Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
600. I asked the Daily Mail was it very
difficult to reconcile the fact that the print newspaper disguised
opinion as fact in order to influence its readership and yet broadcasting
has always been regulated as being independent. I am not accusing
your papers of doing this but do you try to influence the readers
by disguising opinion as fact?
(Mr Cruickshank) Had I known that such questioning
was coming today I would have had our editors with us as this
is a judgment for them to make, not for me or for Mr Hudson to
make. I can assure you that we pay great attention to our governance,
as we call it rather grandly, of the newspaper titles that we
own. That sort of issue is for the editors to decide.
601. I have to say that in The Herald
I am very familiar with your Political Editor and have great regard
for him. Would you agree that a number of the English based newspapers
do disguise opinions as fact in order to influence their readership?
(Mr Cruickshank) Sometimes they report MPs accurately,
yes. It is complex. A newspaper is in some ways a misnomer, more
and more of us are getting our news from a variety of sources
and less from newspapers. Many newspapers, perhaps the ones you
have referred to, are more about entertainment than information.
I do not doubt that they manage it that way in order to continue
to attract readers. We have two very, very serious issue oriented
newspapers in The Herald and The Sunday Herald and
an evening newspaper which I think manages as well as anyone in
Britain to sustain the traditional role of the newspaper printed
during the day. I am not going to comment on others.
602. Obviously you do not have that difficulty,
you run your newspapers as you run the broadcasting side of it,
on the same principles?
(Mr Emslie) Central to your question is is there a
conflict of interest because we are radio, TV and newspapers in
terms of the editorial integrity and how we produce the news?
There is absolutely no conflict of interest. Newspapers runs its
own editorial programme underneath the direction of the editors
and Television, as you rightly pointed out, has to be impartial.
The newsrooms in both Grampian and Television are distinct from
each other and distinct from the editorial content of the newspapers.
(Mr Cruickshank) I think an issue which is not addressed
in the White Paper, again, is the day at which obligations on
impartiality the state will not be able to apply to all news broadcasters.
That is an elephant in the corner, as they say in America, it
is very soon. These are issues that the White Paper should be
addressing, not the structure and regulation and the like.
603. It is very interesting that as we go into
new methods of broadcasting or media, the Internet, most people
do get their news from broadcasting, either radio or the TV, so
is it not an anomaly then to leave the print newspapers able to
act without principle in many cases? Should they not be regulated
in the same way as the broadcasters?
(Mr Cruickshank) For hundreds of years, up until the
1930s, there was a diversity and plurality in newspapers and then
along came television and for about 60 years there was seen to
be a need to regulate very heavily particularly the news content
of television. Now, in the 21st Century along comes Internet as
a new medium, which again has the capacity to provide plurality
and diversity, and the interesting issue is why should we continue
with this particular sub-set of regulation which was necessary
in the beginning of the period of television into the 21st Century?
I think it is releasing television to have the plurality of ownership
and diversity of presentation that newspapers used to have and
now with the Internet is being built increasingly, perhaps not
today but in a decade or two. This stopped with broadcasting but
we recognise the impact that new technologies are having on the
capacity of individuals to access information and regulate what
we used to call "broadcasting appropriately", which
would mean releasing many of the constraints, particularly ownership
604. Why should a media organisation buy part
of a football club? I am referring to your organisation as well
(Mr Cruickshank) I will ask Donald to answer that
but I would ask the question why should we not?
(Mr Emslie) We do not see it necessarily as a football
club but more the content. We spend a significant amount of our
own resources in Scotland buying the right to Scottish Premier
League and the First Division, and buying a stake in a football
club at least gives us a seat at the table to discuss how television
rights might be used in the future. If rights are returned to
the clubs then we have an ability to work with the club and develop
in the content for both the club and the supporters and for the
viewers in Scotland. It is more about content rather than buying
into a football club and access to rights.
605. If a football club needs assistance with
developing its media contacts, should that not be completely independent
from those who are paying money to the football clubs or the Scottish
Football Association as well? Should it not be independent? Is
it not wrong that a media company is able to buyI know
it is a limited percentageinto a football club in order
to help capture some of that money they will be paying over? That
must be disrupting market forces.
(Mr Cruickshank) As long as the activities of outside
investors, whether they be media companies or not, are not distorting
the competition, ie the football league, hence we cannot invest
in two clubs because that raises all sorts of issues about collusion
and so on. As long as that constraint is in there, we have every
interest in supporting that football club and, therefore, indirectly
its supporters in understanding better this mystery of the developing
rights issues. Many people have sports rights issues that they
are developing, as we see in the World Cup, and it is very confusing
and we can help to gain an economic benefit without it being separated
in any regulatory sense.
606. You are probably unique in that you have
invested in one club only but ntl have invested in a number of
clubs in England.
(Mr Cruickshank) In minority positions where it is
more than one, yes. To be precise, it is less than ten per cent.
Mr Maxton: They still get their names
on the jerseys.
607. I can understand clubs accepting £15
million right out of the blue and in the short-term it is of benefit
to them but it just seems, again, trying to influence the decisions
the clubs make, or the FA makes, in future negotiations with the
very people that
(Mr Cruickshank) I ask you why should we not try to
influence them in the interests of what we believe to be the interests
of the audience? We have two audiences, we have those who view
and those who pay for advertising and the programmes. Companies
like ourselves trying to innovate in partnership with football
clubs or whoever is the best way forward for the economy and for
viewers. What you are hinting there is another cross-media ownership
issue now extending to football. I think it is the wrong way if
we are thinking about the economy and the dynamic marketplace
or the interests of audiences, I really do.
Chairman: A swift last question from
608. This afternoon the Knowledge Economy Paper,
I think version 2.0, comes out. Are you saying from your conclusions
that actually you will be at a disadvantage because of the special
circumstances in Scotland?
(Mr Cruickshank) No. I am suggesting that these issues
of public service obligations, whatever they are, of broadcasting
should be dealt with UK wide. If, in addition, the Scottish Executive
thought there were particular needs to be met in Scotland then
we would be happy to partnership with them in delivering them.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed,
a very informative meeting.