Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

WEDNESDAY 11 JULY 2007

Mr Chris Shaw and Ms Sue Robertson

  Q140  Lord King of Bridgwater: You handled it entirely?

  Mr Shaw: With the director of legal affairs, yes. Just the two of us. There was no shareholder representation.

  Q141  Chairman: As a matter of interest, to follow up Lord King, what actually would happen if the owners of the business tried to put pressure on you to do a particular story or to omit a particular story? What would you do?

  Mr Shaw: Me personally?

  Q142  Chairman: Yes.

  Mr Shaw: I think that I would just go straight to my manager and say, "Listen, So-and-So is asking me to run this and I am not very happy about it".

  Q143  Lord King of Bridgwater: Who is actually the chairman of five?

  Ms Robertson: The chairman of our board is called Rémy Sautter. He is from French radio; he is part of the RTL group.

  Q144  Lord King of Bridgwater: He is RTL?

  Ms Robertson: RTL own us. Our board is chaired by Rémy. Gerhard Zeiler attends all the meetings, with the executive directors of five.

  Q145  Lord King of Bridgwater: Are there any British members of the five board?

  Ms Robertson: The executive directors of five, including myself, our director of programmes, director of sales, chief executive, attend our five board as well, along with our shareholders.

  Q146  Lord King of Bridgwater: How do you think it has changed? five has evolved as a channel over the years pretty markedly, has it not? How has the news evolved?

  Mr Shaw: I think that it has been in parallel. I describe it as that we were a screaming infant to begin with, desperate to be noticed, to get on the radar, and we made a lot of noise. Actually, five News was extremely successful in its opening few years. We won loads of industry awards and were credited with changing some of the conventions of television news at the time. Then, as the channel drifted upmarket and began to "grow up", if you like, got past puberty, I think the news also decided that, as well as being noisy and different, it had to work harder to be taken more seriously—and that would be the sort of middle phase.

  Q147  Lord King of Bridgwater: Do we know the audience figure?

  Mr Shaw: Yes, I can give you the audience figures. Which particular bit?

  Q148  Lord King of Bridgwater: For news.

  Mr Shaw: There are three news programmes on Channel 5 and four or five updates a day. The lunchtime news at 11.30 has an audience of roughly 200,000, 4 or 5% share, the same as Channel 4 News. Our 5.30 news has an audience of roughly 600,000, a 4½% share. Our 7 p.m. news has an audience of roughly 300,000; that is a share of just under 2%. Across a day, therefore, about a million individual viewers will watch five News in its programme form, and another two million viewers will see our updates. Can I also say that Channel 4 News is not the youngest news on terrestrial television? The seven o'clock news on Channel 5 is.

  Q149  Chairman: We will note that.

  Ms Robertson: 23%.

  Q150  Baroness Thornton: Can I ask a supplementary here about Ofcom's recent review of the news, which suggested that, after digital switchover, "statutory mechanisms to enforce the inclusion of news on television may only work on BBC and possibly Channel 4". That was what was quoted earlier. Can you tell me what your reaction is to that analysis?

  Ms Robertson: As I said earlier, it is quite hard to think forward as long as 2012, but I cannot really conceive of a time where, as a multi-genre broadcaster which is trying to establish its own personality, brand and reputation, we would not have a news service. I think that it is essential; it is part of your multi-genre status. Of all the areas of PSB that we are very committed to—round arts programmes, kids, news—news is the most essential. I agree with Dorothy in a lot of ways. It is a linchpin to your channel.

  Q151  Baroness Thornton: What if you do not have to?

  Ms Robertson: We do not have to do as much children's programming or arts programming as we do, but we choose to because we think it is important for our reputation and our personality. I would say the same would go, even more so, for news.

  Q152  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: What you have not said, Chris, is that Channel 5 News pioneered the desk-perching newsreader.

  Mr Shaw: Yes. I was the editor of five News, but I do insist that a lot of the modern conventions of television news, whether you like them or not, can be traced directly back to five News in 1997, including the notion that newscasters have legs and they do not have to be men and middle-aged.

  Q153  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You used to have your news provided by ITN.

  Mr Shaw: Yes.

  Q154  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: And now it is Sky. Why did you make that change?

  Mr Shaw: Primarily because we felt that Sky were offering better value for money and a better service at a lower cost—which is not quite the same thing.

  Q155  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: How much was it to do with the fact that it was a lower bid?

  Mr Shaw: I was under very strict instructions to find the best deal in terms of quality, price and reliability; and the best deal in 2002, when ITN and Sky competed for the contract, was Sky by quite a long margin.

  Q156  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: But you could have chosen to go with ITN? You were not compelled to go with the lower bid is what I am trying to get at.

  Mr Shaw: No. I was instructed to go for the lowest bid and the highest quality, best value for money. If there had been quality issues or reliability issues around Sky's provision or doubts about their long-term commitment then, yes, the cost may not have been an issue; but, as it happened, the Sky bid worked out on all criteria to be the best for us, in my opinion.

  Q157  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: So you do think you could have successfully argued for a higher bid, if you could have persuaded people that the news you were providing would have been adversely affected by the lower one?

  Mr Shaw: Yes. I worked at ITN for most of my career and it was not an easy thing to take the business away from them; but, in my honest opinion, Sky offered us a better deal in every respect at that time. Nothing has happened since that has suggested that I made the wrong decision. On the contrary: I think it has been vindicated.

  Q158  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Can you tell us what that better deal is that they provide?

  Mr Shaw: Yes. To start with, it was cheaper. The key thing for us—and this was alluded to in the evidence given by Channel 4—was the access that ITN could give us to their core news-gathering infrastructure. That was quite restricted, and I felt that it was getting increasingly restricted, because they were effectively supplying three rival commercial broadcasters with news simultaneously. If I am being absolutely honest, I am not sure that is a hugely healthy thing. Sky, in contrast, do not have a terrestrial platform, were not competing with five and we did not have anyone else competing for their attention to us either. So they were able to offer us total, unfettered access at a very competitive price to all their picture, all their journalism, and all their infrastructure; whereas, at ITN, that access was restricted in various ways, due to their obligations to other customers, including ITV who are a 40% shareholder.

  Q159  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Do you feel in a more general sense that Sky and five are a better fit?

  Mr Shaw: I do.


 
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