FORUM: Will Smith permit the industry to regulate itself? - Chris Smith renamed his department the Department of Culture, Media and Sport He also created a Creative Industries Taskforce to address important issues in the sector - including the media busin

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 25 July 1997 12:00AM

They don’t call it the Ministry of Fun any more. And, as of last week, it isn’t even the Department of National Heritage - the fiefdom of the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, has been renamed the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. A gesture, certainly; an improvement, perhaps - the name still lacks a certain something, but now you could at least say that it scores highly for accuracy.

They don’t call it the Ministry of Fun any more. And, as of last

week, it isn’t even the Department of National Heritage - the fiefdom of

the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, has been renamed the Department of

Culture, Media and Sport. A gesture, certainly; an improvement, perhaps

- the name still lacks a certain something, but now you could at least

say that it scores highly for accuracy.



The change is meant to signal Labour’s new and vital approach to things

cultural, sporting and media-ish. Smith referred to the rebranding

process as the start of a new chapter which, he said, would be all about

’creativity, innovation and excitement’. Of course, politicians are

expected to come out with this sort of hot air, but this time Smith

actually had something more substantial up his sleeve.



The DCMS - as we have been invited to refer to it from now on - is

constructing a committee. Chaired by Smith himself, and called the

Inter-Departmental Creative Industries Taskforce, it will include

Richard Branson, Sir David Puttnam, the designer, Paul Smith (no

relation), the record label bos s, Alan McGee, Gail Rebuck, the chief

executive of the Random House publishing group, and Eric Salama, the

director of strategies at WPP.



The committee will seek to promote the cultural health of the country

but it will not just be a luvvies’ forum. It will also have more

pragmatic aims. Recognising that the DCMS oversees a series of powerful

economic sectors, Smith wants the department - and the committee - to

keep business issues very much to the fore. One of the objectives of the

taskforce, Smith maintains, is to ’boost the generation of wealth and

employment in the creative industries’.



Its remit is not primarily about media issues but one of its members,

Eric Salama, is very much preoccupied with media - he has the task of

managing the merger of the Network and J.



Walter Thompson’s media department. What should Salama be telling the

new body? Chris Smith has had time, just about, to get his feet under

his desk. Perhaps it’s time to take stock of what the media industries

can expect.



Don Sperring, the chairman of AMCO, believes the top priority is the

development of a long-term strategy for broadcasting. ’Capital

investment needs are significant and companies need reassurance that

they can plan long term. We agree the aim of the new taskforce should be

to encourage investment and job creation, but that won’t happen if there

is no long-term framework in place,’ he says.



’The main objective should be to incentivise choice. Total viewing

levels have not increased in multi-channel homes. Television’s

repertoire has been increased with the arrival of the multi-channel

environment, but it has not been stimulated to be as broad as it could

be. The industry is still obsessed with mass audiences and big numbers

and that does little for consumer choice. It is important to find a way

of encouraging more participation from the independent production

sector. The stations we have rely too heavily on imported, usually

American, programming.’



But, Smith believes, the Government should have a light touch. ’I think

the magazine industry sets an example that everyone could do well to

follow.



The mass-market products are still there, but it has successfully

developed tailored and niche titles. It also manages, by and large, to

regulate itself. I am a great believer in self-regulation,’ he says.



Ken New, the chairman of New PHD, agrees: ’I hope Chris Smith creates an

environment where fair competition flourishes and self-regulation

prevails.



Self-regulation is far more flexible than Government legislation and,

from the Government’s point of view, it is more cost-effective.



’I’m not sure that the idea of merging all of the regulatory bodies into

one giant body would be a good idea - that sort of organisation would

not be sensitive enough on detailed industry issues. But, broadly, I

hope the Government steps back and lets the industry run itself,’ New

adds.



John Raad, the director of media affairs of the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising, is encouraged by what he has seen. And, he

says, there has been a conspicuous silence regarding the possible

emergence of a ’super quango’. ’I’m not sure we’d see any benefits from

changing the existing framework. There are many pitfalls and

difficulties and we may not hear so much about them,’ he says.



Raad also believes the department has a duty to maintain existing rules

on ITV. ’The IPA’s line is that the upper limit of concentration where

airtime sales is concerned must remain at 25 per cent of the market. The

broadcasters have given their commitments on that and we would expect to

see that position maintained.



The same goes for the upper limit of 15 per cent on audience share. The

Government should never lose sight of the fact that the Office of Fair

of Fair Trading has given us guarantees. The whole market is changing

and the competitive situation faced by ITV changes month by month, so

that should be monitored regularly - but our position remains

unchanged,’ he adds.



Some quarters of the industry remain unimpressed.



Trista Grant, the managing director of Universal McCann, says we should

reserve judgment until something more substantial emerges. ’It all

sounds pretty flimsy so far,’ she says. ’The department hasn’t laid out

what the real differences are going to be. It’s good that in Eric Salama

we have someone on the committee from what is, arguably, the most

important part of the industry. It is important that the Government

consults people about what the concerns are.’



But Grant is not sure how much influence the Government can really

have.



’Industry developments tend to have a momentum of their own. The best

thing that the Government can do is not overcomplicate what is already a

pretty complicated regulatory environment. I would like to see more

pressure being put on the BBC to stick to its remit, thus increasing

audiences in the commercial sector. As inflation increases and

advertising costs keep rising, that has to be top of mind. The biggest

threat that the broadcast economy faces is the disaffection of

advertisers,’ she adds.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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