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Ben Bradshaw’s speech in full: BBC has probably ‘reached limits of reasonable expansion’

September 17th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

Ben Bradshaw’s speech from the Royal Television Society’s binnenial convention in Cambridge last night, his first since becoming the British culture secretary in June. In his speech he criticised James Murdoch’s recent comments in Edinburgh and discussed regulation, regional news and public service broadcasting. The headline grabbing comments concerned the BBC: Bradshaw said that there could be a case for a ‘smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune and privilege to be the BBC correspondent in Berlin. I had arrived there in the beginning of 1989 – as a rookie reporter from BBC Radio Devon – to a posting considered a bit of a backwater.

Not much had happened in Berlin since the wall had gone up. My predecessor’s biggest story in four years was the death of the elderly Nazi, Rudolph Hess, in Spandau Prison. Within weeks of my arrival, the East Germans were revolting and in just a few short months the Berlin Wall was
down. In career terms – it was very lucky timing.

I’ve been recalling the events of 20 years ago quite a lot recently. Not just because of the impending anniversary, but because of the loud and bad tempered debate in Britain about the future of public service broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular.

 I have many memories of that time in Berlin, personal and professional.

But one of the most abiding is of the stream of East Germans in the days after the Wall came down, who were able, for the first time, to visit the BBC office in West Berlin. They came to say ‘thank you’ for the programmes that had sustained them during decades of Communist rule.

When I asked them why they listened to the BBC, rather than the much better resourced Deutsche Welle, or the West Berlin stations or the Voice of America, they gave a variety of answers, but there was a common theme: “You don’t preach to us. You don’t treat us East Germans as second class Germans. Your news is fair. You don’t pretend everything in your own country is perfect, so we believe what you say about other things. You allow different voices.”

Broadcasting – changing world

The two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall have seen a profound and accelerating change in our media landscape. You know better than most the journey from the analogue world of three heavily regulated broadcasters and a small add-on commercial market, to the digital world where the market is much larger, with a multimedia element, and where the public intervention is represented essentially by the BBC, with a self-funding Channel 4 gingering up the public service end.

It has been a transition from what could be called a command and control to a mixed economy.

In that transition some things have been lost or endangered – plural provision of children’s programming, high-end drama and, across all media, the viability of commercially provided news, locally, regionally and in the Nations.

But the changes have also brought huge gains for the consumer and for the industry. There is a choice of programming and of technology-driven convenience and quality unthinkable back then. Although current trading conditions are tough, the industry is fundamentally healthy both commercially and creatively, winning Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes.

Our production sector makes the UK the world’s largest programme exporter after the US and by far the leading exploiter of programme formats, with over half of the global market.


 This mixed economy has served the interests of the public, both as citizens and as consumers. It would seem to be what people want.

When we do intervene or regulate, we try to do so in a way that best allows the market to grow, to evolve, to expand. And we try to do so in ways that sustain the core values to which the public continue to attach importance – impartiality in news, effective protection for children and so on.

In the last 20 years, the private/public mix has continued to innovate to anticipate and reflect public taste.

Technical innovations such as Sky Plus, High Definition and the iPlayer; an impressive range of innovation in content, from new talent to new formats; new regulatory models encouraging the growth of the independent sector outside London. And – at the centre of public provision – a strong, stable BBC with the security of income fixed for several years at a time to ensure its independence, both politically and commercially.

As we come towards the end of the transition from the old analogue world to the fully digital world, the challenge is to secure a consensus on whether our mixed economy remains the right approach – which I believe it is – and how to maintain it for the long term.

This is an appropriate point at which to thank Stephen Carter and his team for their excellent work in Digital Britain which provides both the long-term framework for government’s policy on the digital economy and our next steps.

Competing visions for future of public service

Just as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall we have just marked another significant 20th anniversary – that of a Murdoch making a speech about the media in Edinburgh.

Murdoch speeches in Edinburgh are designed to be – how should I say – thought provoking. And James’ certainly was. Among his most striking assertions were that profit is the only guarantor of independence; that people are better informed if broadcasting is left to the market; that regulation needs sweeping away; and what he called state sponsorship – by implication the BBC – must be far, far smaller.

Profit the only guarantor of independence? I’m not sure that the market has secured the independent quality broadcasting that citizens in some modern democracies might expect. As for the market informing people better – that has not been my experience travelling around the United States, compared with the more regulated mixed media economies of Europe.

No, I do not believe that the market alone can deliver the plural sources and high standards of independent and impartial news and current affairs, let alone the richness of innovation and quality in other areas like drama, comedy, natural history and children’s programmes for which Britain is envied worldwide. There are important areas of content as well as infrastructure that the public says it values, wants and expects, and that the unregulated market will simply not provide.

Future of public service broadcasting

I challenge James Murdoch’s use of the term Orwellian to describe Britain’s media landscape. Being publicly funded or subject to statutory regulation does not equate with state control. East German TV was state controlled. That’s why those East Germans valued the BBC – it was free, diverse, self critical.

And the British people understand the distinction between publicly funded and state controlled too. Otherwise they would not consistently say they trust the BBC more than any other media organisation – more than ever according to the latest survey, in spite of the summer media onslaught on
the corporation.

So James said things with which I profoundly disagree. But he also did us all a favour by asking legitimate questions and raising genuine concerns that our public discourse has been skirting around for too long. He was right to raise questions about the BBC’s size, its remit and its impact on the rest of the British media industry.

In the 20 years since I was reporting Berlin, the BBC has gone from being a service of two television channels, four national radio stations, a local radio network, a teletext service and some videotape sales, to a BBC with eight linear TV channels, several interactive and high definition channels, nine national radio stations and a dominant local radio network, the iPlayer, a world-leading online presence, and a commercial publishing, DVD , television and multimedia empire of some scale.

And if it were to continue on anything like that trajectory, the rest of the industry would be right to be worried and the mixed economy would be seriously imbalanced. 

Since James Murdoch’s speech the BBC has another review of itself, including, we are told, looking at its size.

And then Sir Michael Lyons comes up with his £5.50 ‘give-a-way’ and appears to be arguing he would rather the licence fee were smaller than the BBC share any of it to save regional news. What’s to be made of this? Is this really about the long term interests of public service content? I would just like to point out that the £5.50 is not the BBC’s to give away.

It was agreed on top of the current licence fee income for the BBC to fund help with digital switchover. However, Michael, if you want to return £5.50 from the BBC’s share of the licence fee to the public – or more if you wish – let me know and I’m sure it can be arranged!

This is not a serious or sensible way to have a debate about something as important as the future of the BBC and public service broadcasting. 

I happen to think the BBC probably has reached the limits of reasonable expansion.

 I believe the corporation is right to be looking more carefully at what it pays its stars and executives.

It is time for the BBC to allow the National Audit Office access to its accounts. 

I’m also concerned about the regulatory structure of the BBC.

Although the Trust has performed better than its predecessor, I don’t think it is a sustainable model in the long term. I know of no other area of public life where – as is the case with the Trust – the same body is both regulator and cheerleader.

And finally, there may indeed be a case for a smaller licence fee. But there is a proper timetable for determining that. One of the unbroken conventions adhered to by successive Governments, to avoid the suggestion of political interference in or pressure on the BBC, has been to respect the multi-annual settlement system. I resolutely believe that to be right. Any attempt to break that convention would rightly be seen as a direct assault on the BBC’s independence.

However, there will need to be a decision in around two years time on the licence fee after 2012. During the next Parliament the shape of the new Charter with the BBC will need to be agreed. This will beg even bigger questions than those I’ve already just posed. Do we as a nation still value public service broadcasting? Do we want the BBC to survive and, if so, what do we want it to do and how do we want to pay for it?

These are very profound and hard questions to answer. Harder than at any time since the BBC was born given the speed with which the media environment is now changing. They cannot and should not be resolved by the BBC reviewing itself. Nor by speeches by media moguls or politicians. The public also needs to be heard in this discussion. They pay for it after all. They are the customer.

This means that the process, the discussions and consultation in the run up to the end of this licence fee and charter period will need to be even more open, even more fundamental than those we conducted before the current settlement. A proper national conversation, certainly not a stitch up behind closed doors between BBC management and politicians. Only that way will whatever is agreed have the legitimacy to withstand the onslaught from the BBC’s enemies and critics and stand the test of time.

The regulatory structure

I have spoken about one way in which government intervenes in the market for public benefit – public service broadcasting, now let me turn to the other, regulation.

There are those who argue that because of the revolutionary changes to the broadcasting landscape the traditional approach to regulation is outdated. I agree: but our approach is not traditional. At the same time, however, this does not mean to say that we can or should do away with regulation all together.

It is often those who call loudest for deregulation and non-intervention in areas that affect them who are quickest to call for intervention and regulation where it benefits them. The fact that we have some of the lowest wholesale broadband prices in Europe is not an accident or the product of the market. It is the product of regulation that has enabled vigorous competition – including from new entrants.

There is a serious point here about the right kind of regulation. When it comes to regulating for convergence, it is worth remembering that in establishing Ofcom Britain led the way in Europe by bringing content, delivery and wireless spectrum regulation together in one place. Ofcom has done so with two-thirds of the staff and lower costs then the five bodies that preceded it. And it is our approach to wireless spectrum, of liberalisation, deregulation and market mechanisms that have become the new European model.

Of course regulation needs to evolve as consumers’ habits change. The key is to move with the public. They expect broadcasters to have a duty of care when running phone-in programmes. They still value the watershed. They still expect protection against offensive material beamed unbidden into their living room, as opposed to what they actively go and get from walking to the newsagent or surfing the internet. They enjoy the rumbustious opinion and style in the print media. But they trust the impartiality of broadcast news.

This is the strength of the mixed economy. However, that does not mean we are interested in regulation for regulation’s sake, which is why I want to change our approach on product placement. We’ll consult on this shortly and would hope to have any change in place in the New Year.

To the critics of our regulatory structure I ask the simple question: if regulation were a problem in itself, how is it our media market is amongst the most successful in the world? It is because we have got the right balance between public and private. We have stayed ahead of the game and, as our Digital Britain plans show, we are determined to maximise the future potential of the broadcasting industry.

A draft Digital Economy Bill is taking shape, ready for the next session of parliament. In addition to tackling unlawful file-sharing it paves the way for universal broadband – future-proofed – and for delivering digital radio and next generation-mobile services. Digital Britain commits us to a new remit for Channel 4, building upon the vision of Next on 4, moving it firmly into the digital age.

Andy Duncan was, of course, the driving force behind Next on 4 and I’m very grateful to Andy for the leadership he has shown Channel 4 through a period of unprecedented change in the media world. He has been instrumental in repositioning  Channel 4 for the digital age and I’m sure we all wish him all the best for the future.

This time last week the switch to digital TV reached its millionth home. The analogue system is only three years away from being switched off entirely. Three out of every four sets in the country now receive multichannel television – nine out of 10 households. And the Switchover Help Scheme we established has now helped more that 100,000 older and disabled people to switch, providing equipment, installation and aftercare.

Next month we will have many of the most influential global figures around the table at the inaugural c&binet conference – our Davos of the creative industries – aimed at identifying and supporting the most effective way of protecting, producing and commercialising creative work.

Regional and local media

I mentioned earlier the threat to plural news programmes in the regions and nations. As a former local newspaper and local radio journalist I would be acutely aware of the importance of good local news to the public, even without my constituents reminding me on a regular basis.

The high viewing figures for regional news are no accident. People want to know what’s happening in their patch. It helps maintain a sense of local and regional identity and pride. It plays a vital part in a democracy at holding local authorities, the NHS and other public organisations to account. It’s reporters and presenters have a far more intimate relationship with the viewers than those on the network.

When in the South West earlier this year Carlton amalgamated its former two news regions into one – based in Bristol – my constituents were not happy. They lost their dedicated ITV evening news programme produced and edited from Plymouth with an even more local opt out from Exeter. While the Carlton journalists do a valiant job of reporting their vast new region with limited resources, we all know that the economics of local and regional news are getting less and less sustainable. The poll we published yesterday showed 84% of the public think it’s important to have a choice of sources of regional and local news.

Seven out of 10 people want regional news on more than just one channel. And one cannot will the ends without the means. Two thirds of those questioned supported our idea of using the equivalent fraction of the licence fee that’s currently ring-fenced for switchover to secure plural regional news for the future. We said when we announced this in Digital Britain that we thought this was a fair, transparent and sustainable solution, but that we were open to other ideas.

We still are. I note Mark, your interesting suggestion of floating some of BBC Worldwide and I look forward to hearing more about this proposal. But we are determined not to lose plural news provision in the regions. It seems crazy that people all over the world can access the brilliant BBC website if we cannot provide a choice of quality regional news to people here at home.

The consultation closes 22nd September – after which it’s essential we press on with plans for three pilots of local news consortia, one each in Scotland, Wales and an English region, which we hope can begin in the course of next year.

Skills and talent

Plurality is not the only virtue of the local news consortia idea. They will also provide a valuable opportunity to find new skills and talent, opening up opportunities in the media to young people in cities like mine.

I very much hope that the Government can help you help the next generation of local journalists using not just these new consortia but in all the good work you already do to encourage young people and build skills.

The creative industries, the digital economy and the media are areas where this country is by nature and history strong. They make a large and increasing contribution to our national economy and will provide a significant proportion of the employment growth in the future.

That’s why, as part of the Government’s future jobs fund – my colleague Yvette Cooper and I have agreed to fund between 5,000 and 10,000 new jobs in the creative sector. I know some of you are already involved in this venture and I would urge more of you to come on board. The scheme will not only help thousands of young people whose employment prospects have been the worst hit by the global down turn – but they will help you and us find and nurture the creative and media talent of the future.

Conclusion

I have argued tonight that public service broadcasting has informed, entertained and enriched Britain, and generations of Britons. The BBC has been central to that in the past and I hope will continue to be in the future.

Equally, the market has brought huge benefits. When those East Germans were streaming through the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, there were no mobile phones, let alone blackberries or multi-channel digital televisions. High-speed broadband, downloads and video-on-demand were glints in the eyes of the visionary few rather than central to all of your business models. It is the market that has driven and delivered this change.

This mixed economy – free but regulated, public service and private – has served Britain well.

In his Edinburgh speech, James Murdoch described it – actually you, Britain’s broadcast media – as the ‘Addams Family’ of the world’s media. I don’t know how you felt about that. And I assume he didn’t mean it kindly. But aren’t the Addams family a well-loved, long running, world-wide hit? And haven’t you, this British Addams family, won seven out of the 10 international EMMYs two years running? And don’t you export £1 billion of TV content every year? So, maybe on this definition of the Addams family, I finally find something on which James and I wholeheartedly agree.

Thank you.

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James Murdoch speech in full: ‘The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit’

September 1st, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

James Murdoch’s speech at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival on Friday, titled ‘The Absence of Trust,’ concluded that ‘the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit’. The News Corp (Europe and Asia) chairman and chief executive’s proclamation that the scale and scope of the BBC’s activities and ambitions are ‘chilling’ caused the most comment among the media critics, not least from the BBC’s Robert Peston…

For related content see:

“The BBC’s significant and sprawling web presence in the UK does indeed soak up potential news audience time rather than advertising, but it is highly dubious whether it is in itself the largest obstacle to charging for online content.”

“The BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, was involved in an astonishing slanging match with James Murdoch following the News Corporation chief’s speech to television executives in Edinburgh where he accused the BBC of mounting a ‘land grab’.”

  • Peston’s Picks: Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture, given at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival by Robert Peston, on Saturday 29 August 2009: What future for media and journalism?, updated in light of Murdoch’s comments.

“Now I wrote all this before hearing James Murdoch’s passionate call in his MacTaggart Lecture for the dismantling of the BBC and the near total liberalisation of the media. But if there is a thread running through my lecture, it is this. Market-based democracies like ours need two kinds of essential infrastructure: robust financial systems that transmit cash and allocate capital where it will be most useful; and competing independent news groups that distribute impartial information so that people can take control of their lives and rein in the over-mighty.”

“James Murdoch’s swingeing attack on the BBC divided senior industry executives at the Edinburgh television festival yesterday.”

“[T]his year with a Tory Party increasingly sceptical of the BBC’s scope and scale on the brink of power, the corporation faces the threat of a powerful alliance between Cameron’s Conservatives and Murdoch’s News Corporation.”

Full speech text below:

2009 Edinburgh International Television Festival
MacTaggart Lecture
James Murdoch
28 August 2009

THE ABSENCE OF TRUST

Good evening and thank you for having me here tonight. Thanks also to Tim for those kind words of welcome.

I think this is the first time that someone who has delivered the alternative MacTaggart has graduated – if that’s the right word – to the real thing.

So I am both proud and honoured to be paving the way for Ant and Dec, who should be standing here tonight in 2018 if this trend continues.

Of course I’m flattered to be asked, but I am also a little worried. Does this finally mark my invitation to join the British broadcasting establishment?

While that thought does terrify me, I am comforted in the knowledge that after my remarks my membership will have been a brief one…

And it also occurred to me that I qualified for the invitation only after I gave up my executive role at Sky. I now spend most of my time engaged in other parts of the world and other parts of the media industry. Perhaps that means I am regarded as being safely at a bit of a distance.

But I do welcome the opportunity to talk to you all about the media in the UK – and a slight distancing might help.

You can be the judges of that.

When we gather as an industry, it’s natural for us to talk about the future. I’d like to do something different tonight: to turn our focus firmly to the present. Because the path we are already on is a dangerous one.

In particular, what I want to discuss is our digital present that is right here – it has been here for a while, in fact. A digital present that ought to compel us to make some urgent choices about where we want to go as an industry and as a society: choices which, I will argue tonight, we are currently either avoiding or mishandling.

It’s easy to lose sight of how digital we already are.

The inescapable thing about the present is that everything in it is already digital. Even if part of the consumption of media remains in the analogue world – opening a newspaper or a book, going to see a film in a cinema – the production of those creative works is already wholly digital, and the proportion that is consumed by digital means is growing all the time.

So talking about a coming digital future, or a digital transformation, is to ignore the evidence that it has already happened.

Why do I think we are getting this wrong? Why do I believe we need to change direction as a matter of urgency? It’s quite simple.

Because we have analogue attitudes in a digital age.

We have business models and a policy framework based on spectrum scarcity.

We have limited choice, and we have central planning.

The result is lost opportunities for enterprise, free choice and commercial investment.

If we recognise that truth and change in the right way, the opportunities and benefits for all of us and – more importantly – for consumers and society are powerful and attractive.

We know we have to change: the digital present is forcing us to make urgent choices.

First, the velocity of the transformation of our industry has radically increased. You know this and I don’t need to dwell on it.

Second, in this rapidly changing world the boundaries between media have broken down.

People consume content in a very fluid way, and that is reflected in the way we provide it. What were once separate forms of communication, or separate media, are now increasingly interconnected and exchangeable. So we no longer have a TV market, a newspaper market, a publishing market. We have, indisputably, an all-media market.

Third, the boundaries of what we mean by media are themselves expanding. In Japan, you can now buy your granny a mobile phone called a ‘raku raku’ – which means ‘easy easy’ – designed specifically for the elderly. It has a built-in pedometer to track how many steps she is taking each day. And you can set that so that it sends a daily e-mail to your inbox, letting you know your granny is still up and about and getting the right amount of exercise. There might be an advertisement attached. Is that media? Or health-care provision? Or is it both?

This all sounds like a dynamic, exciting, thriving sector to be part of. Moving faster, being more interconnected, expanding its scope. And in some ways it is.

But the present is not as great as we tell ourselves.

You don’t need to scratch the surface very hard to see that opportunities for media businesses are limited, investment and innovation are constrained, and creativity is reduced.

This is bad for customers and society.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

It argued that the most dramatic evolutionary changes can occur through an  entirely natural process. Darwin proved that evolution is unmanaged.

These views were an enormous challenge to Victorian religious orthodoxy.
They remain a provocation to many people today. The number who reject Darwin and cling to the concept of creationism is substantial. And it crops up in some surprising places.

For example, right here in the broadcasting sector in the UK.

The consensus appears to be that creationism – the belief in a managed process with an omniscient authority – is the only way to achieve successful outcomes. There is general agreement that the natural operation of the market is inadequate, and that a better outcome can be achieved through the wisdom and activity of governments and regulators.

This creationist approach is similar to the industrial planning which went out of fashion in other sectors in the 1970s. It failed then. It’s failing now.

When I say this I feel like a crazy relative who everyone is a little embarrassed by and for sure is not to be taken too seriously. But tonight you have invited me to join the party and I am going to have a crack at persuading you that we can’t go on like this.

Tonight I will argue that while creationism may provide a comfortable illusion of certainty in the short-term, its harmful effects are real and they are significant.

Creationism penalises the poorest in our society with regressive taxes and policies – like the licence fee and digital switchover; It promotes inefficient infrastructure in the shape of digital terrestrial television; It creates unaccountable institutions – like the BBC Trust, Channel 4 and Ofcom; And now, in the all-media marketplace,it threatens significant damage to important spheres of human enterprise and endeavour – the provision of  independent news, investment in professional journalism, and the innovation and growth of the creative industries.

We are on the wrong path – but we can find the right one.

The right path is all about trusting and empowering consumers. It is about embracing private enterprise and profit as a driver of investment, innovation and independence. And the dramatic reduction of the activities of the state in our sector.

If we do take that better way, then we – all of us in this room and in our wider industry – will make a genuine contribution to a better-informed society; one in which trust in people and their freedom to choose is central to the way we behave.

Often the unique position that the business of ideas enjoys in a free society is used as a justification for greater intrusion and control. On the contrary, its very specialness demands an unusual and vigorous… stillness.

Let’s explore the role of creationism in our sector by asking a few basic
questions.

First question. How do the authorities currently approach intervening in and regulating the media industries?

With relish, is the answer.

In the past five years Ofcom launched nearly 450 consultations – nearly two every week. It has produced three Public Service Broadcasting annual reports, and two Public Service Broadcasting reviews in five phases. These alone have in total – including appendices, special reports and other related material – amounted to over five thousand pages and spawned another 18,000 pages of responses. And those reports have been only a small proportion of the total activity by the regulator. For any of you who missed  them this has included science fiction – a report on ‘Entertainment in the UK in 2028′, and the no doubt vital guide on ‘How to Download’, which teenagers across the land could barely have survived without.

Second question. Is it rational for the authorities to try to manage the media industry in this way? Not at all.

The study of evolution reminds us that it is very difficult to predict the outcomes of events. Interventions can have unforeseen consequences, even when dealing with organisations or marketplaces which seem very easy to understand.

Witness the international banana market. In the 1950s the banana export industry faced a problem: the then dominant Gros Michel – or ‘Big Mike’ – variety was being wiped out by a fungus called Panama Disease. The industry took the decision to replace the entire world export crop with a supposedly disease-resistant variety called the Cavendish banana – the one  we eat today. Unfortunately it now appears that these bananas may themselves be vulnerable to a different kind of Panama Disease. Since Cavendish bananas are genetically identical sterile clones, they cannot build up any resistance.

There are important lessons here: attempts to manage natural diversity have unpredictable consequences and are more likely than not to fail over the long-term.

Talking of bananas brings me neatly to our own authorities and their interventions in the all-media marketplace. Some of these looked, even without the benefit of hindsight, pretty difficult to justify at the time.

To use an example I am familiar with, take the decision of the European Commission to require the broadcasting rights to Premier League football to be divided up so that no one company could buy all the rights. The consequences of that move were predictable enough: customers having to pay more for the same thing because they’d need two subscriptions. However, in defiance of common sense, the Commission apparently believed that prices would instead fall.

Here, the repeated assertion by Ofcom of its bias against intervention is becoming impossible to believe in the face of so much evidence of the exact opposite.

A radical reorientation of the regulatory approach is necessary if dynamism and innovation is going to be central to the UK media industry.

The discipline required is to contemplate intervention only on the evidence of actual and serious harm to the interests of consumers: not merely because a regulator armed with a set of prejudices and a spreadsheet believes that a bit of tinkering here and there could make the world a better place.

Third question. What do the results of these interventions actually look like? Let’s judge by results.

According to the authorities – and I paraphrase – we should have a diverse broadcasting ecology with many PSB providers; a BBC that is not too dominant; growing investment in content of high quality; and high levels of UK production.

Now I invite you to take a look around you. Decades of ever-increasing planning and intervention have produced very different outcomes.

The BBC is dominant. Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC’s income is guaranteed and growing.

In stark contrast, the other terrestrial networks are struggling.

Channel 4 has cut its programme budget by 10%, Five by 25%. Spending on original British children’s programming has fallen by nearly 40% since 2004, including, inexplicably, a 21% fall at the BBC at a time when the Corporation has been able to spend £100m a year out-bidding commercial channels for US programming – a figure which has increased by a quarter in the past two years.

The problems of the terrestrial broadcasters are not about the economic downturn, although it has thrown the issue into sharp relief.

It is not a coincidence that Google has a higher percentage of advertising spending in the UK than anywhere else in the world: it is a consequence of a tightly restricted commercial television sector.

That money will not come back. It is not that ad-funded television is dead: it is just a permanently smaller fish in a bigger pond.

Fourth question. Is this creationism good for investment? No. A heavily regulated environment with a large public sector crowds out the opportunity for profit, hinders the creation of new jobs, and dampens innovation in our sector.

We don’t even have the basics in place to protect creative work. Whether it’s shoplifting at HMV or pirating the same movie online, theft is theft. They are both crimes and should be treated accordingly. The government dithers – dimly aware of what it has to do but afraid to do it.

The investment climate in media in the UK reminds me of Tolstoy’s dictum that all happy families resemble one another, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. True, none of the markets I have experience of is completely happy, but there are things to welcome – the regulatory professionalism of Germany, the growth opportunities of India – even France outdoes us in its robust defence of intellectual property. The problem with the
UK is that it is unhappy in every way: it’s the Addams family of world media.

If such determined efforts to manage the marketplace are failing, it might be useful to look at alternative approaches.

One such approach might be to trust people.

Consider Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman – who discovered that reducing the amount of signs and traffic markings in towns and villages does not make roads more dangerous, as you might imagine. On the contrary, people drive more safely and there are fewer accidents. As Monderman said: “If you treat drivers like idiots, they act as idiots. Never treat anyone in the
public realm as an idiot, always assume they have intelligence.”

In contrast, the authorities in the UK and their clients: those dependent agencies, entities and enterprises, which one way or the other have been made to rely on the largesse of the state – have refused to trust the people who matter – the people who pay the bills as customers and as tax-payers.

Indeed, the defining characteristic of the UK broadcasting consensus is the absence of trust.

Yet there is an example right on our doorstep of the positive developments that come about when we encourage a world of trust and free choice.

Within the next few months, the number of homes in the UK that enjoy some form of television that they freely choose to pay for will top fifty percent. This steady growth of choice-driven television has nothing to do with public policy.

In fact, the authorities have consistently favoured so called free-to-air broadcasting. Yet, as you might expect, people who are used to paying for films, books, internet access and other quality content, do not see anything strange in paying for quality television too.

When pay-television began in this country, it did so largely by providing programmes in genres which public service broadcasting served inadequately: such as 24-hour news, and a broad choice of sport and the latest films.

As originally with news and sport, so now with the arts and drama. Sky now offers four dedicated arts channels. Original commissioning by channels that customers choose to pay for is expanding and will continue to do so, not just from Sky but from the likes of National Geographic, History, MTV and the Disney Channel, to name a few. Sky alone now invests over £1 billion a year in UK content.

And it is this sector which has delivered so many innovations: from multichannel television in the first place, to the launch of digital, personal video recorders, high definition and soon 3D TV in the home.

All this – despite the dampening effect of a massive state-funded intervention which reduces the scope for programme investment and commissioning from independent production companies by private broadcasters. That is a major missed opportunity for the creative industries. And yet the authorities in the UK continue to seek more control and greater intervention.

There are many examples. First, the amount of detailed content regulation in UK broadcasting is astonishing.

Two or three times a month, Ofcom publishes a Broadcasting Bulletin – a recent version weighed in at 119 pages. Adjudications included judgments on whether it is fair to describe Middlesbrough as the worst place to live in the UK; and 20 pages on whether a BBC documentary on climate change was fair to two of the participants. Every year, roughly half-a-million words are being devoted to telling broadcasters what they can and cannot say.

Next, the UK and EU regulatory system also tightly controls advertising: the amount of advertising per hour, the availability of product placement, the distinction between advertising and editorial and so forth.

These rules often seem to have little connection with protecting people from real harm. As an example, Star Plus – one of News Corp’s Hindi language entertainment channels – has been unable to show in the UK the Indian version of ‘Are you smarter than a ten-year old?’ because the logo of an Indian mobile phone company, which does not even operate in this country, appears on the set. What exactly are they afraid of?

Excessive regulation can also have more serious consequences. The latest EU-inspired rules on scheduling of advertising restrict the number of ad breaks permitted in news programming. Television news is already a tough enough business. If implemented, these proposals could undermine the commercial viability of news broadcasting even further.

In addition, the system is concerned with imposing what it calls impartiality in broadcast news. It should hardly be necessary to point out that the mere selection of stories and their place in the running order is itself a process full of unacknowledged partiality.

The effect of the system is not to curb bias – bias is present in all news media – but simply to disguise it.

We should be honest about this: it is an impingement on freedom of speech and on the right of people to choose what kind of news to watch. How in an all-media marketplace can we justify this degree of control in one place and not in others?

Content control, advertising regulation and restrictions on freedom of speech. We have been brought up in this system. It probably seems as natural and inevitable as rainfall. But is it really necessary? Is there no alternative?

Other areas of the media have been able to get by without it. There is a strong alternative tradition with at least four centuries behind it – first of pamphlets and books, later of magazines and newspapers. From the broadsides of the Levellers, to the thundering 19th century Times, to The Sun fighting for the rights of veterans today – it is a tradition of free comment, of investigative reporting, of satirizing and exposing the behaviour of one’s betters.

Yes, the free press is fairly near the knuckle on occasion – it is noisy, disrespectful, raucous and quite capable of affronting people – it is frequently the despair of judges and it gets up the noses of politicians on a regular basis. But it is driven by the daily demand and choices of millions of people. It has had the profits to enable it to be fearless and independent. Great journalism does not get enough credit in our society, but it holds the powerful to account and plays a vital part in a functioning democracy.

Would we welcome a world in which The Times was told by the government how much religious coverage it had to carry?

In which there were a state newspaper with more money than the rest of the sector put together and 50% of the market?

In which cinemas were instructed how many ads they were allowed to put before the main feature?

In which Bloomsbury had to publish an equal number of pro-capitalist and pro- socialist books?

And, of course, we had to pay for an Ofpress to make sure all these rules were observed?

No, of course we would not. So why do we continue to assume that this approach is appropriate for broadcasting: especially as one communications medium is now barely distinguishable from another?

There is a word for this.

It’s not one that the system likes to hear, but let’s be honest: the right word is authoritarianism and it has always been part of our system.

It is hardly a secret that the early years of British broadcasting were dominated by concern about the potential of the new technology for creating social disruption. To deal with that perceived threat, there were two responses: to nationalise broadcasting through the BBC, and to ensure that any other provider was closely controlled and appropriately incentivised.

The greatest divergence between the rest of the media and broadcasting is the unspoken approach to the customer. In the regulated world of Public Service Broadcasting the customer does not exist: he or she is a passive creature – a viewer – in need of protection. In other parts of the media world – including pay television and newspapers – the customer is just that: someone whose very freedom to choose makes them important. And because they have power they are treated with great seriousness and respect, as people who are perfectly capable of making informed judgements about what to buy, read, and go and see.

The all-media world offers great opportunities for our society. We could take the approach of trust and freedom and apply it through the whole of the media, broadcasting included. But we are doing the opposite. We are using the interconnectedness of the media as a way of opening the door to the expansion of control.

This is already happening. There is a land-grab, pure and simple, going on – and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted.

The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.

Being funded by a universal hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered and obliged to try and offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market.

This whole approach is based on a mistaken view of the rationale behind state intervention and it produces bizarre and perverse outcomes. Rather than concentrating on areas where the market is not delivering, the BBC seeks to compete head-on for audiences with commercial providers to try and shore up support – or more accurately dampen opposition – to a compulsory licence fee.

Take Radio 2 as an example. A few years back, the BBC observed that it was losing share of listening among the 25-45 age-group, who were well served by commercial stations. Instead of stepping back and allowing the market to do its job, the BBC decided to reposition Radio 2 to go after this same group. Performers like Jonathan Ross were recruited on salaries no commercial competitor could afford, and audiences for Radio 2 have grown steadily as a result.

No doubt the BBC celebrates the fact that it now has well over half of all radio listening. But the consequent impoverishment of the once-successful commercial sector is testament to the Corporation’s inability to distinguish between what is good for it, and what is good for the country.

Of course, this problem is compounded by the fact that there is no real oversight of this £4.6 billion intervention in the market, as the abysmal record of the BBC Trust demonstrates. So the breadth of intervention is striking and it is continuing to expand unchecked.

The negative consequences of this expansion for innovation and development in the creative industries are serious.

The nationalisation of the Lonely Planet travel guide business was a particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state into providing magazines and websites on a commercial basis. It stood out for its overt recklessness and for the total failure of the BBC Trust to ask tough questions about what management was up to.

Others in other sectors can tell similar stories: and they observe that if the BBC suffers any setback in expansion, it is merely temporary: there will soon be another initiative requiring yet more management time to fight off.

As new entrants like Joost discovered, operating alongside the BBC, without access to its content or cross-promotional power, is not a task for the faint hearted. You need deep pockets, sheer bloody-mindedness and an army of lawyers just to make the BBC Trust sit up and pay attention.

Most importantly, in this all-media marketplace, the expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision, which are so important for our democracy.

Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly
difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet.

Yet it is essential for the future of independent digital journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it.

We seem to have decided as a society to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market and then get bigger to compensate.

Most policy-making is however pre-occupied with the supposed malign intervention of capitalists focused on profit, and is blind to the growth of the state.

Nearly all local authorities already publish their own newspapers with flattering accounts of their doings. Over 60% of these pocket-Pravdas carry advertising, weakening the local presence of more critical voices. I saw recently an article in which the editor of the Guardian suggested that the government should fund local news coverage of court proceedings and council meetings, a profoundly undemocratic and ruinous idea.

Just ask yourself whether Camilla Cavendish’s award-winning campaign to open up the family courts would have occurred in a state-funded newspaper? The investigation would never have been allowed to take place.

For hundreds of years people have fought for the right to publish what they think.

Yet today the threat to independent news provision is serious and imminent.

More broadly, it must serve as a warning of what happens when state intervention and regulatory micro-management are allowed to go unchecked in the all-media marketplace. For the future health of our industry and our society, we must not allow these creationist tendencies to go on limiting the opportunities for independent commercial businesses, whether in journalism or any other form of content.

The private sector is a source of investment, talent, creativity and innovation in UK media.

But it will never fulfil its full potential unless we adopt a policy framework that recognises the centrality of commercial incentives.

This means accepting the simple truth that the ability to generate a profitable return is fundamental to the continuation of the quality, plurality and independence that we value so highly.

For that to happen our politicians and regulators need to have the courage to leave behind their analogue attitudes and choose a path for the digital present. So far, they have shown little inclination to do so.

Thanks to Darwin we understand that the evolution of a successful species is an unmanaged process. I have tried to show tonight that interventionist management of what is sometimes called the broadcasting ecology is not helping it – it is exhausting it.

Broadcasting is now part of a single all-media market. It brings two very different stories to that bigger market. On the one hand authoritarianism: endless intervention, regulation and control. On the other, the free part of the market where success has been achieved by a determined resistance to the constant efforts of the authorities to interfere.

I have argued tonight that this success is based on a very simple principle: trust people.

People are very good at making choices: choices about what media to consume; whether to pay for it and how much; what they think is acceptable to watch, read and hear; and the result of their billions of choices is that good companies survive, prosper, and proliferate.

That is a great story and it has been powerfully positive for our society.

But we are not learning from that. Governments and regulators are wonderfully crafted machines for mission creep. For them, the abolition of media boundaries is a trumpet call to expansion: to do more, regulate more, control more.

Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever.

As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to
guarantee manipulation and distortion.

We must have a plurality of voices and they must be independent. Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media – the BBC in particular – grow ever more dominant.

That process has to be reversed.

If we are to have that state sponsorship at all, then it is fundamental to the health of the creative industries, independent production, and professional journalism that it exists on a far, far smaller scale.

Above all we must have genuine independence in news media. Genuine independence is a rare thing. No amount of governance in the form of committees, regulators, trusts or advisory bodies is truly sufficient as a guarantor of independence. In fact, they curb speech.

On the contrary, independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency.

Independence of faction, industrial or political.

Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage.

Independence is sustained by true accountability – the accountability owed to customers. People who buy the newspapers, open the application, decide to take out the television subscription – people who deliberately and willingly choose a service which they value.

And people value honest, fearless, and above all independent news coverage that challenges the consensus.

There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society.

The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.

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FT.com: ‘There will be a transition to people paying for the internet,’ says Liberty Media chairman

A couple of things extremely pertinent to the paid content debate in a ‘view from the top’ interview on FT.com.

It’s with Liberty Media chairman, John Malone, described by the FT’s Richard Milne as ‘one of the most powerful figures in the media world’. He controls a ‘sprawling empire of assets’ including  DirecTV, the Discovery Channel, QVC, the Atlanta Braves baseball team and a company focused on Cable TV, Liberty Global.

Two extracts from the interview:

“How bad is the outlook for the media industry right now?”

“The media has lots of different elements in it. Probably at the bottom would be local, because local advertising has been the most adversely affected. Newsprint is probably the most damaged media going forward. Cable television has been OK. It continues to grow, a little slower than we’d like. The broadcast networks are getting beaten up, but not as bad on their national side as on their local side (…)”

and:

A big debate in media is: can you get consumers to pay for online content?

“There will be a transition to people paying for [the] internet. Unfortunately, a lot of the people promoting the internet have other monetisation theories, such as search, which is ‘free’ to the consumer. Believe me, it’s not free to the retailer. The real question is: can you get people to pay for content on the internet? That will happen over time. If you’re a newspaper publisher and you’re giving information free on the internet and charging a subscription fee [for the paper], I don’t understand the logic.”

Full interview at this link…

And this:

“Long or short? Newspapers? Short James Murdoch? Long Hedge fund regulation? Long Share prices? Neutral The European economy? Short Nicolas Sarkozy? Long Ben Bernanke? Long Barack Obama’s healthcare plan? Disaster – short Twitter? Neutral Barry Diller? Long.”

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BBC could share more technology with S4C/Trinity Mirror in Wales, says Trust chairman

February 24th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

In a speech given to Cardiff’s Business Club last night, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons added more weight to suggest more regional news partnerships between the BBC and competitors are in the pipeline:

  • More on partnerships: work is ongoing on partnerships in regional media with ITV; and between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide.
  • Could BBC enter into an IT-sharing agreement with S4C and ITV in Wales to reduce operational costs?
  • Revamp of Broadcasting House in Wales could benefit local media with technology sharing arrangements.
  • “Perhaps even Trinty Mirror could have a role to play too [in partnering the BBC for regional news provision], given their journalistic presence in Wales and their significant online operation.”
  • And, just in case you doubted it: “The BBC local video project is dead. We have told BBC news that it must come up with a different solution.”

Here’s his comments as a Wordle:

Wordle of Michael Lyons' speech to Cardiff Business Club

But, a note of caution from Lyons on partnerships:

“What we’re not interested in are proposals that simply transfer value from the BBC to other players in the market (…) Let’s make sure that we don’t inadvertently turn the BBC into the Lloyds Bank of the media world.”

Yesterday the Beeb’s Executive announced plans to link out to external news providers from its network of BBC Local sites.

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‘Trust and integrity in the modern media’ – Chris Cramer’s speech to Nottingham Trent University

This is the full transcript of a speech given by Chris Cramer, global head of multimedia for Reuters’ news operations, at Nottingham Trent University last night. Journalism.co.uk’s report on the address can be read at this link.

So I accepted this invitation shortly after I retired from CNN international – where I was managing director and where I’d been for 11 years or so.

I became a consultant for Reuters news in January and now, in the last few months, have become their first global editor for multimedia.

So, I’m talking to you today as a working journalist, broadcaster and manager for 43 years now and what I would like to talk about is ‘trust and integrity in the modern media’.

I also want to ask the question of you whether the media has maybe lost the message somewhere along the way?

More »

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Reminder: Radio 4’s The Media Show starts next Wednesday

September 24th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

Just a quick reminder for next week, since we last reported on it in July. The new media show, erm, called The Media Show, will start on BBC Radio 4 from October 1. It will look at the media world across print, TV, online and telecommunications.

It will go out live each Wednesday at 1.30pm. We’re looking forward to it – let’s hope it has a good online presence too (especially because we’ll be at the AOP conference that day. While it’s possible to Twitter discreetly, it’s not so easy to listen to the radio).

The original BBC press release can be read here.

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Low ratings for BBC’s Undercover Soldier

September 19th, 2008 | 18 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

Normally, a young reporter’s first steps into the media world might be a stint of work experience; the dramatic peak might be an exciting court case.

Not so for Russell Sharp: his first job in the media was to enlist in the British Army and go undercover for six months, to report on the bullying, for a BBC documentary.

It made remarkable viewing last night. The film showed Sharp’s fear at being discovered by his fellow recruits and superiors as he secretly filmed them during training.

The racism and bullying he witnessed was shocking – it’s been documented here at the BBC website. As numerous papers reported, five suspensions of army instructors have since been made – it is unclear how many are a direct result of allegations made by the BBC.

Yet BBC1’s unusual documentary ‘Undercover Soldier’ got the worst broadcast figures for the slot since June 2006 despite its controversial subject matter. It started with 2.6m (10.1%) watching, and then slowly declined to 2.3m. Even Ann Widdecombe and the girl gangs, over on ITV did better than that.

Why the low ratings? Was it because they didn’t send out preview copies, or that it was a last minute addition to the broadcast schedule? Or was the viewing public just not interested?

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Thoughts from the Ethnic Media Summit: where do we go now?

September 18th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

This week’s Guardian Ethnic Media Summit, supported by Channel 4 and Spectrum Radio was the first of its kind. The event itself may be new, but the common theme of the day seemed to be, ‘weren’t we having these conversations 10 years ago?’

One of the speakers Claude Grunitzky talked about how the UK in 1996 had been a great place to be, to launch his magazine TRACE. Now, returning from the US – where he heads the TRUE Agency and the US edition of TRACE, and another publication TERRACE – he is not sure how much things have moved on. He went so far to say that the UK could be about 20 years behind in terms of ethnic representation in media. Ouch.

While many of the speakers focussed on the exciting times ahead for connecting with ethnic groups through social media (as we reported yesterday, Ofcom has found that the four main ethnic groups in the UK are using digital and online media more widely and diversely than the general population) there still seemed to be this pervading sense that some things hadn’t quite moved on.

News reporter Samira Ahmed, interviewed fellow Channel 4 colleague Aaqil Ahmed over his new appointment as the channel’s commissioning editor for religion and multicultural programming.

Her questions seemed to be weeding out whether this, too, might be a step backwards? After all, hadn’t the keynote speaker, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights council, just said that terms like ‘multicultural’ were dead?

“The feeling was that we need a champion,” Aaqil Ahmed answered. “The individual commissioning editors still want to make multicultural content, but alongside that I have a dedicated role.”

His advice, however, to young people from ethnic groups is to make other kinds of films before they try and reflect specific religious or ethnic content. He also cited BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ as one of the best multicultural programmes on television.

You can listen to the interview in full here (23 mins):

[audio:http://www.journalism.co.uk/sounds/AAquilAhmed.mp3]

Various panel debates, with some big names in the ethnic (and mainstream) media world, discussed just exactly where we’re at, in terms of ethnic media: that’s on screen and off. Debates flitted between portrayal, participation and recruitment. It seems one feeds into the other.

Although actress and comedian Meera Syal and Observer news editor Kamal Ahmed didn’t show up, there were a host of other interesting people to listen to, among them: a panel of  inspiring young people who have been involved in Live magazine through the Livity project; Leslie Bunder the founder of the SomethingJewish network (pictured above, courtesy of Richard Cooke, Guardian News and Media); Parminder Vir OBE, the award winning film and television producer; Joseph Harker, assistant comment editor at the Guardian; and Jay Kandola, director of acquisitions at ITV (but also previously at BBC, Channel 4 and 5).

Blogger and Asians in Media editor, Sunny Hundal, managed the proceedings, with lots of his own questions thrown in. Guardian.co.uk editor-in-chief Emily Bell joked that Comment is Free would be very quiet with Sunny’s absence for a day. Trevor Phillips’ keynote speech (pictured below, courtesy of Richard Cooke, Guardian News and Media) made particularly interesting listening: you can read the Guardian’s coverage here.

So: will things have moved on by next year? The big questions raised were how to best monetise ethnic media, do terms like ‘multicultural’ have a role in ethnic media, and how do you penetrate mainstream media with its very narrow horizons? Some speakers said that there was no point just replacing white, socially well-off, Oxbridge males with Oxbridge socially well-off males from ethnic backgrounds – issues of class representation were raised too.

In the very last panel debate about digital reinvention, Milica Pesic, from the Media Diversity Institute raised a good point: what’s the point of a panel all agreeing with each other? Next time, she wants the culprits who consistently misrepresent ethnic groups in the media up on the stage too. Hear, hear, I say. Let’s get the editor who commissioned the story about Polish people hunting swans up on the stage with the editor of Polot.co.uk, Julita Kaczmarek, and really get the debate going.

Finally, a small point picked up from Norrie, a blogger from Leith FM, a Scottish community radio station. He was invited to the Guardian’s Ethnic Summit too, but found the pricing scheme (even at the cheapest rate it was £364 per person) a little bit off-putting and not quite as inclusive as you might expect from an event about, well, inclusion.

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Huffington Post: Social media team drives up traffic at Chicago Tribune

August 15th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

The Chicago Tribune’s move into the social media world of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter has result in an 8 per cent rise in page views.

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Online Journalism Scandinavia: David Montgomery’s toughest general – Lisbeth Knudsen, editor-in-chief of Berlingske Media

June 23rd, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Once so controversial as the boss of The Mirror, over the last few years David Montgomery has reinvented himself as a European media mogul.

As head of the pan-European media company Mecom, Montgomery has emerged as an internet evangelist and one of the most optimistic advocates of a multimedia future.

This is good news for Lisbeth Knudsen, CEO and editor-in-chief of Mecom’s worst performing subsidiary.

Denmark’s Berlingske Media is the biggest publisher of daily newspapers in one of Europe’s toughest newspaper markets. Revenues of paid for dailies in Denmark have been ravaged by a costly two-year-long freesheet war.

When Montgomery bought the Danish company in 2006, it had a paltry 3.5 per cent profit margin – miles away from the 15 – 20 per cent Montgomery was promising his investors.

But it’s all grist to the mill for Knudsen, who rumour has it secured her job last spring by submitting the longest list of potential cost cuts.

Montgomery’s toughest general has been charged with justifying his professed faith in the profits to be made from the new media world.

“It is my task to deliver what I have promised, but also to tell Berlingske’s journalists that we have exciting times ahead of us. It is necessary for our survival that we start using new work processes, develop our journalism and launch new digital products. Old traditions are no longer enough,” Knudsen told Journalism.co.uk

Her first act as head of Berlingske was to publicly denounce Mecom’s profit demands as unrealistic.

Simultaneously, she made it crystal clear that the financial situation required radical changes, skilfully lowering the expectations of both her boss and the unions.

Integrate everything
Central to those changes is integration. Not only converging media platforms, but also altering most of the company’s titles into ‘verticals’ that deliver copy across platforms and titles be they broadsheet, tabloid or regional newspapers.

Berlingske may have created one of the most integrated media operations in Europe, but it has also caused great concern among the company’s journalists about work flow, work culture and how it may erode the different media brands.

“Everyone has to be able to work and plan to all media platforms. Journalists get more resources to cover events in this way. Instead of sending three journalists from three different platforms or titles, we will now have one journalist cover the results of a football match, one live blogging it, and one writing the portrait of the game’s top scorer,” said Knudsen.

To ensure editorial standards, she added, each title will have a brand manager to makes sure it runs only content that is appropriate and in line with its specific values.

Discontent
These assurances have not been enough, however, to assure the domestic journalists union. It has voiced continuous concern about merging titles, job cuts and the new ‘integrated’ work environment where journalists are confined to hot desks to create a paperless environment.

Knudsen says that new technology is necessary. Adding that the increase in the number of tools at the disposal of her reporters has also created many exciting new opportunities for journalists.

“This integration is necessary to survive. Journalists today have to accept that they have to fight for every pair of eyeballs. I accepted this job because I believe, both as a journalist and as CEO, we can create something great in this company,” she said.

Not here to please

As for her proprietor, she said: “It is my impression that you can have a discussion. If I am to be in charge of this, I have to believe in it. I have made it very clear that I’m not here to please. I have a very open and direct dialogue with the management about our goals and progress. During my thirty-something years in the newspaper industry I’ve encountered a lot of unprofessional owners. Mecom is a very professional owner, the company imposes certain demands to our revenues, but that is the way it has to be.”

David Montgomery may have got himself a straight shooter, but what impression is she likely to have made on her newsroom staff? It seems she is a journalististic champion who is both admired and feared.

“If anyone can stand up to Montgomery it is she. She is completely ruthless and resembles Montgomery in many ways. I cannot think of anyone in Danish media who dares to pick a fight with her,” said a journalist who has worked with Knudsen but did not wish to be named.

“But her journalistic integrity is above reproach. She is a journalistic champion.”

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