Ofcom Boss + Public Service Broadcasting + Digital Age + Future

I thought it would be useful to hear from Ed Richards, Ofcom’s Chief Executive. He concisely describes and touches upon many of the topics which we have discussed on our blog these past few months. I hope you have enjoyed our blog DIGITEGRITY.

I am sure that the rest of my team will agree we have enjoyed this extensive and interesting topic. We look forward to seeing how the public service broadcasting spectrum will change in the near future…


The Great Global Switch Off

In January of last year Polis and Oxfam released a report written by former broadcasting executive Phil Harding called The Great Global Switch Off: International Coverage in UK Public Service Broadcasting.

The report warns of  the danger that under the new PSB regime being negotiated  by Ofcom and the DCMS, international coverage will decrease.  It also claims that many broadcasters do not have strategies in place to stop this from happening. In his report Mr. Harding argues the need for more, not less, international coverage since so many global issues such as finance, climate change and migration now affect all of us.

In my first post I expressed similar fears for the fate of international coverage in the digital age. So I was pleased to read an article today that had something positive to say about digitalization and public service broadcasting.

Radio and TV Montenegro (RTCG) has launched a new digitally equipped editing studio thanks to a multi-million Euro project set up by the European Union.  The EU is helping the country with its transformation from analogue to digital technology.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic (R) interacts with Internet users during an online chat-session. (REUTERS)

The EU is hoping that by improving the Montenegrin public broadcasting service this will lead to a more open and democratic society. The better the quality of news programmes provided by the broadcaster the better informed Montenegro’s population will be. Providing the station with a modern, computerised newsroom will allow the RTCG staff to generate a much higher quality of programming.

The EU will be providing a total of €3 million in assistance. Ambassador Leopold Maurer, the Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, was there to celebrate the launch.

“Montenegro’s strategy is in line with the European Union in this area. Public service broadcasting is one of the key elements of the so called “media democracy” which promotes a mass media system that informs and empowers all members of society, and enhances democratic values,” Ambassador Maurer.

And as you can see from this video the station was in need of a little refurbishment.


Citizen Journalism – where are the limits?

Welcome to News at Ten with Mary Nightingale and Steve Scott and Bob from Barry island, Mrs Smith from Newscastle, 13-year-old Jay from Surrey and Rover the Golden Retriever from Bristol.

Is this how the news should be introduced?

When you watch the news, hear the news, view the news, where is it coming from? News broadcasters often feature many videos and  photos from the public to add to their news stories. But is this watering down the news? Or is it enhancing people’s interpretation of the news?

Famous examples of citizen journalism…

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=airbus+in+hudson+river&iid=3586314″ src=”5/7/7/d/2f.JPG?adImageId=11531668&imageId=3586314″ width=”500″ height=”358″ /]

Above is the wreckage of the Airbus passenger plane which ditched into the Hudson River in New York. The first photos and video collected of the accident were collected and sourced via citizen journalists or in other words people there who saw it happen.

Here is footage of the plane skidding the water which was captured by a US Coast guard: BBC News

– Other examples included the London 7/7 bombings and probably the most rememberable pictures and videos are those of the planes going into the Twin Towers.

All these catastrophic events have a similarity, they are all fluke, spontaneous events. A skilled journalist with ethical training would only have got there after the initial events had happened. Of course citizen journalists contribute to many other kind of stories but most often the best photos and video by members of the public are when people are in the right place at the right time.

So how do the BBC view the citizen journalism?

I asked Tim Hubbard, Weekend Editor at BBC Cornwall whether broadcaster, primarily the BBC, rely on citizen journalists?

Not only Tim celebrates and encourages citizen journalism.  It is a trend which is being taken more seriously across the BBC. A recent article in The Guardian  discusses how citizen journalist network Global Voices is currently working closely with the BBC. The Beeb will engage with blogging posts from the network, while Global Voices’s managing editor, Solana Larsen, will get involved in news production in the BBC’s newsroom.

Ivan Signal, executive director for the network emphasises its significance:

The idea that citizen journalism is somehow opposed to, or in conflict with, traditional journalism is now clearly past. It’s evident that both exist in a symbiotic relationship with one another, with many opportunities to collaborate on the creation of news, storytelling and distribution of content.

The BBC realises that in the 24 hour news appetite we have today they have to build good relationships with citizen journalists, who equally play just as vital a role with supplying the news to the public.

So to leave the last word to Tim Hubbard, how does citizen Journalism affect journalism?

But to leave a question for discussion, what about the ethical regulations we have learnt from our course at University College Falmouth. Without it, would we have written the same bulletins and stories? No. So is it safe to gather images from people who are unaware of what can and cannot be shown on the web, tv or heard on the radio?


Newsworthy: the journalist .v. the audience

As promised, here’s some of the footage from the interview Ross and I did with Tim Hubbard, the weekend editor at BBC Cornwall, about his views on public service broadcasting in the digital age.  

I asked him what the most popular news stories are on BBC Cornwall’s website, and whether he thought they were necessarily the most newsworthy. This was his reponse:

As we’ve already blogged about the future of audiences, i’ll keep this post short. But it is concerning that the photo galleries are more popular than the news stories. It just makes me wonder if news has a secure future if we’re shifting towards this digital age, where it’s all available online.

There’s growing concern that what journalists consider to be newsworthy isn’t always the same stories the audience would choose to read. It’s this idea of audiences selecting the stories they are interested in and building their own news agenda.  

You only have to look at the most read stories on the BBC News website to see they’re not always what we as journalists would choose as our top story.



MPs are calling for more oversight over Channel 4, warning that plans to expand the channel will significantly increase its influence.

The Digital Economy Bill, presented to the House of Commons on 16 March 2010, will expand Channel 4’s public service broadcasting remit over its other televisions channels including E4, More4, Film4 and online services.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivers his speech during the Digital Britain Summit in London. (REUTERS)

According to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee this expansion will make Channel 4 more like the BBC.

However, unlike the BBC, Channel 4 has up until now generated all its revenue commercially.

Last year there was debate about whether the BBC’s £130m-a-year switchover surplus should be used to reinvent Channel 4 or help get broadband in every home in time for the Olympics.

OFCOM published its report Putting Viewers First, after its second review of public service broadcasting, recommending that the surplus be used to give Channel 4 leverage in striking a deal with BBC Worldwide or Channel Five to secure its commercial future.

However, Lord Stephen Carter suggested in his Digital Britain report that the surplus should be used to help bring broadband to every home in the UK in time for the London Olympics.

This report lead directly to the Digital Economy Bill which will require Channel 4 to provide public service content on a range of media.

At the same time as Channel 4 is being expanded the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has also claimed that the channel appears to be failing to fulfil its original public service broadcasting remit.

Currently the publicly owned broadcaster’s schedule is being dominated by imported US comedies such as Frasier, Friends and Will and Grace.

Channel 4 currently spends only £153m of its total expenditure of £516m on ‘PSB genres’ such as drama, education and the arts

So this begs the question as to why a Channel 4’s remit is being expanded when it is failing to meet its original one?


Out with the welsh

Upon reading the Telegraph recently I hit upon an article about audience figures for S4C – the Welsh language channel and whilst PSB is all about bringing information to all areas of society, however small, these figures can’t be ignored. Of the 890 programmes broadcast on the channel over the past month, 196 of them have attracted audience figures of zero.

A zero audience figure! Now that is madness.

It apparently costs the BBC 100 million pounds per year to fund the channel. It begs the questions, why is this happening and what should be done about it?

Is the Welsh language is slowly dying out?

Are the programmes shown simply not good enough?

Are most Welsh people getting their entertainment from other sources?

I don’t know. I suspect it’s a combination of all three.

Having worked at a Welsh production company, it doesn’t seem like it’s always a lack of good quality programming. They have a few long running series on S4C and they were over the moon at having some of the highest audience ratings that the channel gets – 40,000 viewers. But they are being paid somewhere in the region of £20k per show, so even this translates to about a 50p spend per viewer – an unbelievably high figure. Imagine the cost per viewer for some of the poorly rated programmes, let alone the zero rated ones.

So what should be done?

It seems a shame to ditch the channel all together, but maybe the content to be changed slightly so that during the most poorly rated parts of the day, it could sync with Channel 4. In fact, I’m not sure whether this already happens?

The channel is often used as a great way into broadcast productions for many start up indies in Wales, so could this be developed? Could non-Welsh programmes be shown more frequently, so that English, Scottish and Irish indies could use it as a break through platform. The digital switch over has meant that it would be easy to get the channel over the whole country.

On this same vein, it could be used as a local cultural channel across all areas of the UK, whether to show island life on the Isles of Scilly or Salmon fishing in the wilds of Scotland. But would this dilution be even more detrimental to viewing figures?

The current system is certainly not sustainable, so in today’s world of tight budgets and cost cutting, something has to change. There will almost certainly be an outcry from all sides when it does, but change it has to.


Soaps as PSB

Many of our blogs so far have been about the news element of public serivce broadcasting. But soap operas also provide a public service. Although their main function is to entertain, they also inform and educate the audience. In Ofcom‘s review of public service broadcasting, over a third of those questioned perceived soap operas to be of greater importance to society than most other television genres. Shocking that one third of the people surveyed believe they are more important than other programmes.

It’s easy to see why soaps have such a vital role in society though. Characters have dealt with a range of issues such as incest, rape, infidelity, domestic violence, adoption, HIV, sexuality, teenage pregnancy. The list is endless. As times have changed and technologies have progressed, the storylines and issues covered have become more adventurous. Here are just a few examples:

To demonstrate further, Eastenders’ Stacey Slater has recently discovered she has bipolar disorder, the same condition her mother has had for many years. The writers and actress Lacey Turner worked closely with charities including Mind and Manic Depression Fellowship:  The BiPolar Organisation to research the storyline so they could reflect the issue as accurately as possible.

And they did.  One woman even claims the storyline helped her to get a diagnosis after she recognised some of the symptoms in her own behaviour.

Soap operas reach all age groups and are a fantastic opportunity for public service broadcasters to inform the audience about such issues. Families sit down to watch soaps like the BBC’s Eastenders and ITV’s Coronation Street together, so they can create a platform for discussion. Additionally, younger audiences can be targeted through programmes like Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, which has dealt with equally hard-hitting issues in its time.

Public service broadcasters have a responsibility to inform their audiences. They do so through their portrayal of real life issues but also by offering helpline information at the end of any episode containing such a storyline.  

They are constantly stretching the boundries in terms of the issues they cover and will continue to do so as long as there are topics that need covering. There are always new issues emerging. For example, Australian soap Home and Away has recently aired a human trafficking storyline.

It will be interesting to watch the role of the soap opera adapt to the digital age. To use Eastenders as an example, they have already run a spin-off show “E20” which could only be viewed online. Their website incorporates polls, blogs, discussion boards. So the BBC is already adapting its programming to keep up with the changing role of the audience.

This got me thinking – interactive audiences could be a thing of the future but apparently they already exist. The BBC has already launched an interactive soap The Cut, for its teenaged audience. The idea is that the viewers contribute ideas for storylines and give feedback on each episode. Having not heard an awful lot about the show, it will be interesting to see how successful the BBC’s attempts to keep up with the digital age really are.