Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Teletext Limited

  Teletext Limited is a public service broadcaster and has, since 1993, provided the public teletext service on Channels three and four. During that time the weekly audience for the service which the company delivers has risen from circa 12 million in 1992 to circa 24 million in 2000. The company attributes this growth in usage to its commitment to the highest levels of editorial quality and relevance and consumer confidence in the integrity of its commercial activities. Teletext is regulated by the Independent Television Commission (ITC). In its most recent Annual Review the ITC reported that "For Teletext, 1999 was another year of expansion and achievement . . .", and commented positively on the launch of our new service for Scotland and improvements in the editorial range and depth of our content.

  Teletext welcomes much of the thrust of the White Paper. In particular, we support the wish to create a vibrant, diverse and dynamic market for communication services and to make public services universally available. We are encouraged at the intention to ensure "must carry" status for public service broadcasters and to insist on corresponding "due prominence" in listings publications, including electronic programme guides (EPG's). We believe this commitment to be entirely consistent with the stated objectives for public service broadcasting as set out in the White Paper, namely to provide diversity and encourage plurality.

  We would be happy to see more detail on the powers OFCOM will have in the area of economic regulation as we believe that in the new economy rapid reaction to unhealthy concentrations of market power and access to speedy remedies will be essential if dynamism and entrepreneurial behaviour are not to be stifled. The UK communications landscape has changed radically over the last 10 years and now consists of a small number of highly integrated participants with considerable market power.

  In this regard we have continuing concerns about the commercial activities of the BBC. As a publicly financed broadcaster, the BBC occupies a privileged position in the UK broadcasting landscape. It is in a position to exercise unmatched market power with no exposure to any commercial risk. This alone places it at a significant advantage over smaller, creative, entrepreneurial companies such as Teletext Limited which must remain mindful of commercial risk. However in addition, the BBC's practice of providing its content free of charge effectively removes the opportunity for new commercially financed services. This distortion of the risk/reward relationship is likely to inhibit the development of a vibrant, diverse and dynamic market. Teletext believes that the current commercial activities of the BBC will have the effect of holding back the emergence of exciting new services and the growth of exciting new companies. In this regard we believe the White Paper could go further in setting out the role of OFCOM in regulating the BBC.

  The Internet offers enormous opportunities for citizens and for commerce. It also brings considerable challenge to those charged with regulating this new medium. Teletext believes that notwithstanding the difficulties in developing a regulatory regime and in particular an enforcement system, the need for regulation should not be denied. Amongst its various purposes regulation identifies those things of which society disapproves; the absence of regulation may suggest that such things are condoned.

  Teletext considers that as a first step, public service broadcasters should be required to bring the same editorial and commercial standards to their online services as apply to their broadcast services. Moreover this could be effected within a self-regulation framework such as exists at present in the newspaper industry.

  Teletext wishes to express particular support for the comments in the White Paper relating to the potential of teletext on digital television. As technology evolves teletext services can offer much of the richness of the Internet in a more familiar, convenient and cost effective manner thus bringing the benefits of the information age to a wider proportion of society. In this regard we would hope that more broadcast spectrum can be made available for digital television and that more can be set aside for public teletext services.

  Teletext believes that the White Paper addresses many of the issues confronting industry and the community as the new communication landscape emerges. We support the concept of "light touch" regulation backed up by statutory instruments. We believe that a vibrant, diverse and creative approach to the provision of new services will only be possible if distorting concentrations of market power are prevented. We further believe that the difficulties in enforcing regulation on the Internet should not persuade us to abandon the task of setting out that which is acceptable.

February 2001

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