Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 534)




  520. But you can do other things. If you take the New York Times, the New York Times is not simply available on the Internet, it up-dates itself the whole time, so you have got, as it were, an instantaneous newspaper which actually buying the New York Times does not provide you.
  (Mr Sinclair) Yes, these analogies are attractive but they are only analogies. A national newspaper industry barely exists in the US, and what the web does so well is defeat distance, and the New York Times is not available throughout the US, it is widely available in the big cities, that is true, and what the web does for the New York Times is extend its reach. That is a very good example of the combination of the two media.

  Mr Maxton: But the other increasing thing that the newspapers on the web offer—not all, I hasten to add, but a lot do—is what I might call archive searching, so that you can read an article which was in yesterday or the week before or two years ago, you can look up the particular subject and you can find all the articles on it, you cannot do that for the Daily Mail.

  Chairman: Reviews of plays and films.

Mr Maxton

  521. That is right. If you want to go to the theatre, you can look up the reviews which have been done in whatever newspaper you want. You cannot do that with the Daily Mail.
  (Mr Sinclair) No, but you can go to This is London which carries all the reviews from the Evening Standard.

  522. But that is still limited and you have to be in London to do it basically.
  (Mr Sinclair) No, you can get This is London from anywhere. If you are a travelling theatre-goer, and there are many of them, that is the way you get at it.

  523. Can I switch to another area. You do own radio stations, although you are not in radio here, are your radio stations on the web?
  (Mr Gilbert) No. The radio stations we own are in Australia.

  524. So?
  (Mr Gilbert) They are not yet on the web.

Derek Wyatt

  525. Do you not own a percentage of Medway FM?
  (Mr Gilbert) No, we sold that to GWR last year. Putting a radio station on the web is an expensive process and there is very little return from it. Eventually it will happen, when the costs come down, but at the moment our radio stations in Australia have much more to do than convert themselves to web radio.

Mr Maxton

  526. A lot of radio stations in this country do it. Presumably it is costing them something but they consider it is worth their while—Virgin, Jazz FM—we will leave the BBC out because they are not commercial, as you would argue, but they have livecasting on the web.
  (Mr Gilbert) People do extend their franchises to give themselves a wider coverage. We are not doing that yet in Australia.

  527. You are not?
  (Mr Gilbert) No.

  528. You have just said you sold your interests in the local radio station, have you any shares at all? If you believe that cross-media regulation should go, are you preparing yourself for that? We have got the Scottish Media Group coming before us later, they have already decided that cross-media ownership will happen and therefore they have moved into areas where they think they will be able to expand further.
  (Mr Gilbert) I can say that we truly believe in the value of radio. We were an investor in the very first commercial radio station in the UK, and we have been a continuous investor in UK radio throughout its life. Even after the liberalisation that occurred in 1996 we began to build a small radio division of our own but because so much consolidation had already occurred and because the restraints that Mr Sinclair referred to earlier were still there, through the public interest test, we found we were very limited in what we could achieve and in 2000 we decided to consolidate those interests with the GWR Group where we have a major stake and we focus our interests through them.


  529. Can I ask Mr Stewart a little about Teletext? Teletext a number of years ago, or Ceefax—the Teletext services—were a very good way of keeping up-to-date with the news and more efficiently up-to-date even than the rolling news service. Now, of course, we have moved a further stage forward and if you look at Sky News Active you get a much more dynamic service and one from which you can make more choices. How is Teletext going to develop from the kind of static menu that you provide at the moment which I look into every night?
  (Mr Stewart) Thank you for that. You are among the 24 million people who use the service every week. First of all, Teletext is not a static service, it is a visually, very old-fashioned service, but Teletext actually up-dates more than television, Teletext up-dates more than any dynamic news programme on Sky or anywhere else. It may be of interest, in view of what is imminent, that during the last election we were producing 150,000 up-dates every day, which is quite staggering when you compare that with the 24-hour rolling news programmes. The other thing is that the analogue Teletext service is of course confined by the technology which is there, but the Teletext service is not confined to analogue television, so we have a very popular web site at the moment and the usage of that is growing. We have services on digital terrestrial television which are somewhat disappointing because we have inadequate capacity available on digital terrestrial. We have a growing service on cable television, we will shortly have a service on satellite television, and we have mobile services, and today there are many, many more people, millions more people, using Teletext services than there were two years ago but they are using it on different platforms using different appliances. So the mutation, if you like, of Teletext is about taking advantage of new technology and taking advantage of these new appliances.

  530. Could I come back to a matter to which I referred a little earlier which certainly alerted me to potential alarm, namely the sentence in your statement to the Commission, "Our newspaper divisions are concerned that proposals to regulate content on the Internet will be applied to newspapers' Internet activities." Clearly any such development will be entirely intolerable, particularly since other Internet activities cannot possibly be regulated, people can transmit snuff movies on the Internet and nobody can do anything about it. If attempts were to be made, on the other hand, to interfere with democratically originated newspapers like yours and others on inspection, that will be a very, very baneful development indeed. Are you simply flagging up this possibility or do you have specific fears about it?
  (Mr Sinclair) The first. I think we all recognise that newspapers occupy quite a powerful position in the broad media offering and that continues to be so, despite the apparent age of the technology. Because of that power historically, when competition has been a great deal less than it is today, people have sought to regulate, or get at in some way, newspapers. The fact that newspapers will naturally put certain aspects of their product and services online opens up potentially another front for interference. It is a hypothetical worry at this point but it could emerge quite quickly if the wrong start was made in regulation as it applies to the Internet.

  Chairman: I think that is a very important warning you have given us and if what you said in your memorandum and here simply warns potential regulators off, that of itself will have been very valuable.

Mr Keen

  531. Mr Stewart, do you regard Teletext as print or broadcasting? I am on the theme of cross-media ownership. How do you regard that? To give you a clue, I have always regarded Teletext as news, and that would be news fullstop, fact. Is that how you regard it?
  (Mr Stewart) Yes. It is a broadcast service. I have to say I have to be forced to think about it as a print service or a broadcast service because, first of all, it is an information service and the means of delivery is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Internet is not a broadcast service, it is a narrowcast service. The mobile phone service is not a broadcast service, it is a communication service. So I tend not to think of it along any particular axis. But certainly when we talk to our consumers, they think of it as being on the telly, so the consumers would typically regard it as a broadcast service.

  532. I would never claim to be an expert on broadcasting but, having spent 18 years in professional football, I probably am an expert on football. I have noticed on Teletext and Ceefax they, on football, tend to follow the popular press in that they repeat fabricated rumours like "Arsene is going to buy Ronaldo" or something. I have noticed that and maybe you have not even noticed it but it is creeping in. I think it is a danger. Did you know it was creeping in?
  (Mr Stewart) I had not been aware that that was happening. Certainly we have probably amongst the most energetic viewing public in the UK, and if something is not factually accurate we learn about it very quickly. I will take that as a suggestion I should look at more carefully, but up to now there have been no complaints about the quality or impartiality of the information we put out. The previous witnesses, the ITC, regulate us quite thoroughly and have annually expressed themselves to be very satisfied.

  533. They probably have not got a football expert on the board. I remember in the 1960s seeing a placard for the Evening News or the Evening Standard saying, "Jackie goes to Palace", and thinking Jackie Charlton would never leave Leeds for Crystal Palace, and I had to buy a newspaper to find out it was Onassis going to visit the Queen. So I am an obsessive. It must be very familiar to you, the popular sports pages fabricating stories on transfers—absolute fabrication—and it would be very dangerous if that goes on to Teletext and I think you would be upset if you thought that was happening.
  (Mr Stewart) Horrified.

  534. It is happening. Coming on to cross-media ownership—and I wanted to use that to illustrate this—is it not a contradiction to have cross-media ownership when you have newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, which are wonderful reads with lots of hours of happy reading, but there is a big difference between broadcasting and the print media, and the print media and the newspapers do hide opinion as fact. I do not think anybody would deny that, if you do you are the only person in the world who would. Certain newspapers use that sort of journalism and trying to change public opinion by presenting opinions as if they were fact, broadcasting does not do that and it is strictly regulated. Is it not a contradiction? Do you not have difficulty in keeping your staff away from that and not letting them go on to other media? How do you reconcile that?
  (Mr Sinclair) I think the only answer to that is that, as the Chairman has said on other occasions, the last Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers was David English, a notable newspaper editor for nearly 20 years, and yet he was also Chairman of Teletext and, as Mike Stewart has already said, the record of Teletext as a provider of impartial information is absolutely outstanding and the annual reports on our behaviour which we get from the ITC really have been remarkably good. Not only did they share an important board member in common, Teletext and the Daily Mail share common ownership. We are a very broad-based church in our group, we try to take each medium on its merits and operate them as they should be. The fact that one style of journalism may suit a compact newspaper and a different style may suit a public service broadcaster in the form of Teletext, we find ourselves entirely comfortable with. Taking a check on that from our customer base, who are the ultimate determinants of whether we are doing the right thing or not, we clearly are. Teletext has become the largest single medium in this country in terms of usage, and the Mail is not without its successes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed gentlemen.

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Prepared 26 February 2001