MEDIA: We must rely on audiences to police the new broadcasting

Robin Cook said last week that whenever he is interviewed by the BBC these days he never knows where it will end up being used; the main news, News 24, or on a BBC web site. Even if the interview took place before cameras, that didn’t mean soundbites would not find their way on to radio. A couple of years ago I suspect his observation would have been different, a ratty tirade about the way programmes from the same organisation competed with each other for exclusive material.

Robin Cook said last week that whenever he is interviewed by the

BBC these days he never knows where it will end up being used; the main

news, News 24, or on a BBC web site. Even if the interview took place

before cameras, that didn’t mean soundbites would not find their way on

to radio. A couple of years ago I suspect his observation would have

been different, a ratty tirade about the way programmes from the same

organisation competed with each other for exclusive material.



The Foreign secretary’s remarks illustrate the way in which valuable

content is being reshaped, reformatted and spread before a variety of

audiences, easily crossing old media boundaries. I experienced this a

few days ago when I was interviewed on the relatively new Bloomberg TV

channel. The business service is broadcast via satellite in four

languages, and is also used as part of a dealing room tool, on

subscription, for City brokers. The TV component - people like me

talking on their subjects - occupies the top right hand quarter of the

computer screen. The final product is very similar in look and concept

to Microsoft’s web TV offering.



I was interested to note where the spending was going: not a cameraman

in sight, but the producers and presenter were well briefed, while the

freelance make-up lady had been trained at the BBC and knew her

stuff.



These are simple examples of the first fruits of the so-called

’convergence’ of electronic signals, telecom and broadcasting rapidly

taking place as digital compression grows roots. It is such a pervasive

influence, economic and culturally, it explains why there is such a huge

debate about how new parameters, or regulations, should be framed.



It was the key reason for last week’s European Audiovisual conference in

Birmingham, which partly sought reactions to an EC green paper on future

media/communications regulation, a theme to be developed next month by a

Parliamentary Select Committee. The Government will also consult heavily

this summer. But I’ve noticed that the advertising/PR community doesn’t

seem to be very involved so far.



It’s clear that common minimum consumer protection standards covering

content are needed. And it is now obvious there are too many competing

regulators. Further, the range of investigation underway in Brussels

suggests a degree of uncertainty about what is permissible, a factor

slowing up investment. If digital radio frequencies can be used to carry

data, satellite channels spread radio services, phone lines carry TV,

and the internet does all of these, separate licensing bodies are

becoming obsolete.



As an interim first measure I think it inevitable that Europe will have

to accept the V-chip, so consumers can decide what (legal, but adult)

material to lock away from children.



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