INTERVIEW: Lord Puttnam: the BBC must confront a “total” loss of trust

By Niki Seth-Smith, Open Democracy, 1st July 2016

Your inquiry launched its report on the future of public service broadcasting today (Wednesday 29th June) but it was put together in the eight months before Britain voted to leave the EU. Is it as relevant now?  

I wrote [the forward to the report] on the 22nd June, the day before the referendum, just in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder – and I wouldn’t change a word. Ironically it feels more powerful because it was written beforehand.

What we all have to recognise is that we are living through an era unique in my experience, where the absence of trust is total – it’s not marginal, it’s total. It’s gone. And the process of rebuilding trust is a very very tough process. It has to be done illustratively … so my argument would be with this government, and indeed it would be with a Labour government if it happened to be in power, is that you have to go out of your way to prove that you do not have your fingerprints in any way shape or form on the provision of public information and news. You’ve got to prove to the public you’re nowhere near it. And any steps you can do that will establish that proof are worth taking.

Read the interview in full here.

 

IN THE NEWS: Lord Puttnam: BBC board should be independent of government

John Plunkett, the Guardian, 29th June 2016

An inquiry chaired by Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam has said appointments to the new BBC board should be entirely independent of government, and called for a digital levy to fund new public service content outside of the corporation.

The Future for Public Service Television report, published on Wednesday, said the licence fee should be abolished “as soon as is practically possible” and replaced with a more progressive funding mechanism via council tax or general taxation.

It also called on broadcasters to do much more to reflect the diversity of the UK, backing Lenny Henry’s calls for ring fenced funding for black, Asian and minority ethnic productions, and said it was time for the BBC to commit to Scottish and Welsh opt-outs of its main BBC1 news bulletins.

The report said appointments to the BBC’s new unitary board, which will replace the BBC Trust, should be ‘entirely independent from government’ and overseen by a new independent appointments body.

The government’s white paper on the BBC in May proposed that as many as half of the new board of up to 14 people would be government appointments, raising fears that the BBC’s independence could be jeopardised.

Read the article in full here.

IN THE NEWS: TV’s failure to properly scrutinise Boris Johnson’s EU claims a ‘criminal act’

Ex-Channel 4 deputy chair also says media as a whole failed to tackle ‘Monty Phythonesque’ vision of Europe and calls BBC coverage constipated

Boris Johnson in 2008 talking about Turkey joining the EU

The Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam has criticised the BBC’s coverage of the EU referendum as “constipated” and accused broadcasters of a “criminal act” by not putting the claims of leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson under more scrutiny.

Puttnam, the former deputy chairman of Channel 4, said the media as a whole had failed to tackle the “Monty Pythonesque vision of Europe” which he said had been allowed to go unchallenged for the last 30 or 40 years.

He said the BBC had effectively been hamstrung by the strict rules on impartiality which govern it, which meant as soon as one campaigner said something it had to find someone to say the opposite.

In particular, Puttnam accused broadcasters of failing to challenge Johnson over footage filmed for the BBC eight years ago in which he appeared to make a passionate case for Turkey joining the European Union.

Puttnam said he had sent the clip to broadcasters, including the BBC director general Tony Hall.

“It’s an absolute abrogation of journalistic responsibility that that clip was not used continually throughout [the referendum debate],” Puttnam said.

Read the article in full here.

Des Freedman: PSBs must be free to provoke

The Brexit vote has shown public service broadcasters’ folly in chasing the centre ground, says Des Freedman in Broadcast, 29th June 2016

The referendum result has made many people sit up and think about the performance of our most important public institutions and that includes our broadcasters. At a time when the UK appears to be increasingly polarised, to what extent can our television ecology claim to retain the trust, support and loyalty of an unsettled population and fragmenting audiences?

The inquiry into the future of public service television, chaired by Lord Puttnam, publishes its final report today in these very challenging circumstances.

At public events around the UK, in high-quality submissions from broadcasters, academics and civil society groups and conversations with key stakeholders, one thing has become clear: there is no consensus on many of the key issues – the pace of change, the impact of current developments, the measures needed to secure public service television, even on whether we need public service television any more.

Perhaps that is the key: dissensus, not consensus, is the new normal – and we better get used to the absence of agreement. It is perhaps one of the failings of our most popular broadcasters: they have for too long gravitated towards a perceived ‘centre ground’ when this ‘centre ground’ was coming unstuck. Instead of promoting a multitude of voices and formats and taking risks, they have too often clung to the familiar and acceptable.

It is precisely because these tendencies are even more pronounced in the commercial marketplace that we need public service broadcasters more than ever. As the architect Mark Wigley said recently: “The architect’s role is not to give the client exactly what was asked for, but to change the idea of what can be asked for.”

We want our best broadcasters to produce high quality content, but also to challenge us and to show us things we didn’t know we were interested in or familiar with.

We need a creative, spirited and independent public service media to make sense of, and to entertain and animate us in, these difficult times. The trouble is that the status quo isn’t really an option. Neither technology nor markets will allow it, and I’m not sure that audiences would either.

In this context, our report proposes a new deal. We believe that the UK benefits hugely from our public service ecology and that policymakers need to rediscover the appetite to think creatively about how we can best sustain this ecology.

PSBs should continue to receive special privileges such as EPG protection and, in the case of the BBC, universal funding, but they will have to earn these privileges and to raise their game by generating the innovative and relevant content and services that their audiences are demanding.

We also need to foster new types of public service content for the digital age, to cater more effectively for all of the audiences of the UK and to address some of the barriers to entry both on- and off-screen.

In that spirit, we have made a series of recommendations in the report that include the following proposals:

  • Pay-TV platforms should pay retransmission fees to public service television operators, to address the current undervaluation of public service content by these distributors.
  • We need to future-proof and democratise the BBC. That means more engagement with the digital world, a new and transparent funding regime, a new constitutional settlement in statute and a meaningfully independent appointments system. This is why we invited the former commissioner for public appointments, Sir David Normington, to devise such a scheme.
  • Channel 4 should not be privatised – neither in full or in part – and the government should clarify its view on its future as soon as possible.
  • ITV’s commitment to public service needs to be strengthened. Ofcom should conduct a review of how best ITV can contribute to the public service ecology for the next decade and beyond, including explicit commitments for programming and investment, alongside a fresh look at the range of regulatory support that can be offered. ITV should be asked to take on a more ambitious role, especially in regional TV and in current affairs.
  • A new contestable fund for public service content is needed, that would be open to cultural institutions and small organisations not already engaged in commercial operations. This would be funded by the proceeds of a levy on the revenues of the largest digital intermediaries and internet service providers and carried out in partnership with PSB bodies.
  • Any commitment to diversity must be accompanied by sufficient funds and public service broadcasters should ring-fence funding specifically aimed at BAME productions.
  • Commissioning structures and funding streams must better reflect devolutionary pressures and  budgets for spending in the devolved nations should be wholly controlled by commissioners in those nations.

We have many other recommendations and points to make. Some people are likely to think that they are too contentious or not contentious enough, that they are either too timid or too radical and impractical.

But a time of such enormous political uncertainty, we want to find ways to build on television’s strengths, to address its weaknesses and to design a public service television ecology that can represent all citizens and thrive in a digital era.

IN THE NEWS: Sports rights could account for three quarters of TV content costs within a decade, says Lord Puttnam

By Ben Dowell, Radio Times, 29th June 2016

Labour Peer and broadcasting grandee Lord Puttnam has warned that three quarters of all UK television content spending could go on acquiring sports rights with 37% of TV budgets going to football players within a decade.

Currently sports rights account for 46% of the total TV content spend, which stood at £6.4 billion according to the latest set of Ofcom figures. But Lord Puttnam warned today that this could rise to 74% in ten years time – something he described as an “absurdity.”

“There is no reason to assume that figure won’t be 74%. At what point does it not become insane that three quarters of expenditure of all programming is going into sport? What is the figure where you go ‘this is mad’?

Read the article in full here.