Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2001
J F SINCLAIR, MR
520. But you can do other things. If you take
the New York Times, the New York Times is not simply
available on the Internet, it up-dates itself the whole time,
so you have got, as it were, an instantaneous newspaper which
actually buying the New York Times does not provide you.
(Mr Sinclair) Yes, these analogies are attractive
but they are only analogies. A national newspaper industry barely
exists in the US, and what the web does so well is defeat distance,
and the New York Times is not available throughout the
US, it is widely available in the big cities, that is true, and
what the web does for the New York Times is extend its
reach. That is a very good example of the combination of the two
Mr Maxton: But the other increasing thing
that the newspapers on the web offernot all, I hasten to
add, but a lot dois what I might call archive searching,
so that you can read an article which was in yesterday or the
week before or two years ago, you can look up the particular subject
and you can find all the articles on it, you cannot do that for
the Daily Mail.
Chairman: Reviews of plays and films.
521. That is right. If you want to go to the
theatre, you can look up the reviews which have been done in whatever
newspaper you want. You cannot do that with the Daily Mail.
(Mr Sinclair) No, but you can go to This is London
which carries all the reviews from the Evening Standard.
522. But that is still limited and you have
to be in London to do it basically.
(Mr Sinclair) No, you can get This is London
from anywhere. If you are a travelling theatre-goer, and there
are many of them, that is the way you get at it.
523. Can I switch to another area. You do own
radio stations, although you are not in radio here, are your radio
stations on the web?
(Mr Gilbert) No. The radio stations we own are in
(Mr Gilbert) They are not yet on the web.
525. Do you not own a percentage of Medway FM?
(Mr Gilbert) No, we sold that to GWR last year. Putting
a radio station on the web is an expensive process and there is
very little return from it. Eventually it will happen, when the
costs come down, but at the moment our radio stations in Australia
have much more to do than convert themselves to web radio.
526. A lot of radio stations in this country
do it. Presumably it is costing them something but they consider
it is worth their whileVirgin, Jazz FMwe will leave
the BBC out because they are not commercial, as you would argue,
but they have livecasting on the web.
(Mr Gilbert) People do extend their franchises to
give themselves a wider coverage. We are not doing that yet in
527. You are not?
(Mr Gilbert) No.
528. You have just said you sold your interests
in the local radio station, have you any shares at all? If you
believe that cross-media regulation should go, are you preparing
yourself for that? We have got the Scottish Media Group coming
before us later, they have already decided that cross-media ownership
will happen and therefore they have moved into areas where they
think they will be able to expand further.
(Mr Gilbert) I can say that we truly believe in the
value of radio. We were an investor in the very first commercial
radio station in the UK, and we have been a continuous investor
in UK radio throughout its life. Even after the liberalisation
that occurred in 1996 we began to build a small radio division
of our own but because so much consolidation had already occurred
and because the restraints that Mr Sinclair referred to earlier
were still there, through the public interest test, we found we
were very limited in what we could achieve and in 2000 we decided
to consolidate those interests with the GWR Group where we have
a major stake and we focus our interests through them.
529. Can I ask Mr Stewart a little about Teletext?
Teletext a number of years ago, or Ceefaxthe Teletext serviceswere
a very good way of keeping up-to-date with the news and more efficiently
up-to-date even than the rolling news service. Now, of course,
we have moved a further stage forward and if you look at Sky News
Active you get a much more dynamic service and one from which
you can make more choices. How is Teletext going to develop from
the kind of static menu that you provide at the moment which I
look into every night?
(Mr Stewart) Thank you for that. You are among the
24 million people who use the service every week. First of all,
Teletext is not a static service, it is a visually, very old-fashioned
service, but Teletext actually up-dates more than television,
Teletext up-dates more than any dynamic news programme on Sky
or anywhere else. It may be of interest, in view of what is imminent,
that during the last election we were producing 150,000 up-dates
every day, which is quite staggering when you compare that with
the 24-hour rolling news programmes. The other thing is that the
analogue Teletext service is of course confined by the technology
which is there, but the Teletext service is not confined to analogue
television, so we have a very popular web site at the moment and
the usage of that is growing. We have services on digital terrestrial
television which are somewhat disappointing because we have inadequate
capacity available on digital terrestrial. We have a growing service
on cable television, we will shortly have a service on satellite
television, and we have mobile services, and today there are many,
many more people, millions more people, using Teletext services
than there were two years ago but they are using it on different
platforms using different appliances. So the mutation, if you
like, of Teletext is about taking advantage of new technology
and taking advantage of these new appliances.
530. Could I come back to a matter to which
I referred a little earlier which certainly alerted me to potential
alarm, namely the sentence in your statement to the Commission,
"Our newspaper divisions are concerned that proposals to
regulate content on the Internet will be applied to newspapers'
Internet activities." Clearly any such development will be
entirely intolerable, particularly since other Internet activities
cannot possibly be regulated, people can transmit snuff movies
on the Internet and nobody can do anything about it. If attempts
were to be made, on the other hand, to interfere with democratically
originated newspapers like yours and others on inspection, that
will be a very, very baneful development indeed. Are you simply
flagging up this possibility or do you have specific fears about
(Mr Sinclair) The first. I think we all recognise
that newspapers occupy quite a powerful position in the broad
media offering and that continues to be so, despite the apparent
age of the technology. Because of that power historically, when
competition has been a great deal less than it is today, people
have sought to regulate, or get at in some way, newspapers. The
fact that newspapers will naturally put certain aspects of their
product and services online opens up potentially another front
for interference. It is a hypothetical worry at this point but
it could emerge quite quickly if the wrong start was made in regulation
as it applies to the Internet.
Chairman: I think that is a very important
warning you have given us and if what you said in your memorandum
and here simply warns potential regulators off, that of itself
will have been very valuable.
531. Mr Stewart, do you regard Teletext as print
or broadcasting? I am on the theme of cross-media ownership. How
do you regard that? To give you a clue, I have always regarded
Teletext as news, and that would be news fullstop, fact. Is that
how you regard it?
(Mr Stewart) Yes. It is a broadcast service. I have
to say I have to be forced to think about it as a print service
or a broadcast service because, first of all, it is an information
service and the means of delivery is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
The Internet is not a broadcast service, it is a narrowcast service.
The mobile phone service is not a broadcast service, it is a communication
service. So I tend not to think of it along any particular axis.
But certainly when we talk to our consumers, they think of it
as being on the telly, so the consumers would typically regard
it as a broadcast service.
532. I would never claim to be an expert on
broadcasting but, having spent 18 years in professional football,
I probably am an expert on football. I have noticed on Teletext
and Ceefax they, on football, tend to follow the popular press
in that they repeat fabricated rumours like "Arsene is going
to buy Ronaldo" or something. I have noticed that and maybe
you have not even noticed it but it is creeping in. I think it
is a danger. Did you know it was creeping in?
(Mr Stewart) I had not been aware that that was happening.
Certainly we have probably amongst the most energetic viewing
public in the UK, and if something is not factually accurate we
learn about it very quickly. I will take that as a suggestion
I should look at more carefully, but up to now there have been
no complaints about the quality or impartiality of the information
we put out. The previous witnesses, the ITC, regulate us quite
thoroughly and have annually expressed themselves to be very satisfied.
533. They probably have not got a football expert
on the board. I remember in the 1960s seeing a placard for the
Evening News or the Evening Standard saying, "Jackie
goes to Palace", and thinking Jackie Charlton would never
leave Leeds for Crystal Palace, and I had to buy a newspaper to
find out it was Onassis going to visit the Queen. So I am an obsessive.
It must be very familiar to you, the popular sports pages fabricating
stories on transfersabsolute fabricationand it would
be very dangerous if that goes on to Teletext and I think you
would be upset if you thought that was happening.
(Mr Stewart) Horrified.
534. It is happening. Coming on to cross-media
ownershipand I wanted to use that to illustrate thisis
it not a contradiction to have cross-media ownership when you
have newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Mail on
Sunday, which are wonderful reads with lots of hours of happy
reading, but there is a big difference between broadcasting and
the print media, and the print media and the newspapers do hide
opinion as fact. I do not think anybody would deny that, if you
do you are the only person in the world who would. Certain newspapers
use that sort of journalism and trying to change public opinion
by presenting opinions as if they were fact, broadcasting does
not do that and it is strictly regulated. Is it not a contradiction?
Do you not have difficulty in keeping your staff away from that
and not letting them go on to other media? How do you reconcile
(Mr Sinclair) I think the only answer to that is that,
as the Chairman has said on other occasions, the last Editor-in-Chief
of Associated Newspapers was David English, a notable newspaper
editor for nearly 20 years, and yet he was also Chairman of Teletext
and, as Mike Stewart has already said, the record of Teletext
as a provider of impartial information is absolutely outstanding
and the annual reports on our behaviour which we get from the
ITC really have been remarkably good. Not only did they share
an important board member in common, Teletext and the Daily
Mail share common ownership. We are a very broad-based church
in our group, we try to take each medium on its merits and operate
them as they should be. The fact that one style of journalism
may suit a compact newspaper and a different style may suit a
public service broadcaster in the form of Teletext, we find ourselves
entirely comfortable with. Taking a check on that from our customer
base, who are the ultimate determinants of whether we are doing
the right thing or not, we clearly are. Teletext has become the
largest single medium in this country in terms of usage, and the
Mail is not without its successes.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed