Karen, what eh? Bradley, say again, who? The decision to appoint an unknown Karen Bradley as secretary of state for culture, media and sport last week was, generally received, with such phrases. At least no further alarm bells were set off. I guess that’s the point. As a role that was originally dubbed "the minister for fun", the direct impact of debates around our national media seems somewhat small against those of national security. But there’s another message too – that culture and creativity aren’t a priority right now and that’s a mistake.
There is a possible short-term upside. Neither Karen Bradley nor Teresa May is overly intoxicated with the media in the same way that John Whittingdale and certainly David Cameron were – in both senses. Firstly, being media-led in the design of so many policies and heavily embroiled in feeding the press and social media for influence. But also having strong agendas about the balance between public and private funding of the traditional big broadcasters. In neither of the above was the priority what’s best for the audience or creativity. A detached, dare I say, accountant’s view may not be the worst thing. Time and time again, the economics of creativity win out not the structures of public versus private funding, nor governance, nor regulation, nor a heap of other things these debates end up stuck in.
The three big things on the industry’s mind will be the BBC and charter renewal and the privatisation of Channel 4. The hope, I suspect, is that Karen Bradley is a move for stability over strong views. Plans that are in place get waved through. Debates involving significant change get delayed or maybe even buried. The personas driving those industry agitations are no longer in place and this appointment doesn’t appear to be one for further agitation.
Lack of agitation feels safe right now. But it’s also the problem. The world is in a phase of significant reset and there’s only so far defensive play can take you. For example, the origins of the BBC would give it powerful mandate at a time like this to lead, galvanize, inspire and talk to a range of underserved audiences. But by the time governance switches from the trust to a new board, Netflix will have no doubt unearthed two maybe three brilliant new things we’re all talking about. The whole problem is that the country is stuck in its own wiring – a mirror perhaps of the failure of big business and the marketing departments that those intoxicated with marketing have lost sight of their audience’s real lives and needs. Pokémon is doing more right now than governments, politicians and marketing to fill the gap we’re all feeling, permitting us to take to the streets in a positive, unifying way.
Creativity – by which I mean material artistic output of all forms – is so important at times such as this, when there’s been so little to gather around lately as a nation. I wonder what would happen if the role was re-dubbed "minister for creativity". Doesn’t feel likely right now. In fact, it’s unlikely this new appointment will liberate any fresh thinking at all. But nor will anything get worse. So, meanwhile it’s 100% up to us to crack on.
Jonathan Trimble is the chief executive of 18 Feet & Rising.