Previous Section Index Home Page

24 Jun 2010 : Column 168WH—continued

24 Jun 2010 : Column 169WH

Mr Watson: I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, and if I was deploying Rumsfeldian rhetoric in this debate, I apologise. I hope that he appreciates that on this occasion, I have not followed through with the tanks. I am looking for general reassurance on a point. Essentially, I think that his dilemma is that very early on in his time in the Department, he will be asked to back a winner. The point that I was trying to make, obviously rather inelegantly, is that he should try not to lose some of the initiatives that are encouraging innovation and creativity. In particular, I am thinking of 4iP and the work that it has done in the hyper-local news sector, which might be revolutionary, and might be the solution that develops. Have a look at, which was set up by Adrian Goldberg. Goldberg has created a community that generates its own news content, and people participate in a community board on the back of that. I ask the Minister to resist the temptation to narrow down the options, and ask him to try to use very small amounts of investment to ensure that 1,000 blossoms can bloom.

Mr Vaizey: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and let me say that we can agree on a number of levels. As he said, we are talking about a very fast-changing landscape, so it is not the job of the Government to pick winners. That brings the focus on to why the Conservative party, when in opposition, opposed IFNCs. We felt very strongly that it was about picking winners. It was effectively keeping in place the old model of regional television with public money. In contrast, with local television, we are looking at a deregulatory initiative; it could also perhaps be called a regulatory initiative, at least in so far as it would mean setting in place a regime that allows commercial organisations to fill that space, if they think that it is viable. That is why we have asked Nicholas Shott to examine the commercial viability of the initiative, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must not lose sight of the fact that there are hundreds of different initiatives that are involved in the delivery of local news.

The last time I mentioned the subject in Parliament, I was e-mailed by the local news bloggers in Lichfield, who met in the pub and now provide an ultra-local news service. Of course, there will be elements of public money available for that kind of research and experimentation. In effect, one could argue that although 4iP does not strictly have public money, a public service broadcaster is providing the service. The Technology Strategy Board is available, and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts could potentially lead research in this area, as could our universities and higher education institutions. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that media companies might also find room to experiment.

The right hon. Member for Exeter pressed me on broadband roll-out, and how the Government were going to pay for it post-2014. We intend to have an industry day at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on 15 July, when the Secretary of State will make his proposals clearer. The right hon. Gentleman could invite the Secretary of State to make those proposals to Parliament. He also raised the issue of impartiality.

Mr Bradshaw: Before the Minister moves off broadband, I thought that it might be helpful if I provided him with his own definition of "super-fast", which was

I hope that that is helpful to hon. Members. It will make it unnecessary for the hon. Gentleman to write to everyone after the debate. The Chancellor used the figure of 100 megabits per second in his interview with Andrew Marr during the election campaign.

Mr Vaizey: The Opposition spokesman has read out my definition, and I wonder what all the fuss is about. What could be clearer? In this World cup climate, an alternative definition could be, "just so long as we are faster than the Germans".

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the coalition Government were planning to remove the rules for broadcasting impartiality. "Smear" would perhaps be too strong a word, but that is a long-running misrepresentation of a discussion document issued by the Conservative party in opposition. There is a real issue.

No one is planning to remove the rules of impartiality for our current public service broadcasters, but what about The Guardian or the Daily Mirror? When The Guardian does podcasts or makes broadcasts that it puts out on its website, should it be subject to impartiality rules? Common sense dictates that that would not be the case, but there is an open question about what happens with IPTV when the internet becomes effectively available on our television. Suppose that a channel run by The Guardian is on the internet, but viewed through our television-should that be impartial or not? It is an interesting matter to explore.

The Labour party was keen to speculate that we were anxious to import Fox News to this country, but that is certainly not our intention. As for whether we would be content with a monopoly of ownership at the local level, we have asked Ofcom to consult on the issue. We want to explore whether it is possible to go further, but we acknowledge that sweeping away such regulations cannot simply be a straightforward political decision. The matter has to be analysed and consulted on, and we would listen to and abide by whatever Ofcom came up with.

News aggregators are an ongoing matter of concern for the local and national media. In recent weeks, News International has decided to put pay walls around its website. Interestingly, Rupert Murdoch is always cited by the Labour party as effectively dictating the Conservative party's media policy; despite the fact that his newspapers supported the Labour party between 1994 and approximately 2009, he apparently has always been in control of the Conservative party and has absolutely no influence on the Labour party.

Mr Watson: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He knows that we have plenty of time to develop such arguments. Does he acknowledge that news aggregators are successful because they allow citizens and consumers to find content in a useful format? However, media companies do have the right to opt out of news aggregators and that really should be where the arm of the Government is in such discussions.

24 Jun 2010 : Column 171WH

Mr Vaizey: Absolutely. The matter is, in effect, an argument between two competing businesses and business models. Again, it is a fast-moving debate and we will see what emerges. I am not convinced at the moment that there is a case for direct Government intervention, even if such intervention were realistic or possible.

Finally, the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Exeter, pressed me on the digital radio switchover. We remain completely committed to switchover. We intend fully to press ahead with it, but it is important to take all factors into account. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bath pointed out, it is important to scotch a few of the myths that surround digital radio switchover; the idea that FM will suddenly disappear is not true. There are myths about the energy use of digital radios and, again, digital radio technology is changing rapidly to enable cheaper and even more consumer-friendly radios to be put into the marketplace. The previous Government set interesting and important targets for the percentage of the population that should be listening to digital radio before switchover, as well as the level of coverage. Those are all factors that we will take into
24 Jun 2010 : Column 172WH
account. We hope to announce the road map to digital switchover shortly, and by "shortly" I mean in less than three weeks.

This has been an enjoyable debate. I began by teasing my local paper, the Wantage and Grove Herald. I hope that nobody would take my remarks as criticism in any sense, because it is one of the best local newspapers in the country, and it provides an important local community service, along with its sister papers the Oxford Mail and TheOxford Times. I also, perhaps, teased Arqiva for burning down my television aerial in Oxfordshire. I would like to put on the record, as a new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, that as far as I am concerned-and this is a tribute both to the current Opposition spokesman and his predecessors-the digital television switchover has gone incredibly smoothly. It is one life's great ironies that the first glitch just happened to happen in an area that affected my constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

4.16 pm

Sitting adjourned.

    Index Home Page