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
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
But, Smith believes, the Government should have a light touch. ’I think
the magazine industry sets an example that everyone could do well to
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
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
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
’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.