BSkyB and local programming: should Labour focus on this?


10:01 am - July 11th 2011

by Paul Evans    


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As far as I can see, the current scandals engulfing News Corporation – did they cause unnecessary hurt to individuals and get in the way of a murder enquiry – fade into insignificance against the big question:

Do they use the bullying power of their newspapers to distort democracy in pursuit of their own corporate interests?

A glaring example is the way that Murdoch is allowed to duck a European regulation that would create thousands of jobs and result in a small portion of the tax-free profits that he exports being spent on making TV programmes and films in the UK.

Take the EU rules that are designed to ensure that broadcasters actually make programmes for the audiences they serve rather than importing them from very robust marketplaces (in this case, the US).

Look particularly at the measures around promotion and distribution of audio-visual content, particularly this para:

Member States shall ensure, where practicable and by appropriate means, that broadcasters reserve for European works a majority proportion of their transmission time, excluding the time appointed to news, sports events, games, advertising , teletext services and teleshopping.

This proportion, having regard to the broadcaster’s informational, educational, cultural and entertainment responsibilities to its viewing public, should be achieved progressively, on the basis of suitable criteria.

Translation: You have to start investing in quality locally-made TV programme-making and stop filling your schedules with imports and low-rent crap.

Dry stuff, but meat and drink to BSkyB lobbyists (and it explains why his papers are so anti-EU).

Up until now, the UK government has simply not questioned BSkyB’s assertion that this level of investment is not ‘practicable’ (though BSkyB’s revenues are now greater than the BBCs). It’s a classic assertion of hegemony – arbitrary prerogative powers being unquestioned at any level.

The EU provides the only level where UK content-production industries can get the benefit of the cultural exception. Without EU regulations, the economic ecology that allows public service broadcasting and investment in locally-produced high-quality content would largely disappear in the face of the homogenising forces that turn every cinema multiplex into a magnet for US-produced blockbusters.

Should Ed Milliband be courting the Lib-Dems to raise this one? This issue distils every aspect of Murdoch’s bullying power. Doing so would create tens of thousands of jobs in strategically useful industries – a reinvestment of profits that are currently exported by a tax-dodger. It would also have a huge cultural benefit to the UK and create a climate in which the BBC is no longer engaged in a race to the bottom with multi-channel broadcasters.

Or will Ed Milliband be more concerned with the warning implicit in Polly Toynbee’s column on Friday:

Don’t imagine this act of defiance will be painless or without consequence. Already a senior Miliband aide tells me they received a “very hostile” threat, not veiled at all, from a News International journalist warning: “You have made it personal about Rebekah, so we’ll make it personal about you.”

If I were advising Ed, I’d tell him to take this warning seriously. But that’s the reason he needs to stick his neck out and act – as Zapata said, “it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

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About the author
This is a guest post. Paul has blogged at his 'Id blog' Never Trust a Hippy since 2005, and has recently established the Local Democracy Blog with a number of local democracy / social media practitioners. He's also active in the Northern Irish blogosphere, promoting the Slugger O'Toole awards and working on a number of politics / social media activities in Northern Ireland.
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Reader comments


Are you serious? Ed actually has some popular traction on a subject and you want him to throw it away by associating the anti-Murdoch campaign with the replacement of people’s favourite programmes with European-dictated programming?

Also, an EU which allows Berlusconi not just to pull the strings behind the scenes but to be the actual elected premier of his country while owning a major chunk of the media as well as exerting far greater control over state-owned channels than any UK government can do over the BBC might not be your greatest ally here.

Sorry Laura – that’s a complete misreading of what the implications of UK regulators not accepting BSkyB’s assertion that it’s not ‘practicable’ to meet the terms of the AMS directive.

Where does it say “European-dictated programming”? It says that TV stations have to invest in the production of locally-made drama. It doesn’t mean that Sky will be forced to remove popular imported programmes that have high ratings – it means that they have to supplement that programming with drama and documentary made within the EU (and in practical terms, in the UK, that nearly always means ‘made in Britain or Ireland’) at the expense of cheap imported ‘filler’ programmes.

Or, alternatively, Canal+ in France has negotiated an interpretation that says that they have to invest a percentage of turnover in EU-made films.

It’s designed to stop the hugely-increased capacity of multi-channel TV from sucking in imports and making it impossible for locally-produced programmes to compete with low-cost imported schedule-fillers. Every other major broadcaster that has an established and sustainable business model (i.e. “where practicable”) is obliged to comply with this regulation as part of their broadcasting licence. Not applying it to BSkyB is to effectively punish BBC, ITV and C4 for making good popular programmes.

I hate CSI, and NCIS I much rather watch Coronation street or EastEnders, yea like shit I would .

Sorry but making more program in the UK you mean like Mid Summer Murders, and you really trying to get people throwing them selves off cliffs

Post 1 by Laura seems really good to me.

” Are you serious? Ed actually has some popular traction on a subject and you want him to throw it away by associating the anti-Murdoch campaign with the replacement of people’s favourite programmes with European-dictated programming? ”

It could allow Murdoch to confuse and conflate.
It could be like tossing him a life-jacket for his newspapers to grab hold of.

In things like this, timing is crucial … and I reckon the timing is not right for Paul Evans’ line of argument.

5. Chaise Guevara

@ 3 Robert

“Sorry but making more program in the UK you mean like Mid Summer Murders, and you really trying to get people throwing them selves off cliffs”

Doctor Who? Luther? The Shadow Line?

In any case, this issue runs a little deeper that “whether some melodramatic bloke on the internet called Robert prefers US or UK shows”.

Yet another argument for leaving the EU. Why not let broadcasters broadcast what their viewers want?

7. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 Fungus

“Why not let broadcasters broadcast what their viewers want?”

Honest question: any limits on that principle? What if the viewers all agreed they enjoyed the news story that portrayed you as a mass-murderer, kitten-drowner and U2 fan, despite the fact that none of these things were true?

Also, let’s assume that what a large portion of viewers want from their broadcaster is honesty. How are they supposed to identify when they are being lied to?

8. Paul Newman

Bloody hell Chaise even your recommendations are derivative of US shows. In the 60s people used to look at Gilligans Island and Quiz shows and say …shudder ..thats what we would get with private broadcasting. That was then.
Now the BBC imports US shows with Taxpayers money and the US is decades ahead in quality and invention while our tired old statist model slips into moribund torpor.
This does provide some background to the naked bias shown by the BBC on the EU which always slightly puzzled me . It is the subject about which they are most biassed and most out of line with the licence payers.
Look at the Beeb on the Bombadier Job Losses , you wouldn`t even know it had anything to do with the EU. This is not acceptable .
About time we got the bigger picture on Murdoch and what the BBC/ Guardian Establishment are trying to keep . An old ladies armpit cultural backwater where the patrician classes dictate what you know and inflict provincialism on an entire country.

9. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Paul

“Bloody hell Chaise even your recommendations are derivative of US shows.”

1) Doctor Who? Really? And the UK has a long history of thrillers similar to The Shadow Line and Luther – see Edge of Darkness, for example.
2) You could probably claim almost any UK show was derivative of US shows, and vice versa.
3) Derivative or not, these are all good and popular shows made in the UK.

“About time we got the bigger picture on Murdoch and what the BBC/ Guardian Establishment are trying to keep . An old ladies armpit cultural backwater where the patrician classes dictate what you know and inflict provincialism on an entire country.”

Don’t forget the Lizard People and the Freemasons in this exciting conspiracy of yours.

Pual Newman @ 8

Look at the Beeb on the Bombadier Job Losses , you wouldn`t even know it had anything to do with the EU. This is not acceptable .

Eh? So when you the BBC reports you never heard the EU mentioned? You didn’t get that EU rules meant everyone had fair access to the bid from the BBC’s output? Er you must be a fuckwit then because I got theat from the very start.


This does provide some background to the naked bias shown by the BBC on the EU which always slightly puzzled me .

As a Tory you expect to be spoon-fed your opinions from your betters like Murdoch. The rest of us prefer the facts and then let us make up our own mind. That is what the BBC tells us, the basic facts. That fact that it does not match up to your considerable prejudices means that unbiased reporting appears so out of touch what what Murdoch wants you to believe.

This is why you people hate the BBC, you are too stupid to make up your own minds about anything.

Isn’t it funny that the Tory scum are the ones that screech about ‘British values’ and ‘British Culture being swamped’ but they want Wall to Wall American crap plastered all over the place.

I enjoy some American programmes. I enjoy the various CSIs that float about as well as family Guy and American Dad and bits and Bobs, but surely we could have a bit more British made Telly too? I mean if Murdoch is so good why not make British programmes?

Yet another argument for leaving the EU. Why not let broadcasters broadcast what their viewers want?

Oh no, we can’t have that – our beloved leaders know what’s best (unless they are Tories).

Chaise,

Honest question: any limits on that principle? What if the viewers all agreed they enjoyed the news story that portrayed you as a mass-murderer, kitten-drowner and U2 fan, despite the fact that none of these things were true?

Everything except the kitten drowning would be slander.

Also, let’s assume that what a large portion of viewers want from their broadcaster is honesty. How are they supposed to identify when they are being lied to?

Other media organisations say “this is the truth”.

@7 Calling someone a U2 fan is a bit bloody extreme don’t you think there mate. If I were in fungus’s shoes I’d need a good stiff drink at the mere thought!

15. Paul Newman

Jim -The BBC does not give you the basic facts its editorial line is roughly where the Guardian is in Lib Dem territory. Compare its coverage of “Cuts”, for the most part before they have even happened, with its coverage of debt.Of course as you think we are “under borrowed”,you will not notice. I do.
Sky has a wildly different take on it which is closer to the views of the Public who blame the Labour Party for overspending and remain resolutely unimpressed by Ball–o-nomics. The BBC has a conveyor belt of staff from the Guardian and then onto New Labour employment for the last decade. It has addressed the problem somewhat but only with the threat of consequences . It did not care one bit in 1979 when it held a staff party celebrate the end of Thatcherism .
Jeeez you should see its web site on Public Sector Pay …its straight form the TUC propaganda leaflet.

Chaise -I was trying to give you a little perspective on how it is we come to have this Cuban broadcasting model in what is ostensibly a free country. As Television grew up in the US it was often gaudy and the product mixed. The BBC`s solid fare looked far better especially to the middle -classes ITV initially rocked the boat getting better figures for Big daddy falling over than the Beeb did for Wimbledon but its oligopoly has gone native over time and its model is no longer viable with the growth of new media and choice.
The BBC on the other hand with no commercial constraints has responded to each challenge by getting bigger and killing off the fresh idea . Radio Caroline ….begets Radio One . Breakfast TV…who needs it …oh yes we do . 24 hour news ..no demand ….I mean vital the BBC has to do it!
One of the reasons relations between the free press and the state Broadcaster are so bad now is that they are directly competing on the new media where the BBC uses tax payers money to snuff out the nascent on line media industry by subsidising it with tax payers money.
The fundamental problem is the funding model which can only be justified by doing things the market will not do but can only be collected by doing things the market will do. State pop music , state celebrity dancing , state soap operas? Its bizarre.
State Broacasting should be funded from general taxation and do much much less. Or do you suggest we go on forever with this relic of the post war settlement ?

@7

“Honest question: any limits on that principle?”

Well I thought it would be obvious that they should not broadcast anything illegal – didn’t think i’d need to spell this out. It is unlikely to be in their interests to broadcast anything slanderous.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Paul Newman

“Chaise -I was trying to give you a little perspective on how it is we come to have this Cuban broadcasting model in what is ostensibly a free country. ”

Based on this statement, it’s not me who needs to gain perspective.

I like the BBC, even if it does waste a lot of time on repeats and crappy reality shows that would be better left to ITV. It still takes risks and commissions interesting shows, and it’s good to have a news provider that at least attempts to be impartial (I agree that report about the Beeb’s attitude on the EU shows that it sometimes fails here, but it’s still better than any private outlet I can think of).

In any case, the issue with BSkyB isn’t who has the better programs, it’s how much of the viewer/reader share should be in the hands of one man.

18. Mr S. Pill

I’m calling Poe’s Law on @15. No-one in their right mind thinks Sky is more balanced than the BBC, even the most wingnut righties admit that its bias is heavily towards pro-market, pro-conservative, anti-union, anti-public sector.

The only people who complain about the BBC being this or that are those who think it should perfectly reflect their opinions rather than being what it is – a sometimes bland but usually spot-on public broadcaster.

19. Chaise Guevara

@ Fungus

“Well I thought it would be obvious that they should not broadcast anything illegal – didn’t think i’d need to spell this out. It is unlikely to be in their interests to broadcast anything slanderous.”

You never know with the internet! OK – but this isn’t about the government making sure broadcasters put on really great shows, it’s about preventing one broadcaster getting undue control of how people get their information.

In any case, the issue with BSkyB isn’t who has the better programs, it’s how much of the viewer/reader share should be in the hands of one man.

I agree with that in the following sense:

If there is a risk inherent in the size of a media organisation, in that a large organisation will exert undue influence (intentional or not) over our beloved leaders, I would say there should be a limit on the size of media organisations to mitigate this risk (just as we might like to avoid having banks that are ‘too big to fail’).

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 20

That’s my issue with it, yes.

22. blackwillow1

I see Paul Newman leaps to defend a tory friend(Sky News), while lambasting the BBC. Sky are without doubt the mouthpiece of the right, taking their cues from Murdoch(that’s the very reason he should not take full control), the BBC on the other hand try to remain impartial, attracting criticism from the left, myself among them, for the apparrent lack of coverage on this or that aspect of the political landscape. People like Paul Newman do the same thing, whenever there’s the slightest hint of a left wing opinion in their reporting. Of course, the big difference between left and right regarding dear old Aunty B, is the fact that we on the left accept that it is state funded, therefore, we own it, all of us. The right on the other hand, well, what more needs to be said? It’s a big, well funded state employer, so obviously, it has to go. The coalition would jump on the chance to force the BBC into commercial broadcasting, if they thought they could get away with it. That must never happen. EVER! By the way, the OP was all about local versus imports, and yes, they should be made to abide by the rules that all other broadcasters must follow. No, it should’nt become a central issue for Labour, there are far more serious issues to confront right now.

@22

“Sky are without doubt the mouthpiece of the right, taking their cues from Murdoch(that’s the very reason he should not take full control), ”

So as long as it wasn’t being taken over by a mouthpiece of the right it would be ok? So the only reason you object is becuase Murdoch tends to have right wing views.

And why exactly do we need a state run media? Isn’t better to have totally independent media? We have plenty of private sector media sources to choose from in the UK.

@23

Wanna buy a bridge?

25. Chaise Guevara

@ 23 Fungus

“And why exactly do we need a state run media? Isn’t better to have totally independent media? We have plenty of private sector media sources to choose from in the UK.”

Given that the independent media in the UK are far more biased and irresponsible than their state-run peers (compare the Sun or Mirror to the BBC), I’m not sure in what way they should be considered “better”. It seems to me the best solution is to have both.

26. blackwillow1

@23: See @25, nuff said.

@25 Chaise

The BBC has improved over the past few years and is now not to bad, though I would be quite happy with ITV or channel 5 news – what I don’t like is that I have to pay a licence fee which goes to the BBC to be allowed to watch these channels.

You are off course comparing print media (and tabloid at that) with TV. Is there a centre ground newspaper?

28. Chaise Guevara

@ 27 Fungus

“The BBC has improved over the past few years and is now not to bad, though I would be quite happy with ITV or channel 5 news – what I don’t like is that I have to pay a licence fee which goes to the BBC to be allowed to watch these channels.”

I’d rather watch C4 most of the time, but I like having a (fairly) impartial player involved. As far as I’m concerned, the balance between state and private interests is important enough to justify the license fee.

“You are off course comparing print media (and tabloid at that) with TV. Is there a centre ground newspaper?”

Of those that bother with politics, I guess the Times is probably closest, but it IS still politicised and overtly backs candidates at elections.

PN @ 15

Compare its coverage of “Cuts”, for the most part before they have even happened

And? What is your point? That is objective reporting.

Sky has a wildly different take on it which is closer to the views of the Public who blame the Labour Party for overspending and remain resolutely unimpressed by Ball–o-nomics.

It surely cannot be the job of the BBC to be ‘closer to the views of the public’ the BBC should remain objective. Just because the so called ‘public view’ of any subject exists, it doesn’t make it fact. The BBC should report the facts based on actual evidence, not just tell the public it thinks the public want to hear.

It did not care one bit in 1979 when it held a staff party celebrate the end of Thatcherism

Fucking Tory liar. Not got anything to add? Why not just make it up?

Jeeez you should see its web site on Public Sector Pay …its straight form the TUC propaganda leaflet.

If that is true, I bet that the TUC propaganda leaflet is a more accurate account than the one published from the Tory side.

Just because you don’t like the evidence it does not follow that the evidence is wrong.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    BSkyB and local programming: should Labour focus on this? http://bit.ly/n0TM32

  2. judith jones

    '"… the current scandals engulfing News Corporation … fade into insignificance against the big question:"
    http://t.co/Y5ECPhJ

  3. CAROLE JONES

    BSkyB and local programming: should Labour focus on this? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/f6g4k44 via @libcon

  4. Paul Evans

    I've posted on @libcon on how #murdoch political bullying bought BSkyB a lucrative loophole in broadcast regulation http://t.co/71TgXAT

  5. Other TaxPayers Alli

    #murdoch and political bullying – important questions from @Paul0Evans1 at @libcon http://t.co/Xc3IdnE





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