Memorandum submitted by BECTU
1. BECTU is the media trade union with large
numbers of members working in the broadcasting and independent
production sectors. As requested, we give below written evidence
concentrating on the major issues arising from the draft Bill.
2. Our evidence is set out under major headings
taken from the Call for Evidence. Within those headings we have
restricted our comments to the issues of most significance to
our members. Among the various issues raised, the most immediate
practical priority for us is that of ITV regional programme production,
as indicated in paragraphs 14-19 below. We hope you will take
particular note of our views in this area.
3. Our overriding concern on OFCOM is to
retain a separate, powerful and specific focus on content as distinct
from economic and technical regulation. We believe that without
this, we will be unable to guarantee the continuing benefits of
public service broadcasting, of quality programming and of media
4. We therefore wish to see:
A distinct and identifiable division
or department within OFCOM to deal with content regulation.
Separate personnel to undertake these
functions, with appropriate expertise and experience.
Clear and transparent means of conflict-resolution
with OFCOM's economic and competition-driven objectives.
5. We welcome the establishment of a Content-Board
within OFCOM and call for OFCOM and the Content Board:
to be open and transparent in their
operations, within meetings in public wherever possible and/or
full published minutes;
to be accountable to Parliament and
to the relevant Parliamentary Committee;
to include a suitable proportion
of people with a content background who work in the industry;
to be representative of the nations
of the UK and accountable to their national Parliaments;
to continue the current consultative
arrangements with industry bodies, including specifically the
Federation of Entertainment Unions.
6. On the relationship to the BBC:
We welcome the continuation of separate
regulation through the Board of Governors, with backstop powers
with the Secretary of State and accountability to Parliament.
In tandem with this, we call for
a clear and meaningful separation of the Governors from the Executive;
a separate secretariat and clear public service remit for the
Governors; and scrutiny of appointments to the Governors by Parliamentary
Committee. We note the BBC's proposed reforms in some but not
all of these areas.
7. On staffing matters, both in the regulators
and the industry:
We seek fair treatment for the staff
of existing regulators in respect of job security and conditions
We support the duty of OFCOM to promote
opportunities for training and retraining and call for the regulator
to work with Skillset, the industry's Sector Skills Council, to
We support the duty of OFCOM to promote
all aspects of equality of opportunity in employment in the industry
and call for the regulator to take forward the initial work of
the industry's Cultural Diversity Network.
THE UK MEDIA
8. We regard the media ownership proposals
as dangerously and unjustifiably deregulatory, especially in respect
of the ending of restrictions on non-EU ownership. Taken together
with the proposed light touch approach to content regulation,
we believe this threatens the future of public service broadcasting
(PSB) in the UK. In our view, the quality and range of programming
currently provided in the UK broadcasting system is guaranteed
by strong and committed regulation rather than market forces and
competition. We believe both quality in programming and pluralism
in ownership are likely to diminish irretrievably if the Bill
9. Our specific views on the ownership proposals
are as follows:
We oppose the removal of restrictions
on non-EU ownership of ITV/C5. We believe this will hand ownership
of significant parts of British broadcasting to global, especially
American, corporate interests. We see no significant economic
benefit and a clear cultural losswith corporate priorities
determined outside the UK and a much greater pressure to import
American programming. We note the complete lack of reciprocity
in terms of access to ownership of US companies.
We welcome the retention of cross-ownership
restrictions as between national newspapers and C3 but see no
reason, other than realpolitik, for such restrictions to be lifted
in respect of C5.
We take the view that single ownership
within all or an overwhelming proportion of ITV is unacceptable
without clear and meaningful commitments on ITV regional production
We oppose the lifting of the prohibition
on ownership by advertising agencies (on grounds of conflict of
interest between advertising and editorial concerns); and the
weakening of restrictions applying to religious organisations.
We have major reservations about
further deregulation of ownership in radio and specifically oppose
the deregulation of ownership in respect of national commercial
On the review of ownership rules,
we continue to have a strong preference that issues of media ownership
are dealt with through primary legislation and therefore do not
support the model of three yearly review by OFCOM followed by
possible secondary legislation.
10. In respect of the further development
of communications networks:
We continue to support ``must carry''
provisions securing the right for all PSB channels to be carried
on all the main platforms.
We support in principle the proposal
for a charge on satellite operators for the use of spectrumas
long as this is to be born by the satellite broadcaster rather
than the individual owners of satellite dishes. We regard this
as fair equivalent to the licence fees paid by terrestrial broadcasters.
11. We welcome the Government's commitment
to maintaining the role of public service broadcasting. However,
we remain unconvinced that this commitment is fully compatible
with the Government's avowedly light-touch approach and in particular
with the proposed self regulation for the qualitative PSB regulations
covered by Tier 3.
12. We do not believe that high quality
and a broad range of programmes can be adequately delivered and
monitored through self-regulation by the broadcasters. We do not
believe it is sufficient for OFCOM to investigate retrospectively
whether broadcasters have fulfilled their annual commitments in
this respect. Rather the self-regulation by the broadcasters,
we wish OFCOM to have a proactive and interventionist role in
order to secure quality PSB standards. We believe OFCOM will need,
at an early stage, 1 to demonstrate regulatory power in this areaespecially
in the context of proposed ownership deregulation.
13. Rather than dilute OFCOM's regulatory
role in securing quality PSB programming, we recommend a step
in exactly the opposite direction. We believe OFCOM should have
the power to place positive programming commitments above the
level of Tier 1 on non-PSB broadcasters such as BSkyB, who have
sufficient resources and market share to take on additional programme
14. In respect of other content issues:
We welcome the retention of Channel
4 as a statutory corporation.
We welcome the new requirement on
C3 licencees to provide adequate financial support to the nominated
news provider in order to ensure the service is of high quality.
The remorseless negotiating down of ITN's news contract is regrettable
and should not be allowed to continue.
REGIONAL ITV PRODUCTION
15. As indicted in the Introduction, this
is the issue of the highest practical priority for BECTU. We believe
any discussion of the place of the nations and regions within
the proposed framework will be totally symbolic unless real and
meaningful commitments are achieved in this area.
16. As the Government's earlier White Paper
acknowledged, regional programme production has long been the
strong and distinctive characteristic of ITV; strong regional
production centres bring both economic and cultural benefits to
regional economies; and they can help address geographical imbalances
within the national television production industry. All of these
arguments remain valid but in our view these benefits are now
directly threatened by ownership deregulation.
17. We therefore believe the Government
should be concerned, more than ever before, to secure:
a broad range of regionally originated
programming of high quality from each licence-holder and with
a suitable proportion in peak time;
the use of the full range of regionally
based staff, freelances and production facilities;
a guaranteed minimum contribution
to the network from each licence-holder in proportion to their
18. Specifically in terms of the draft Bill
as it applies to C3, we note the existence of the regional production
quota and the regional programming quota. We further note the
original production quota applying to all PSB broadcasters. We
welcome all three quotas in principle.
19. However, we wish these provision to
We note that there is no specific
minimum level for the regional production and programming quotas
but merely a level which is ``appropriate'', ``suitable'' or ``sufficient''
in the view of OFCOM. We believe these quota requirements should
be strengthened by specific percentage proportions which either
match or exceed current levels; and or by an additional requirement
that each quota should be set at a level which is ``substantial
We note with concern that clause
193(2) requires the inclusion of a regional production quota only
if OFCOM considers it appropriate. We take this to be a means
of excluding GMTV (and only GMTV) from the quota. If so, this
requires explicit clarification. In any event, we believe the
regional production quota should be compulsory for all C3 licences
other than GMTV and that this should be made explicit.
We are clear that the original production
quota applies not just to C3 but to all PSB broadcasters. We believe
this should not just be ``appropriate'' but substantial, significant
and either matching or exceeding current levels of original production
for all such channels.
20. There is a real dangerin the
context of the Government's other proposalsthat the effect
of the draft Bill will be the further decline of regional production
and programming in ITV, thereby destroying the distinctive feature
of the network. We believe this is undesirable not just on broadcasting
grounds, but for broader economic and cultural reasons. We believe
such a decline is avoidablebut only if we insist quota
requirements which are compulsory, substantial and explicit. Without
this strong regulation in favour of regional broadcasting, we
fear the market forces unleashed by deregulation will fatally
undermine the regional dimension of our broadcasting sector. This
should not be allowed to happen.
21. We hope the Joint Committee will take
note of our views on the issues raised aboveparticularly
on ownership, on content regulation and above all on regional
ITV production. We further hope the Committee will take the opportunity
to recommend amendments to the Bill in these key areas.