crisis in news – deregulate – was unconvincing. Peston gave us an insight into the eye of the crisis – from someone who has been in the middle it – but not a route out.

Helpful as it may be to bring attention to the ongoing woes of the media – and news in particular – we need more ideas about where to go next. Whether or not you disagree with the Press Associations public service reporting initiative, or with Ofcom’s proposals for IFNC’s, at least they represent attempts to work out how to solve the ‘democratic deficit’ problem. That problem is likely to become even more acute this autumn whatever the government’s approach to liberalization of media ownership.

Written by Martin Moore

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:22 am

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ITV's entertaining interpretation of public service TV

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Let me get this straight. Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, believes entertainment programmes like the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent should be more clearly defined as ‘public service’, so that they can become better supported by the state – if necessary to the detriment of news, current affairs and children’s programmes.

If I’ve understood the speech he gave to the Edinburgh TV festival on Friday correctly, he is arguing that big-budget high entertainment is the preserve of old broadcasters like ITV. Only these 20th century broadcasting giants can deliver both the programme quality and the bums on seats that provide a shared national experience, he suggests. The market does not – cannot – make these kinds of programmes for broad audiences. As such, ITV should be released from its other onerous public service commitments so that it can focus on these types of programmes. ‘Keep TV popular’ is Fincham’s mantra.

Hogwash. Or in the words of the London mayor, piffle. Fincham’s argument falls down on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

The market, bless it, does provide these sorts of programmes and will provide them whether or not ITV exists to commission / make them. Indeed if the market was left to its own devices there is a good chance many TV channels would make these programmes almost exclusively (which is no doubt one of Fincham’s worries).

More astonishing is Fincham’s attack on the state – on the “television that is understood by regulators, consultants, strategists and media commentators”. Not only is it far too easy to cast OFCOM and the DCMS as the villains of the piece, it’s also completely misleading. If anything, OFCOM has been one of ITV’s biggest cheerleaders. Listen to it arguing that ITV should be released from its commitments to regional news and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a party political broadcast for the third channel. It is not OFCOM’s fault that ITV has lost viewers in droves, nor that ITV made such a terrible hash of its new media strategy (remember Friends Reunited?).

As for Fincham’s apparent vision – for a channel that is subsidised to make commercial entertainment, has its profits protected from the stiff wind of competition, and has almost no other programming obligations. Can you think of any country in the world where this happens? The only parallel I can think of is the Roman amphitheatre (which some of the programmes cited by Fincham bear more than a passing resemblance to).

To whose benefit is this vision? To the publics? It seems as though the public have already made their view clear, by deserting ITV to entertain themselves in other ways. No, the vision seems only to benefit established broadcasters, most notably ITV.

Only an industry like television, that has enjoyed such a prolonged golden age, could be so myopic as to think that, purely due to its legacy, it should be such a major recipient of state support. And, that the support should come without any strings attached.

Written by Martin Moore

August 26th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

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Existential angst in Edinburgh

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A piece I’ve written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free about Jeremy Paxman’s MacTaggart lecture:

Fuelled by pipe tobacco and past experiences of mescalin, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a play – Les Séquestrés d’Altona – in which one of the lead characters appeals to a court of crabs to judge his actions and his guilt. The crabs were meant to signify both his peers and posterity, and the appeal is symbolic of the ethical dilemmas we face and of our need to be judged (I think, although the exact meaning of the play is famously obtuse).

I was reminded of Sartre’s existential angst by Jeremy Paxman’s MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival – Never Mind the Scandals: What’s it All For? In an atypically reflective, but reassuringly spiky critique of the television industry, Paxman appealed to a court of his peers to “rediscover a sense of purpose”, to do “less hyperventilating and more deep breathing”. We need more cogitation and rumination, Paxman said, and less herd-like stampeding for media “impact”.

For the rest of ‘TV: fading to a dot?‘ (not my title by the way), go to

Written by Martin Moore

August 31st, 2007 at 12:09 pm

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