Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The National Union of Journalists


  The National Union of Journalists is the Union representing journalists in the UK. Its members work in the national, local and regional press, news agencies, internet services, magazines, the book sector, public relations, local authorities, national government and broadcasting. The forthcoming communications legislation will have major implications for members of the Union, and for the quality and freedom of communications.

  In January 2000 we submitted our response to the Government's White Paper, A New Future for Communications, which covers many of the issues touched on by the Committee in this inquiry[13]. We append to this submission, for information, a summary of the recommendations we made in that response.

  In this submission we highlight some of the key issues we believe need to be considered by the Select Committee.


    (a)  The Union welcomed the Government's stated commitment to diversity and pluralism and to public service values within the media. It remains, however, concerned about the general direction of policy as set out in the White Paper and as has been made clearer in developments since its publication.

    (b)  Here we draw attention to some key issues that we think the Committee should pay particular attention to. They comprise: OFCOM; Public Service Broadcasting; Ownership; and Copyright.


    (a)  OFCOM, which will become the main regulator in the sector, will have extensive powers. It's main function however will be to exercise light touch regulation in order to promote efficiency in communications markets. Competition is intended to be the tool for this. This central goal of OFCOM militates against the idea that such a regulator should have pro-active role, using a range of regulatory tools, to promote positively, high quality in services across the new media. In this sense OFCOM , as conceived, is a lop-sided body.

    (b)  OFCOM will comprise a maximum of six individuals. There is no provision for representation from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the English Regions. There is no provision for representation on it of individuals who carry a brief for the wide range of interests which have a direct interest in mass communications, including the voluntary sector, trades unions, educational and community interests. The sense that OFCOM will be a body whose main purpose is to "speed" up economic decision making is reinforced by this lack of accountability in its structures. We hope the Committee will recommend that OFCOM be structured in a much more democratic way.

    (c)  The Union is sceptical about whether OFCOM as currently conceived can provide adequate scrutiny of the distinct sectors that currently make up the media. There will be a need to ensure that there is a strong degree of sectoral autonomy in the new structure and that OFCOM's decision making on economic issues does not dominate sector specific issues of quality and diversity.

    (d)  Since the White Paper, a number of influential voices have been raised calling for the BBC to be included under OFCOM. Others have raised the idea that OFCOM should have some form of arms length oversight of BBC, C4 and S4C. The Union considers that either of these developments would simply erode the capacity of these institutions to act to provide public service broadcasting of the highest quality.


    (a)  The Union's members are central to the traditions of public service broadcasting in the UK, in particular in the area of news and current affairs.

    (b)  The increased competition unleashed by the 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting Acts, and the requirement that the ITN contract be put out to tender have had a detrimental effect on news provision. It is highly significant that under current legislative requirements the ITC has no obligation to supervise the tender process. This has resulted in questions over the quality of the new service. The regulator should set more stringent and comprehensive requirements, including minimum funding levels and also have powers to monitor the process from start to finish. The controversy over the moving of News at Ten was a direct consequence of this competition, as has the virtual removal, from peak time schedules on ITV of high quality news and current affairs programming. In addition, the recent allocation of the ITN contract has resulted in a loss of journalists' jobs, as the management sought to cut costs and maximise profits.

    (c)  The Union considers that the new regulator should have the power to include very robust requirements in all major service providers, designed to make them adhere to high standards of public service programming. In particular the Union would like to see licences include a clear, unambiguous and robust commitment to the provision of regional and national news for all main providers. This should involve the provision of locally produced regional news, based on regional production centres, with quotas determined by reference to a number of criteria, including quality, numbers of hours per week, investment in production and position in schedule. Only with pro-active measures such as these can news and current affairs of the highest quality be guaranteed a future in the new communications environment.


    (a)  The Union is committed to maintain a diverse structure of ownership within the communications industry, which it sees as a pre-requisite for the maintenance of diversity. The government, in the Union's view, should not take steps which deliberately encourage media concentration, within or across sectors. In particular we are concerned about the impact of concentration in the ITV sector on regional news provision, and news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It should look for ways, instead, of encouraging diversity of ownership in the media. We do not prescribe how this should be done, but we do think the subject should be more fully investigated than it has been to date. We consider that the consultation period on the government's proposals on Media Ownership is too short, and instead we think there should be a full scale inquiry into the issue, to allow what are very complicated issues to be subject to wider public debate and scrutiny.


    (a)  The Union has been working hard in recent years to secure for producers of media content control over the use of that content and of the rewards that flow from it. The spread of cross media ownership and of electronic forms of production has led to a concerted assault by employers on the producers of content, which usually takes the form of attempts to make people sign away their rights to the secondary use of their work. Whilst we continue to work on this issue, we would like to see the situation clarified in future legislation, to ensure protection for journalists and others whose living depends on their capacity to make fair use of their work.[14]


    (a)  On the key issues of the nature and role of OFCOM, on the provision of high quality public service programming, particularly news and current affairs, on the need for diversity of media ownership and the protection of producers's rights, the Union is keen to see some positive movement from the government.

    (b)  The Union will be making representations to the government about the Bill when it is published, but it hopes the Committee will be able to issue a report that will add force to the weight of opinion, shared by the Union, that any proposals must have the interests of the citizen at their heart. Currently the government's policy is lopsided in favour of promoting efficient markets, and has insufficient regard to the wider social purposes of broadcasting.

15 January 2002

13   National Union of Journalists, Promoting Media Freedom and Diversity: The National Union of Journalists' response to the White Paper, "A New Future For Communications" CM5010, DTI/DCMS 2000 (London, NU7, 2000). Back

14   For details on these issues see: NUJ, Battling For Copyright: Freelance journalists versus the media conglomerates (London, NUJ, 2000). Back

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