Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Hate Mail - some satirical vids on Daily Mail

The paper that published the Jan Moir column on Gateley, not to mention the example we've studied of the schoolgirl whose thighs they helpfully featured in close-up, is nicknamed the 'Hate Mail' by some (generally left-leaning or liberal folk) for its editorial stance (views) on race, sexuality, gender etc. An extremely influential paper, the current and previous government pay close attention to what it says and strive to avoid receiving flak from it - a rather ridiculous stance for the supposedly left-wing Labour government, but more understandable from a right-wing Tory administration.
The following are just a few of the satirical vids you can find on YouTube on this paper, which once delighted in supporting the Nazis and the UK equivalent, Mosley's brownshirts. Whether you agree with the views it expresses or not, they are worth being aware of as an example of the narrow ideological range of our national press, but also for the paper's reputation as the "voice of middle England". As with any satirical text, boundaries are pushed; please be aware before choosing to watch these that some of the material is 'edgy'.
See also the blog http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/
It may be worth considering whether such vids at least attempt to perform a scrutinising duty that the PCC fails to...



This one pushes it as far as it goes, adding new subtitles to a drama about Hitler's final days; I won't embed it but you can watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIRbcIVKeXk&feature=related
Less contentiously, Bill Oddie delivers a swipe at the Mail, also a target for Irish nationalists.
Here we have a BBC show responding to a characteristic Mail attack on the BBC; their points on why the Mail, Murdoch press etc routinely attack the BBC (at the end of the sketch) are useful:

This is a rather safer option: footage from the Select Committee exploring the issue of privacy, with DMail editor Paul Dacre on the spot:

The level of taste here is questionable, but ultimately the comedian Russell Howard simply utilises actual stories from the Mail, providing one example of how it can create moral panics:

Remember the outcry over the Ross/Brand show? Here's how Russell Brand responded to the Mail's coverage (it features shots of historical pro-Nazi Mail articles):

Perhaps sharpest of all is this sketch from a BBc3 show:


One final point on this; the Mail is something of an easy target, but is an outstanding success in commercial and cultural terms - the owners may not be as powerful as Murdoch but the Mail has become a paper that politicians pay close attention to. It shares many traits with The S*n, and is emblematic of the largely right-wing nature of our national press. Remember though what Curran and Seaton were trying to flag up: for long periods Britain was dominated by a 'radical press' (generally left-wing), with the various steps which are conventionally proclaimed as having achieved press freedom actually, in their eyes, consciously creating the near-exclusive right-wing press we see today.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Past exam Questions

Contemporary Media Regulation

How effectively can contemporary media be regulated?

To what extent is contemporary media regulation more or less effective than in previous times?

Evaluate arguments for and against stronger regulation of the media

How far do changes to the regulation of media reflect broader social changes?

Discuss the need for media regulation

To what extent can the media be regulated in the digital age?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Convergence + digitisation

I've copied this across from the BritCinema blog...

def. of convergence: the concept of the distinctions between once distinct media platforms/institutions collapsing under the influence of new media and the ongoing processes of digitisation. For example, a typical newspaper (print) now offers web content, including podcasts (radio?), video (TV?), blogs etc
To further explore and explain this several additional terms are used; note all opportunities to utilise terminology for your exam! 'Digitisation' is explored below.

Thats how I'd define 'convergence', an especially important concept for Media Studies and your AS exam, as so many consequences flow from this both in terms of how audiences access and consume/interact with the media and the institutions that produce, distribute and market media products.
(The exam board pick out 4 areas you need to be able to discuss with reference to your case studies - WT v Warp, + a brief comparison of both to the big 6 blockbuster Avatar - production, distribution, marketing + 'exchange' [the point at which an audience buys/consumes, perhaps co-creates, a text])

FURTHER DEFINITIONS + RESOURCES ON CONVERGENCE
Here's a vid which further explores the idea

It is a concept which has been discussed for some years now, with its consequences and whether its an entirely good thing seen as up for debate:
Perhaps we will reach a point of consolidation when the pace of technological change slows and the audience catches up, but at the moment most companies with both offline and online enterprises still see the vast majority of their revenues and costs lying with their traditional, offline businesses. Yet they are increasingly aware that this will tip in the opposite direction in the middle distance. So how should the transfer be managed?
... What we will see from media companies are assumptions about the dominant medium, be it print or TV, transferred to the newly converged online world without adequate recognition that the two are completely different entities. (Emily Bell: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jul/15/comment.media)
Our exam board, in an annual report on the AS Media exam, note that many students weren't really clear on this concept (http://www.ocr.org.uk/download/rep_09/ocr_35219_rep_09_gce_jun.pdf), which is a central one when considering Britsih Cinema in the context of Instiutions and Audiences.
Here's another, more detailed definition then:

media convergence,  phenomenon involving the interlocking of computing and information technology companies, telecommunications networks, and content providers from the publishing worlds of newspapers, magazines, music, radio, television, films, and entertainment software. Media convergence brings together the “three Cs”—computing, communications, and content.
Convergence has occurred at two primary levels:
  1. Technologies—creative content has been converted into industry-standard digital forms for delivery through broadband or wireless networks for display on various computer or computer-like devices, from cellular telephones to personal digital assistants (PDAs) to digital video recorders (DVRs) hooked up to televisions.
  2. Industries—companies across the business spectrum from media to telecommunications to technology have merged or formed strategic alliances in order to develop new business models that can profit from the growing consumer expectation for “on-demand” content.
Some industry analysts see media convergence as marking the twilight of the “old media” of print and broadcasting and the rise of “new media” associated with digital publishing. Among the major changes associated with digital publishing is the growth of a “flatter” publishing structure that allows one-to-one and many-to-many distributions of content. [http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1425043/media-convergence]

A Media academic, Juha Herkman, explores convergence in a fairly challenging article, noting for example:
Another much discussed, but not so much researched area, has been the impact of convergence on media economics: merger of companies, concentration of ownership and converging markets of communication technology and media content. [http://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/changing.media/YS%20London/media_convergence-Juha.htm]
We will take this point up later, looking at the example of Avatar. A key point here will be the advantages the major players receive from synergies:
In addition to convergence at the distribution level there are areas in which the same content can be re-packaged across media: for example, computer games and films use the same content in different ways. This also creates powerful marketing synergies.[http://moneyterms.co.uk/media-convergence/]
The wiki on convergence is also quite useful; this is an excerpt, there is much more content on the page:
Technological convergence is the tendency for different technological systems to evolve towards performing similar tasks.

Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications), and video that now share resources and interact with each other, synergistically creating new efficiencies.

Today, we are surrounded by a multi-level convergent media world where all modes of communication and information are continually reforming to adapt to the enduring demands of technologies, "changing the way we create, consume, learn and interact with each other".[1]

Convergence in this instance is defined as the interlinking of computing and other information technologies, media content, and communication networks that have arisen as the result of the evolution and popularization of the Internet as well as the activities, products and services that have emerged in the digital media space.

Many experts view this as simply being the tip of the iceberg, as all facets of institutional activity and social life such as business, government, art, journalism, health, and education are increasingly being carried out in these digital media spaces across a growing network of information and communication technology devices. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_convergence]
 Over at another school's Media blog, an excellent resource for you to use as you work towards the exam (they also study British Cinema), as well as the vid included earlier we get this point, which stresses (note the terminology...) the proliferation of delivery platforms; places, technologies where we can consume or access film ... which these days extends to making our own (UGC), including fan videos (see vid below).
Technological Convergence and Exibition
In the film industry the number of platforms where you can view films is proliferating all the time; audiences can also watch films in a variety of ways WHEN THEY WANT TO. You can use digital technology to download a film or TV programme onto your mobile phone, laptop, I-Pad or PC; you can watch it on your flat-screen TV; you can also connect your  HD TV to the Internet and watch the film on You Tube; of course, you can see the film on Blue Ray or ordinary DVDs;  some might prefer to watch the film on Playstation or X Box; you could, perhaps, download it on Pirate Bay or other sites and consume it at a time that suits you. Of course the latter is illegal. But is this not how many students get their music these days? How do you think institutions will use technological convergence to reduce the impact of piracy? [http://asanda2mediastudies.blogspot.com/2011/01/technological-convergence-explained.html]
Here's an example of a fan vid, a new aspect of how some of us interact with film (part of the 'exchange' the exam board refer to for your exam; we'll more usually refer to 'consumption')
 


LIFE, THE WORLD and THE UNIVERSE BEFORE CONVERGENCE
For this to fully make sense we have to consider how the media has changed since you were born! The web began becoming a 'mass' media (used/accessed by a large proportion of the audience) from the mid-90s, though didn't really reach a tipping point when most people used it until the mid-noughties.

The penetration of the web into everyday usage, to the point where many people access most of their music, newspapers and even TV + film through it (including on mobiles, iPads etc) is actually just one example of the ongoing transformative effects of digitisation. Life was simpler in the mid-90s: newspapers were straighforwardly newspapers, radio came through radio sets, TV through television sets, and so on. Print, film and the broadcast media are referred to as 'old media', the binary opposite of 'new media' (principally the web). The traditional media were analogue; not interactive. If you bought a paper the only way to interact was to write in, giving rise to the phrase 'outraged from Tunbridge Wells'. Analogue and digital also form a binary opposition.

Interactivity isn't the only feature of digitisation, the rendering of media content into computerised code of 1s and 0s. Copying analogue media required equipment to copy one particular analogue media: the photcopier or printing press; cassette recorder (back in the 80s I like many recorded music from radio shows by holding a tape recorder to the speaker of a radio set!); VHS video recorder (or two linked together, as seen in Son of Rambow). As you may have picked up from the National Media Museum display, many early computer games came on cassette tapes too!

Pre-digitisation, copying audio-visual media was not straightforward, and each copy suffered a loss of quality (so a copy of a copy would be much lower quality than the original). Your teacher remembers well giving up trying to watch a copy of The Exorcist which was so degraded it was like having a snowstorm between you and the TV screen!
For your exam, you need to consider what this process of convergence, and the associated concept of digitisation, means not just for the film industry, not just the audience(s) they tap into, but also YOU specifically and how this has impacted on YOUR interaction with the film industry.

KEY CONSEQUENCES OF DIGITISATION:
more portable (mobile) media
interactivity: rise of UGC and social media
new source of profits: DVD (+ special editions) & now Blu-Ray (more new formats WILL follow) to replace old VHS copies (tip: long tail theory), BUT...
vastly increased piracy; rise of BitTorrent and other illegal download sites (filesharing) - once rendered into binary code, films are easy to 'rip', copy and re-distribute, circumventing cinema/TV/retailers
greater opportunity for low-budget/Indie filmmakers to compete with conglomerates? Digital filmmaking greatly reduces cost of production, and theoretically reduces to near-zero the cost of distribution (post a hard drive to cinemas; make avaiulable for download or streaming) [consider Warp X; Atonement; Coens' latest; Colin]

KEY CONSEQUENCES OF CONVERGENCE?
vastly enhanced opportunities to market (eg viral marketing) + new modes of distribution
arguably increasing advantage of conglomerates, eg the big 6, through the synergies available

ATVod v PCC: regulator turf wars!

STATE REGULATION OF THE PRESS BY THE BACK DOOR?
THE ROLE AND INFLUENCE OF E.U. LAW/DIRECTIVES ON UK MEDIA REGULATION

We've discussed how OfCom broods over its desire to bring the BBC under its umbrella, a fate the BBC bitterly resists.
Well now a new turf war is breaking out, between the upstart newcomer Atvod and the old mongrel that is the PCC. The PCC acted to bring papers' web content under its remit back in 2007, but Atvod (The Association for television on demand) claims IT has authority over this area of media content and has threatened to fine papers that refuse to recognise it!
This story provides another link into this debate around OfCom as a super-regulator set up partially in recognition of the impact and consequences of convergence; as we've noted, if the principle holds true, shouldn't ALL media come under ONE regulator's roof? [we've also noted the counter-arguments lets not forget!]
If you read closely the articles below there is what may seem as a minor, but actually very significant (and useful for you) point buried in there: Europe, the EU, is playing a key role in shaping the UK's media regulation.
The catalyst for change was the audiovisual media services (AVMS) directive, implemented in the UK by the audiovisual media services regulations 2009 and 2010.
The European directive's purpose is to create a level playing field for broadcasters and websites offering programmes that compete with TV for audiences.
Among other things, it loosens restrictions on advertising and product placement and imposes basic editorial standards to protect children from harmful material and to prohibit hate speech.
It would be useful if you could specifically name the AVMS directive in your exam!

Here's how The Drum (an excellent site for news on media regulation) reported the story:
The internet may seem a lawless fiefdom where anything goes but a fiercely fought battle over the rights to regulate audiovisual content threatens to re-shape the future direction of digital content.
A newly established regulatory body, The Association for television on demand (Atvod), is leading threats to upend long cherished freedoms enjoyed by the press in their right to self regulation under the auspices of the Press Complaints Commission by challenging the rights of newspapers to exist outwith its remit.
In a letter to publishers the body has bared its teeth by identifying “television-like” content currently being displayed on newspapers without regulation was a loophole that it, alongside co-regulator Ofcom, wished to see closed.
The move comes amidst a flurry of EU directives geared toward creation of a level playing field between broadcasters and websites, a process which could see identified papers forced to stump up a £2,900 fee.
Distinction will be made however between video content that is integral to a websites content and those which are brought together in one place on the site.
The PCC are resisting the measure, pointing out that their remit was expanded in 2007 to cover the content that Atvod now wishes to get its mitts on.
If Atvod is successful in its bid it will be the first time that the UK press, which cherishes its self-regulatory status - has been brought under legislative control.

The Guardian also covered this story, in further detail:

Why video may kill self-regulation of the press
A new regulatory body, Atvod, has newspapers in its sights but its 'land grab' is worrying the Press Complaints Commission
Siobhain Butterworth 7.3.2011

iPlayer
BBC iPlayer is a prime candidate for regulation, but Atvod claims newspaper websites also fall within its ambit. Photograph: Alamy

Who regulates the internet? If you think the answer is "nobody", think again. There is a land grab going on and the web turf being fought over is audiovisual content.
Despite the fact that the UK press is unlicensed, and self-regulated under the auspices of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the Association for Television on Demand (Atvod) has written to newspapers, including the Guardian and the Independent, claiming that they fall within its regulatory ambit.
Atvod, formerly a limp and low-profile self-regulatory body, was last year born again as co-regulator (with Ofcom) of online audiovisual content that is "television-like".
Newspapers and the PCC are likely to resist, but if Atvod wins the argument the UK press will, for the first time, be brought under a regulator's control. If not quite regulation by ambush, it may qualify as regulation by stealth.
How has this come to pass? While the internet has never been a law-free zone, websites have, until recently, escaped regulation. The catalyst for change was the audiovisual media services (AVMS) directive, implemented in the UK by the audiovisual media services regulations 2009 and 2010.
The European directive's purpose is to create a level playing field for broadcasters and websites offering programmes that compete with TV for audiences.
Among other things, it loosens restrictions on advertising and product placement and imposes basic editorial standards to protect children from harmful material and to prohibit hate speech.
The regulations bring web content into Ofcom's sphere for the first time and allow the independent state regulator to delegate some of its powers – hence its appointment of Atvod as co-regulator last year.
But Ofcom remains the backstop regulator and it is the appeal body for Atvod's decisions about which websites must register.
Newspapers identified by Atvod as within the scope of the AVMS regulations that fail to notify and pay Atvod's fee (currently £2,900) could be fined up to £250,000 by Ofcom and face suspension of their video offerings.
Under the regulations, a website is an "on demand programme service" if its "principal purpose" is to offer content that is "television-like" and it competes for the same audience as TV – so there is plenty of room for argument about whether newspapers are covered at all.
The press is also likely to quarrel with Atvod's salami-slicing approach to newspaper websites in order to bring them within reach.
Ofcom and Atvod accept that where video goes with text, or is "integral and ancillary" to a website's broader offering, it may not be caught, but what is being suggested is that keeping those videos together in one place on a newspaper's website will lead to regulation.
The PCC, understandably, does not welcome Atvod's encroachment on its territory: "The remit of the PCC was expanded in 2007 to include audiovisual material appearing on newspaper and magazine websites," its director, Stephen Abell, said.
"This move – which was welcomed by the DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] select committee at the time – means that the PCC is the relevant body to consider complaints about audiovisual content appearing on such sites.

We have considered numerous complaints, framed within the terms of the code enforced by the PCC, since then."
The PCC is right to be concerned. It is only a skip and a hop from regulation of bits of newspaper websites to regulation of the whole newspaper industry – something that successive governments have shied away from.Recent House of Commons select committees in 2007 and 2010 concluded that self-regulation remains the preferred option, which makes Atvod's attempt to cast its net over the press even more disconcerting.
The primary candidates for AVMS regulation are providers of terrestrial, digital, cable and satellite TV, for example BBC iPlayer, Channel 4's 4OD and others offering video on demand such as BT Vision, Virgin Media, Discovery Channel, and various adult channels.
Atvod's claims to regulate parts of the press are unexpected, not least because the all-important recital 21 in the AVMS directive expressly excludes electronic versions of newspapers and magazines from its scope and Ofcom's consultation paper, in 2009, did not include a single newspaper in the list of services likely to be covered by regulations.
Ofcom originally estimated that at least 150 organisations would be within scope, but that figure, according to the co-regulator's consultation paper on fees last month, is now thought to be nearer to 130 and Atvod says on its website that only 100 services have registered.
Money must be tight, but the problem of funding Atvod's regulatory activities is not a good enough reason to regulate the press by the back door.
What is required now is proper consideration of whether the directive and regulations are being interpreted too widely and in a way that is contrary to public policy.
Siobhain Butterworth currently works with media organisations including the Guardian and the Independent as a locum lawyer. The opinions expressed here are her own.

BBFC a few points

The BBFC was raised in a lesson today. While we won't look at it as a full case study its useful to be able to write a paragraph on it, as a comparison to PCC or OfCom.
Its a somewhat ambiguous organisation; created by statute but funded by the film industry (you have to pay to get a BBFC cert/rating), its effectively a self-regulator, though one with much more muscle than the PCC.
I'll add a few points later on Sweet Sixteen, Dark Knight, Last House on the Left, Baise Moi + Irreversible, touching on bias to conglomerates/against Indies, and their use of social class as a factor.

OfCom rulings [post contains some strong language]


Jason Gardiner (Dancing on Ice judge) garnered 3,500 complaints to OfCom about his bullying, sexist behaviour towards fellow judge Karen Barber.
Interesting how they responded - note the similarities to PCC style: they spoke to the producers, who spoke to Gardiner and reported back that the matter had been resolved internally; OfCom announced there was no need for a formal ruling.

The Frankie Boyle case on on Tramadol Nights: he made a joke about Katie Price's 8-yr-old handicapped child. OfCom recieved 500 complaints. C4 had written to Price, but she went to OfCom, who stated that the 7.12.2010 programme was preceded by a warning about the "very strong language" and ruled the show had NOT broken their programming code.: 'The comedian Frankie Boyle has been rapped over the knuckles for "offensive" jokes he made on Channel 4 about Katie Price's disabled eight-year-old child, Harvey.
During an episode of the comedy Tramadol Nights, Boyle joked: "Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey - eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him."
He then added: "I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage fighter - she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from fucking her."
Media regulator Ofcom received more than 500 complaints about the joke, including one from Price – once better known as the glamour model Jordan - who posted on her website: "To bully this unbelievably brave child is despicable, to broadcast it on television is to show a complete and utter lack of judgment".
But although Ofcom has condemned Boyle and Channel 4 for breaching broadcasting rules, it has not imposed any punishment, such as a fine or on-air apology.
Channel 4 argued at the time that the comments were merely satirical and absurdist. Chief executive David Abraham personally sanctioned the episode before it was broadcast.
The broadcaster also claimed Boyle was making fun of Price, better known as former-glamour model Jordan, for her "exploitation of her children for publicity purposes".
But Ofcom ruled that this did "not provide broadcasters with unlimited licence... This position applies even more firmly in a case in which the child is as young as eight years old, and has a number of disabilities which are specifically focussed on".
Boyle has been in trouble before for jokes about Downs Syndrome sufferers, Olympian Rebecca Adlington's looks and the Cumbria massacre.'
Read OfCom ruling here.

OfCom revoked the licenses of four adult channels [ie porn] for repeatedly broadcasting porn pre-watershed. from the Guardian: 'Ofcom said the ruling should act as a warning to other adult channels, such as Richard Desmond's Television X and Babestation. The regulator plans to meet all licensees in this sector to ensure they are serious about adhering to the broadcasting code.
In July, Ofcom fined London-based Tease Me owners Bang Channels Limited and Bang Media Limited a total of £157,250 for "manifest recklessness" in its compliance system.
More than 60 individual breaches have been committed by the channels in the past 18 months, Ofcom revealed today.
Last week Ofcom suspended transmission of Tease Me, Tease Me TV, and Tease Me 2 and Tease Me 3. Today the regulator revoked their licences with immediate effect.'

The X Factor final 2010 was at the very edge of acceptability for pre-watershed, but ultimately DIDN'T break the code. 'The "sexualised" pre-watershed scenes, aired in December on ITV1 at the end of the seventh series, sparked 2,868 complaints to the media regulator.' 't stated that Rihanna's performance on the same night, where she removed a wraparound dress to parade on stage in a bikini, was not inappropriate for the time when it was broadcast.
But it said that Aguilera's burlesque-style routine "was at the very margin of acceptability for broadcast before the 9pm watershed and especially" when it was repeated at 9.30am the next day.
It has now asked ITV to attend a meeting on the issue. As a result of the broadcast, Ofcom also wants broadcasters who intend to transmit similar material to meet the watchdog to discuss whether it complies with the broadcasting code.
Viewers complained that the material should not have been on "a family show", and that the raunchy content was "too sexually explicit and inappropriate for the young audience".
But ITV said that burlesque routines had become "almost mainstream" and that it had used certain camera angles and wide shots to minimise potential offence following rehearsals.'

Chris Moyles [radio eg] has been repeatedly censured by OfCom, showing the OfCom/BBC overlap. In this case, it was for a reference to 'gay' and Will Young. He changed the words of 2 Will Young songs, singing them in a camp fashion. The BBC defended him, but OfCom found him guilty having received 8 complaints: 'Ofcom received eight complaints from listeners who said Moyles's spoof lyrics were offensive and derogatory towards the gay community.
The BBC acknowledged that the comments had been misjudged and unacceptable, adding that Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt had spoken to Moyles and his production team about the matter. Parfitt has also written to Moyles's agent to make clear the material was unacceptable, the corporation said.
But the BBC, in its response to Ofcom, denied that Young was ridiculed because of his sexuality.
"[The BBC] said regular listeners to the programme will have been aware that Will Young has been a guest on the show a number of times. The audience in general would have been clear that such remarks were not intended to be taken as hostile or derogatory," Ofcom said today in its ruling.
Ofcom added that it recognised that Moyles's show was "well known for its irreverent style and humour", but said in its opinion his comments were "clearly based on the singer's sexuality and therefore capable of giving offence".
Moyles was censured by Ofcom in 2006 after he told a caller to his breakfast show "You've got some kids from some fucking...", before tailing off. But in the same year he was defended by the BBC governors – the predecessor of the BBC Trust – after he described a ringtone as "gay".
The governors said he was justified in using the word to mean "lame or rubbish" because its playground meaning had changed for many children.'

Zac Goldsmith was furious after OfCom rejected his complaint.

Bang Media - 4 of their adult 'Tease Me' channels had their licenses revoked. They'd been found guilty of over 60 violations of the Communications Act 2003 Section 3 (protection of the public from harmful material, and especially vulnerable children). They had been fined £160,000 previously, but were banned for broadcasting what OfCom described as R18-strength porn pre-watershed.

C4 doc The Great Global Warming Swindle, broadcast 8.3.2007, saw OfCom receive 256 complaints (C4 took 758 calls and emails of which 1 in 6 was in favour). OfCom found the programme to be within the code.

Wayne Rooney's swearing rant, broadcast live by Sky Sports in April 2011, was seen as NOT a breach of the code as Sky took every possible step to diminish the imact, quicky cutting away, but OfCom released a letter to viewers on this.

Monday, 9 May 2011

OfCom: some fundamentals

Set up in 2002, when it initially shadowed the work of the ITC and other regulators, it assumed full power for the regulation of the broadcast and telecoms industries on 29th Dec 2003, under the Communications Act 2003
It was (and is) widely referred to as a 'super regulator', in recognition of it subsuming FIVE previous regulators:
So, it took over regulation of TV and radio (the broadcast industries) and telecoms (provision and operation of telephone/web [ISPs], including pricing and access to the national cable network laid by BT)
Labour had made much of the growing importance of the digital economy, and argued that the processes of digitisation and convergence made a cross-media regulator necessary. This seems a reasonable argument ... indeed, so good one has to wonder why advertising, the press and film were permitted to continue with their self-regulators (ASA, PCC, BBFC)! There are some contradictory but useful arguments here:
  • a super reguator made sense in the context of convergence (with the likes of Sky and Virgin offering their own TV services, the telecoms/TV distinction was growing blurred - triple play is now offered by several companies: TV, phone, broadband/web)
  • note though that OfCom was quickly shown to be a regulator with a fairly deregulatory ethos (eg it has continually loosened the requirements on ITV especially as a public service broadcaster to broadcast children's and regional programming, and permitted the timing of main news bulletins to be altered, plus allowed the previously independent ITV franchise companies to merge)
  • Labour, especially Chancellor Gordon Brown, talked up the importance of the creative industries and the digital economy, and saw OfCom as one means of helping to encourage the growth of this wired Britain - again, whilst it has more powers than the PCC, it was not set up to constantly interfere in the operations and functioning of the media industries!
    • Labour argued the UK needed large media companies, so permitted a degree of monopoly in ITV
  • BUT, if convergence made such a strong case for a super regulator, why not also bring in the ASA, BBFC and PCC (ad'g, film, press)?
    • there is a reasonable argument here: although the DCMS effectively oversees all media regulation, bringing ALL media regulation under one roof would raise fears of government interference. As our political system usually presents a left-wing Labour or right-wing Conservative (not coalition as at present) government, this would be seen as a risk
      • so the Tories right now are complaining loudly about the BBC referring to spending CUTS, insisting they should refer instead to SAVINGS
    • furthermore, wouldn't they be penalising the PCC etc for no apparent reason? (Labour praised the PCC repeatedly!)
    • perhaps a complicated system maintaining some self-regulated parts and some statutory is actually the best solution?
    • there is also the historical context: the telecoms and broadcast industries initially developed as state monopolies with strict licensing systems in place as private provision developed; there isn't the same free market history as for the press. Furthermore, given the extreme importance of media pluralism (a multiplicity of voices and views) within any functioning democracy, the broadcast media had to be tightly regulated as spectrum scarcity historically made this impossible (we only have to go back 30 years for a 3-channel UK TV system, C4 not being launched until 1982). To summarise: the broadcast media developed as state-owned monopolies, NOT as a pluralist free market, so self-regulation wasn't a straightforward proposition
    • a very complex set of regulations grew up around commercial TV (ITV), though the BBC was (and mostly remains) largely a self-regulator. Nonetheless, as the government sets its funding every ten years (less, under the current hostile Tory government!), there is clear scope to influence it, and the BBC is widely percieved to have been bullied and influenced by the current government (who still seem to think of the Beeb as the British Bolshevik Corporation [the 80s Thatcher government frequently labelled the BBC thus])
    • the broadcast media have traditionally been viewed as more powerful, more likely to influence its consumers, than the press. Indeed, much of the early effects theories arose from reactions to the way the Nazis used film, TV and radio for propaganda purposes in the 1920s to 1940s (leading to the creation of influential groups such as the Frankfurt School)
Another very useful to look at this is to consider the example of News Corporation. The concept of a super-regulator means that its telecoms (Sky's telephone and ISP) operations come under the auspices of OfCom. Its TV holdings (Sky) also comes under OfCom's wings (although, as its not a public service broadcaster [PSB], it is not as tightly regulated as ITV, BBC, C4, C5). That is surely a good thing; the regulator is able to take into consideration its cross-media holdings and operations when called upon to consider cases involving Sky, and can also consider this when reviewing the structure of these media industries, including its reviews into pricing and monopolies.
But what about the other three main media regulators? As it happens, each of the ASA, PCC and BBFC also regulate subsidiaries of the global conglomerate that is News Corporation. Sky in particular is a major advertiser, spending 100s of £millions each year on marketing (ASA). The News International subsidiary runs the UK's leading tabloid (S*n/NoTW) and broadsheet (Times/Sunday Times) [PCC], while the company also owns 20th Century Fox [BBFC], producer of Avatar. Indeed, the marketing for Avatar to some extent involved all forms of media! News Corporation is not shy of exploiting its cross-media holdings for the synergies offered by horizontal integration, in one notorious case publishing no fewer than 13 articles on Avatar or 3D in one edition of The S*n! Then of course there is the ongoing matter of News Corporation's intentions to buy the remaining 60% of the shares in BSkyB. This was seen as a matter for OfCom - but why not the PCC? Surely the issue here is not so much about this notorious right-wing zealot Murdoch operating a TV network, but about this same gentleman (behind the lovely Fox News lets not forget; biased domestic news remains illegal in the UK, but give it time...) also having a dominant share of the press too? Don't we need an all-media regulator to effectively regulate such cross-media giants? A true super-regulator for such super-media conglomerates?!
We could make some similar points about Richard Desmond's media holdings which, in addition to his porn channels/publications, includes Channel5, The Star and the Daily/Sunday Express. He's already used his tabloid to heavily hype up C5's signing of the show Big Brother.


OfCom is very different to the PCC...
  1. It is a statutory regulator
  2. It has real powers (to fine, ban and even withdraw broadcast licenses, which it has done with several porn TV stations, but also to intervene in the markets/pricing of telephony/ISPs)
  3. It is not simply the regulator for ONE industry
  4. Its budget reflects all these points: £121.6m, compared to the PCC's £2m (unchanged for many years). £76m comes from the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills, £600k from the DCMS, and the £55.1m remainder from the broadcast/telecoms industries 
  5. There is a schism at its heart: whilst its plainly trying to take over the regulation of the BBC from its BBC Trust, OfCom only regulates small parts of the BBC's operations in 2011
Under Labour, OfCom was very high profile and thrived, undertaking a rapid expansion with a series of in-depth investigations and reports which effectively set the agenda for government policy. The Conservatives are ideologically opposed to this, and de-regulation of all business, no matter what ties it may have to culture or public opinion, is a core Tory value. Cameron and his Media spokesman, now Culture, Media and Sport Secretary at the DCMS, Jeremy Hunt, were clear and vociferous in their opposition to OfCom exerting such power, and it was Tory policy to clip OfCom's wings.

Which they swiftly have done as part of the current coalition government...
28.2% of OfCom's budget is to be cut. While there are widespread public spending cuts under way, this is more than most (and amounts to 170 jobs, effectively ending OfCom's reign as supreme creator of media policy!). They have fared better than organisations such as the UKFilm Council though (not a regulator), which has been scrapped as part of the much heralded 'bonfire of the quangos'.

Even so, as the Conservatives have traditionally been hostile to the BBC, OfCom may yet be handed regulation of the Beeb...

The Peacocok Ctee (1985), set up to review financing of the BBC, was expected by thatcher to recommend its privitisation. The 1986 Peacock Report DID suggest selling off Radios 1 + 2, BUT explicitly backed the publicly-owned BBC as a necessary evil to maintain general broadcasting standards, recognising that privatising it would lead to a rapid tabloidisation or dumbing down of TV in general.

The government has, though, already made some changes to the way OfCom operates:
The government is to merge independent communications regulator Ofcom with its postal service counterpart Postcomm as part of the quango cull announced today.
Ofcom is also to lose powers relating to policy setting, which are to be returned to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and will no longer control decisions related to independent ownership of television franchises, such as ITV and Channel 5, but all its core communications functions will remain.
It will, however, now be allowed to charge fees for satellite filings when made to the International Telecommunications Union.
Speculation had surrounded the future of Ofcom since before the election, and many had anticipated the quango would be cut altogether in today's announcement.
The coalition today published the Postal Services Bill which will provide for the transfer of Postcomm's functions to Ofcom, maintaining its focus on securing a "universal postal service".


quick summary of the thinking behind deregulation...
The current coalition government have launched a 'Red Tape Challenge', seeking to identify legislation (laws) that can be scrapped. They, and papers such as the Mail, habitually refer to regulation as 'red tape' or 'bureaucracy', overlooking the context in which such rules emerged (often in response to some crisis). Regulation is seen as a barrier to entrepreneurialism, and to business in generel; in theory, the less there is of this the freer businessmen are to grow businesses and create jobs. This goes against traditional left-wing values, which sees the power of the state as a necessary brake on the free market to protect the poor and vulnerable (see this eg), though such are our contemporary politics that Labour has also attacked red tape!