It is an enormous pleasure to be here at this year's Radio Festival. And I would like to thank John Bradford for inviting me. It is my first opportunity to talk speak to you as Secretary of State and my first opportunity to talk about broadcasting in general.
Sadly I was unable to be here in time to here the introduction by Matthew Bannister. He is someone I've never met, but as a heavy radio listener with home and constituency in London he's someone whose impact I've long been aware of. First he made the old GLR listenable, then he took on Smashy and Nicey at Radio 1, and then gave us a wonderful documentary. Backbiting, infighting, personality disputes, obscure jargon B not Eastenders, not even Today in Parliament, but an everyday story of radio folk.
He's the man who gave us Chris Evans and Danny Baker B but nobody's perfect.
I mention Matthew at some length for more than just politeness.
He took over first GLR and then Radio 1 with the clear purpose of making them distinctive. His Radio 1 days of course are the ones that everyone knows. With hindsight it is easy to forget the tabloid frenzies and broadsheet abuse that Matthew and John Birt had to endure. But anyone close to the industry will recognise that the pain was necessary. The old Radio 1 was safe, even dull. No self-respecting teenager would have been caught dead listening to it. Innovation was coming from commercial stations and the pirates.
Post-Bannister it is all so different. Radio 1 has embraced the music that young people actually listen to. It champions live music. It is a mark of its success that people like me cannot listen to it B an essential quality for any station that wants young listeners.
Radio is a huge success story. Everyone in the industry can be proud of the way it permeates the fabric of the nation's life.
Listener numbers are rising B and I think that those for TV are falling.
Getting out of bed, driving to and from work, jogging, cooking the family supper, falling asleep. Millions of people share all these moments with their favourite radio stations. It is perhaps the most intimate of any of the media B intimate but not intrusive. Radio is now so diverse that each individual can find the station that speaks to them. Protecting and enhancing that diversity is now a central aim of our policy in relation to radio.
Market competition has created that diversity. My generation can remember the tedium of radio in the 1960s, when excitement came from the crackley signal of Radio Luxembourg and then from the short-lived pirates if you were lucky. The BBC provided many good programmes, Round the Horn, Hancock's Half Hour, Two Way family, but it wouldn't innovate. Its formats and accents were buried in the past B or perhaps in a world that never existed.
Now there are 250 stations B and the BBC has had to fight to keep its audience and is the better because of it. 5Live hits fantastic heights with its sports commentaries, and has knocked the stuffiness out of radio news. Radio 3 is more radical, more daring, because Classic FM is so good. Radio 2 is rightly Britain's most popular station, transformed from what it was even 10 years ago, because stations like Capital Gold and Heart made it change.
At local level the situation is even more dynamic. All over the United Kingdom there are stations that broadcast to their community B proud of being local, giving people the news, talk and music they want, delivered by people and in accents they recognise. One of the best trusted forms of media. The very best local stations beat the national stations by miles in competing for the local audience. Again, it is competition that has driven the quality. The BBC stations are often very good, but that is because they have to be.
Public Service Broadcasting
Radio is a British success because of the people in the industry B but also because Government has recognised it needs to build a regulatory framework which encourages competition while also protecting Public Service Broadcasting. The vital hinge: The free market has done a lot, but without careful regulation we may well have seen quality and diversity decline. The market would have driven convergence of output, with stations sounding more and more the same and less and less willing to take risks. The sheer localness of stations would have been eroded by take-overs and cost-cutting.
We are now moving into an even more diverse future. Digital technologies will allow for even more stations than we have today.
I want to make it clear that Public Service Broadcasting is as important in that digital future as it is today. The BBC must be enabled to fulfil its remit in the future as it has in the past. Commercial stations must be allowed to innovate and entertain without being crowded out by the BBC, by indiscriminate take-overs and mergers, or by being priced out of the marketplace.
Public Service Broadcasting needs to be restated and re-defined for the future that beckons.
I believe this is a good moment to launch and promote a national debate on Public Service Broadcasting. What people want up and down the country? The intimacy they find through their radio and the characters they share. What they really want from Public Service Broadcasting.
One of the best definitions of Public Service Broadcasting came from Chris Smith a year ago:
PSB exists to make the good popular and the popular good. It exists to entertain, inform and educate. It exists to correct market failures.
First - In a digital world the growing torrent of information, the explosion of choice strengthens the need for PSB:
_ The role of trusted guides becomes more important - to ensure that access to information remains a democratic right.
_ PSB becomes a crucial tool in preventing the growth of the divide between the information-poor and the information-rich.
_ PSB is necessary to support democracy, so that citizens have access to impartial news and current affairs at times of the day or at lengths that purely commercial pressures would not permit.
Second - PSB is necessary to support education:
_ Education is the defining difference between the wealthy and the poor, the healthy and the unhealthy, the empowered and the powerless.
_ Parents and young people have come to depend on multi-media revision aids like the BBC's Bite Size or C4's 4Learning. They wouldn't exist without PSB.
Third - PSB is necessary to nourish the human spirit:
By making accessible cultural excellence, religious experience, human values;
By challenging as well as entertaining;
By stretching the mind with the unfamiliar as well as comforting with familiarity.
Fourth - PSB is necessary for the modern economy - the growth industries are those of media, creativity and the intellect. PSB can create markets and showcases that commercial media cannot risk
Finally - PSB is and should remain part of the glue of the nation:
_ It can portray our diversity, while emphasising our shared values.
PSB is more than just the BBC, but ask 1,000 Britains what most symbolises their nation and they will put the NHS and BBC at the top of their list.
BBC New Services
I know that you will want to know what the Government intends to do about the new services that the BBC has applied for. The BBC wants them, the commercial sector disagrees, and to some extent life was ever thus.
Since being appointed to this job I have decided to extend the consultation period for the BBC's application. I'm new, and so is the entire ministerial team at my Department. I am determined that every individual and organisation that has an interest in the decision has the chance to make their views known. The consultation period will now run until July 27th, and in that period I am talking to as many of the relevant interests as possible.
I will then take the decision promptly B I hope to announce it by the end of August or early September.
For today I can perhaps just set out the principles that will drive that decision.
First, the BBC must show how the new services contribute to its core purposes. They must all be of high quality, and overall they must add to the range of services currently available, they must show that they will innovate, take risks and break new talent, they must encourage domestic production.
Second, they must show that they will not be used as an excuse to move minority broadcasting from the main national services.
Third, they must not duplicate what the commercial sector is doing. This does not mean that the services must be determinedly unpopular in their content, but it does mean that the onus is on the BBC to show that their services are distinctive and not just designed to undercut the commercial sector. They may be services where the target audience does not have the spending power to drive advertising revenues, or where the programming will be risk-taking in a way that the private sector wouldn't chance, or where talent is new and yet to be bankable.
The new services must add to diversity. They will maintain or improve quality. They will increase choice. But the BBC must be allowed to develop its place in the new services of the future. It is Government's job to find the right balance.
Nearly a century after its inception, Radio remains such crucial and important medium. It has been written off many times as old but remarkably, in this age of high technology, the time people spend listening to the radio continues to rise and now stands at the incredible figure of about a billion hours a week. Radio is flourishing, a testament to all your efforts and a challenge to Government to deliver the right environment for commercial and public services alike.
White Paper and Communications Bill
I would like to say a few words about the Communications White Paper and the legislation that you are all expecting.
We have consulted widely on the White Paper published last December. The proposals within it were generally welcomed by the Industry and during the two month consultation period responses to the White Paper were received from all the major stakeholders - including many of you here today.
My Department and the DTI are now considering those responses, and the dialogue will continue over the next few months.
The Queen's Speech announced the publication in this session of a draft Communications Bill which represents the next part of the consultation process.
The draft Bill should be available early next year for a statutory 3 month consultation period with the industry, viewers, listeners and all interested parties. Hopefully, at that time the draft Bill will also be subject to a formal scrutiny by Parliament.
Publication of a draft Bill will be the penultimate stage of a 3 year consultation process that began with a Green Paper in 1998. A process that will end when we finally introduce a bill to the House, we hope in late 2002, subject to the wider legislative programme.
The communications sector is vital to national competitiveness and cultural life. This Bill is about delivering better regulation and is a strong sign of the Government's commitment to this sector. We intend to increase competitiveness while enhancing Public Service Broadcasting in the digital future.
No impetus is being lost by having the final Bill published B if Parliamentary time permits B in 2002. The work continues apace and we are looking now at practical measures to get the core of OFCOM up and running quickly, more in the next week or so.
I would also like to record my thanks to the Radio Authority and CRCA for all the hard work they have put into producing agreed proposals for radio ownership. It is very good to see two parts of the industry working constructively together. There is a great sense of pride about that achievement and rightly so.
I can appreciate the concerns that some of you may have about radio broadcasting matters becoming lost in OFCOM, and the fear that it will become a Friday afternoon job. As we develop our proposals for the legislation I intend to ensure that we bear this concern in mind, in particular by making sure that OFCOM's duties are clearly set out in a balanced way in the Statute.
It is also crucial that OFCOM works to remove unnecessary regulation across the communications sector, to move to a lighter touch regulation that will release the dynamism of the market to deliver what people want. One of the things which we expect people to want more of is digital radio.
Pleased that the UK is at the forefront of digital broadcasting. Indeed coverage by Digital One reached 80% of the UK mainland last week and I understand is the largest network of its kind in the world.
Although it is still at an early stage of development, much has already been achieved by broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers in the UK to further develop this exciting medium, and I am sure that this will continue.
There are still challenges ahead to develop the kind of radio applications which consumers want, and thereby encourage them to take up digital radio. As with all new technology, it is crucial that consumers can see that something is in it for them, for example:-
_ new programme services;
_ improved reception and sound quality; and
_ new interactive services
Only by all sides of the UK Radio industry working together can these things be realised. It is very encouraging to see the BBC and commercial radio sector working closely to make digital radio a mass technology which is capable of linking into other digital technologies such as telecommunications, the internet and PC based products.
The Digital radio infrastructure is developing rapidly, so we look to the manufacturers to increase the volume of digital units and to put them in reach of the many, so everyone who wants to can enjoy the benefits and innovation of digital radio.
The Government is committed to the development of digital radio and it is very encouraging to see the vast increase in choice that digital radio offers at both local and national levels.
I recognise that the cost of digital radio equipment is an important barrier to take-up. We are particularly keen to see the increased availability of lower cost digital receivers, especially portables. I know there are plans to produce digital portables at ,99 before Christmas. I know that for many of us it will become a Christmas present this year.
Digital radio switchover -review
I recognise there is still some way to go to before we can consider switchover from analogue to digital radio, and I appreciate that many of you would like the Government to plan now for the switchover to digital radio.
We believe it is too early in digital radio development to make firm plans, but I shall be keeping a very close watch on the progress.
The Broadcasting Act 1996 does place an obligation on Ministers to review progress made in digital radio and to consider how long to continue analogue services. The provisions of the Act require a review on, or before, the fourth anniversary of the commencement of the first commercial radio multiplex. The review will cover the following areas:
_ the provision of radio multiplex services;
_ the availability of digital programme services; and
_ the ownership of equipment capable of receiving these services.
We expect to conduct this review in the Autumn of 2003, by which time we shall have a much clearer idea of where digital radio development is placed.
I would just like to touch on the recent announcement of the consultation on the Spectrum Review to be conducted by Professor Martin Cave on behalf of the DTI and Treasury.
Everyone recognises that radio spectrum is a rare and valuable resource. I hope that the consultation will help the Government to determine the principles which should guide the management of radio spectrum over the long term, to encourage efficient use of spectrum across the board and enable innovation in spectrum use to the benefit of the economy as a whole.
The Consultation paper does acknowledge that demand for radio services is rising, as evidenced by the increase in commercial radio licences issued by the Radio Authority. I will keep a close interest on this Consultation as it develops.
The Communications White Paper also outlined proposals for Access Radio.
We were keen to seek views on the ideas of strengthening community radio. Such radio services would be very local in nature, catering for particular communities or interest groups whose needs might not be expressed by existing broadcasting services.
The responses to the White Paper on Access Radio have been generally positive, though there were some - understandable - concerns about sources of funding.
I am delighted that the Radio Authority is making good progress in the piloting process. At the end of March my Department gave the go-ahead to the Radio Authority to conduct some experiments into Access Radio. The Authority has moved ahead with this quickly and invited interested parties to write to them, by 29 June, if they wished to be considered for a >pilot'.
I can announce today that the Authority has had a very good response to this initiative, and received 200 letters by their deadline. They are aiming to licence around a dozen Access Radio pilot projects at various locations around the UK to broadcast during 2002. An announcement from the Authority on the services taking part in the experiment is expected in October.
These Apilots@ will help form our opinion whether Access Radio has a future, and if so how it might be taken forward.
These clearly are exciting times for the Communications industry as a whole, and radio broadcasting in particular.
I hope there will be a debate not just between the Government and you in broadcasting but people up and down the country living their lives with the intimacy of radio, a trust source of news and magazine type coverage. We have to engage the public in this debate and sums up what Public Service Broadcasting means to people.
This article was first published on Media Week