5th, November, 2010
House of Lords debate on Media Ownership
On 4 November 2010 Andrew took part in a debate on media ownership at the House of Lords. The debate was initiated by Lord Puttnam “To call attention to the case for maintaining a broad plurality of media ownership in the United Kingdom; and to move for papers.”
Andrew’s speech appears below, you will find the whole debate by clicking here.
Lord Lloyd-Webber: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, on introducing this important debate. I am sure we all heartily agree that a plurality of media is important not only in the UK but globally to ensure that citizens have access to a variety of information sources. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I speak about the area of television rather than that of politics.
One of the few areas on which I can offer limited expertise to your Lordships’ House is Saturday night reality TV. I will concentrate on TV’s contribution to popular entertainment, and therefore to plurality. First, I do not know whether I have to declare an interest: for the past five years I have been on Saturday night TV, on the BBC, and one of the programmes won an International Emmy. I say that I do not know whether to declare an interest because I am not in any discussions with the BBC about a future series and indeed am involved with two programmes for ITV next year. However, because I have appeared on five BBC entertainment shows, I have a little expertise now of the BBC, and I will use this opportunity to say “stop bashing it”.
We all know of the superb quality of the BBC’s serious output. For instance, anyone who attended this season’s prom concerts will attest to the incredible depth and range of music that no other broadcasting organisation could get near. I remind noble Lords of Lord Reith’s description of the purpose of the BBC as to “inform, educate and entertain”. I realise that this debate is prompted very much by concerns over News Corporation’s hope to buy the rest of BSkyB that it does not own. However, having heard the founder of News Corporation speak in London recently, I am sure that he would be the first to encourage new entrepreneurs to enter all areas of the media and create a cauldron of competition, particularly in the area of popular entertainment. Surely, we have to be fair. Sky News has relatively few viewers compared with the BBC and ITV, although I completely agree with noble Lords that its future impartiality has to be secured.
To return to the BBC, I suggest that the best way to ensure plurality in the entertainment sector, which along with sport is the main revenue-earning area for TV, is to allow the Beeb to compete unfettered in the popular market. I remind your Lordships of Lord Reith’s line: to inform, educate and entertain.
When the BBC commissioned the first show that I was involved with, I had a meeting with the producers – all of whom have, by the way, sadly left the BBC for the private sector – at which they kept mentioning the letters PPU. “The PPU won’t allow this”. “The PPU would object”. “That idea is far too difficult for us to take on television; it’s too commercial”. Being a complete new boy, I wondered whether to keep schtum about the fact that I had no clue what the letters stood for. Eventually I thought that I would own up and ask what the PPU was. I was told that it was the “Programme Prevention Unit” – I see that the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, laughs – which is what the BBC calls editorial policy.
In the context of Lord Reith’s remarks, I should like to use the same quotation that Peter Fincham used when he was appointed Director of Programmes at ITV in 2008. It comes from a then recent Ofcom report on the BBC. As he remarked, Lord Reith’s three words had grown to 118. Here goes:
“Informing our understanding of the world – To inform ourselves and others and to increase our understanding of the world through news, information and analysis of current events and ideas.
Stimulating knowledge and learning – To stimulate our interest in and knowledge of arts, science, history and other topics through content that is accessible and can encourage informal learning.
Reflecting UK cultural identity -To reflect and strengthen our cultural identity through original programming at UK, national and regional level, on occasion bringing audiences together for shared experiences.
Representing diversity and alternative viewpoints -To make us aware of different cultures and alternative viewpoints, through programmes that reflect the lives of other people and other communities, both within the UK and elsewhere”.
Wow, I wonder how those guys would take on _X Factor_.
I suggest that there is a very strong argument to free the BBC from this gobbledegook that does not even mention the word entertainment. If the BBC were allowed to be free in this area, there is a strong possibility that the licence fee could be sustained at a very low level, perhaps even eliminated, while safeguarding competition in an area where Britain has often led the way. Instead of bashing the BBC, we should be looking at how we can breathe new life into it and how to set it free.
I suggest that an immediate way to ensure plurality in entertainment broadcasting is to allow the organisation that gave us _The Goon Show_, _Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em_ and _Dad’s Army_ off the leash.