Memorandum submitted by the National Union
of Journalists (NUJ)
1. THE NUJ
1.1 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.
Concern for the welfare of our members and for the development
of media freedoms are at the heart of the NUJ's activities.
1.2 This submission is, in line with the
Committee's request, a short summation of some key points. We
will be making a full submission to the DCMS and the DTI in due
course. We highlight here some of the positive steps which could
be taken to improve the draft legislation, by strengthening the
accountability of OFCOM, enhancing the public service elements
in the legislation, and encouraging much more diversity and plurality
of ownership and opinion.
2.1 The OFCOM Board is too small and unrepresentative.
The absence of representatives from the devolved authorities is
a matter of particular concern. Given the importance of its remit,
and its effect on media freedom and cultural diversity in the
UK, it should be made more representative. We recommend that the
OFCOM Board be enlarged, and that it should contain representatives
of stakeholders in the communications system, including citizens,
educational, trade union groups, and national and regional representation.
We recognise that this will only provide a partial degree of representativeness,
but it would not be a radical improvement on the present structure.
2.2 The proposed structure elides distinct
activities under similar regulatory regimes. Thus content and
"consumer" issues are dealt with by unified boards,
whereas the content issues in radio are different to those in
television, which are different in turn from multi-channel digital
services.This should be remedied by ensuring OFCOM is structured
in a manner which reflects, for the present, the real divisions
between different sectors.
2.3 Complaints. Placing the power of
complaints investigation in the hands of OFCOM, makes it licenser,
judge, jury and punisher. This function should be separated off
from OFCOM and given to a body charged with balancing the needs
of media freedom with the public's right to fair treatment.
2.4 Consumer and Contents Boards. The
Joint Committee will be aware of the imbalance of powers within
the draft Bill, whereby the Consumer Board has powers of research
and is relatively independent of OFCOM structures. This does not
apply to the Content Board. This means that questions of content
in OFCOM take second place to questions of consumers interests.
At very least, any powers over these two areas should be of equal
2.5 The Content Board should ideally be
separate from OFCOM, and have independent powers and resources
to monitor content issues in mass communications, and to issue
instructions to OFCOM, to which it has to give a reasoned answer,
on matters relating to the development of high standards across
the system. It should be representative of the widest practicable
range of constituencies in the UK. As constituted the Content
Board appears to be a weak element within the OFCOM structure.
3. PUBLIC SERVICE
3.1 The quality of UK TV and radio has depended
on positive regulation. The Bill seeks to promote competition
and to lift regulations where possible. These are contradictory
purposes, and if the latter is viewed in most cases, as we fear,
as trumping the former, then the success of UK broadcasting will
be in jeopardy.
3.2 It is positive regulation that has brought
us a successful digital platform in the form of the BBC's digital
services. It is the weakening of positive regulation over ITV,
and the refusal to extend positive regulation to new major competitors,
such as Sky, that has resulted in cuts in ITV's production of
news and current affairs, a reduction in regional programming
hours and the failure of the ITV digital platform. We have therefore
had 10 years in which to judge the effects on PSB in the UK of
weakening regulations for commercial broadcasters and allowing
relatively under regulated competition. These lessons should inform
the forthcoming legislation.
3.3 News and current affairs. The 1990
Broadcasting Act (Section 16(2)) requires that a "sufficient"
amount of time is given to news and current affairs in schedules.
The draft bill (Section 191) omits this. Thus the companies could
broadcast short bulletins in peak time without breaching their
obligations. The final bill should include a requirement that
their should be "sufficient" news and current affairs
transmitted in peak time.
3.4 Section 193 of the draft bill refers
to production outside of London as being production "outside
the M25 area". The draft bill as whole sets up the possibility
of a unified ITV 3 contractor and asserts the need for a continuation
of regional programming. The NUJ considers that overall the obligations
on ITV 3 contractors to maintain substantial regional production
centres, and to make a substantial amount of programming at those
centres for regional transmission should be made explicit in the
act and should not, as at present, depend on OFCOM's interpretation
of the situation (Section 194).
3.5 The NUJ is disappointed that the ITC
has agreed a new charter for the nations and regions with the
ITV franchise holders which replaces commitments made at the time
of the awarding of regional franchises. Negotiations over new
requirements for the licence holders were not open to public scrutiny
and debate however, this issue should have been considered as
part of the draft communications bill process. The NUJ is concerned
that the commitments, which replace strict measurement of regional
output could weaken investment and quality. At the very least
there should be minimum finding levels put in place to ensure
that investment at least matches and, if possible, exceeds current
3.6 Public Service Obligations. We consider
that the Bill should contain provisions designed to strengthen
the public service obligations of all existing licensees, and
to extend those, through a system of regulatory incentives, to
major competitors (satellite and cable) in the system; this should
apply to TV and radio. As it stands the draft legislation presumes
the opposite, that the more the system grows the less obligations
there should be on new providers. This will lead to an intensification
of competitive pressures in the system, and will encourage public
service providers to lobby for a reduction in their obligations.
3.7 In this context Section 5 of the Act,
"Duties to secure light touch regulation" should be
removed and replaced by a duty to secure the spread of positive
public service requirements. Section 5 is a central part of the
Bill, empowering OFCOM to allow questions of competition to override,
in the final instance, questions of public service. This should
not be the case.
3.8 The Union would like to see the self
regulatory presumption embodied in the bill removed. Self-regulation
has done very little, if anything, to enhance standards of accuracy
and quality in the newspaper press and, conversely, it is regulation
that has fostered standards in broadcasting. All OFCOM licensees
should be subject to review by OFCOM of their performance. Given
this implies a measure of self-regulation in order to meet licensing
requirements, the case for a much greater degree of self-regulation
3.9 The BBC. The BBC has historically
been one part of the public service broadcasting system in the
UK. It will remain, theoretically, just a part of this system
after the passage of the Act. But it is a central part of the
system. Its globally acknowledged success is built on its relative
freedom from the dictates of the market. This must remain the
case. The BBC's recent successes in the ratings, its digital expansion
and, initiatives like the Asian network, are a function of this
freedom. Thus, allowing it to become a subordinate part of OFCOM,
whose current purpose is to promote competition in broadcasting,
severely undermines the prospects for the continuance of a cornerstone
of UK high quality public broadcasting. It is therefore imperative
that OFCOM should not have any role, beyond the most minimalistic
one of being involved in dialogue with the Corporation on matters
of mutual concern.
4.1 The general thrust of policy as outlined
in the policy commentary of the bill is deregulatory. The proposed
policies will lead to increased concentrations of ownership across
all media sectors and increased cross ownership. Evidence from
the UK and the USA, plentifully available in published form, shows
that concentration of ownership leads to a reduction in diversity
and range of content, as the companies involved head for the maximum
returns from their investments. We do not think this benefits
the public, nor the working conditions of NUJ members.
4.2 To avoid a reduction in diversity we
consider that current limits on cross ownership and concentration
should, at least, be properly enforced. We do not consider that
democratic debate is served by allowing local authorities, religious
groups and advertising agencies to own TV stations. ITV licences
should remain separate, as should local commercial licences and
the ITV news contract should be the subject of a separate franchise,
with no single company holding a controlling interest.
4.3 In our view the presumption that a loosening
of ownership regulations should take place runs counter to the
evidence. This part of the policy making process should be of
particular concern to the Joint Committee.
5.1 This legislative process has, in the
NUJ's view, been driven by a partial view of what should be the
underlying principles governing the development of communications.
Whilst we welcome the continuance of commitments to public service,
we consider that the framework created in OFCOM will militate
against their sustenance and development. If there is to be unified
regulation, it needs to be regulation, which promotes a positive
extension of the public interest in mass communications, rather
than sectional commercial interests. Commerce is, of course, vital
to the development of communications, but it should not, as is
the case in the draft Bill be allowed to dominate future developments
at the expense of media freedom and diversity.
This is our initial response to the draft Bill,
a more detailed submission will be forwarded as part of the ongoing