Memorandum submitted by The National Union
The National Union of Journalists is the Union
representing journalists in the UK. Its members work in the national,
local and regional press, news agencies, internet services, magazines,
the book sector, public relations, local authorities, national
government and broadcasting. The forthcoming communications legislation
will have major implications for members of the Union, and for
the quality and freedom of communications.
In January 2000 we submitted our response to
the Government's White Paper, A New Future for Communications,
which covers many of the issues touched on by the Committee in
We append to this submission, for information, a summary of the
recommendations we made in that response.
In this submission we highlight some of the
key issues we believe need to be considered by the Select Committee.
(a) The Union welcomed the Government's stated
commitment to diversity and pluralism and to public service values
within the media. It remains, however, concerned about the general
direction of policy as set out in the White Paper and as has been
made clearer in developments since its publication.
(b) Here we draw attention to some key issues
that we think the Committee should pay particular attention to.
They comprise: OFCOM; Public Service Broadcasting; Ownership;
(a) OFCOM, which will become the main regulator
in the sector, will have extensive powers. It's main function
however will be to exercise light touch regulation in order to
promote efficiency in communications markets. Competition is intended
to be the tool for this. This central goal of OFCOM militates
against the idea that such a regulator should have pro-active
role, using a range of regulatory tools, to promote positively,
high quality in services across the new media. In this sense OFCOM
, as conceived, is a lop-sided body.
(b) OFCOM will comprise a maximum of six
individuals. There is no provision for representation from Wales,
Scotland, Northern Ireland or the English Regions. There is no
provision for representation on it of individuals who carry a
brief for the wide range of interests which have a direct interest
in mass communications, including the voluntary sector, trades
unions, educational and community interests. The sense that OFCOM
will be a body whose main purpose is to "speed" up economic
decision making is reinforced by this lack of accountability in
its structures. We hope the Committee will recommend that OFCOM
be structured in a much more democratic way.
(c) The Union is sceptical about whether
OFCOM as currently conceived can provide adequate scrutiny of
the distinct sectors that currently make up the media. There will
be a need to ensure that there is a strong degree of sectoral
autonomy in the new structure and that OFCOM's decision making
on economic issues does not dominate sector specific issues of
quality and diversity.
(d) Since the White Paper, a number of influential
voices have been raised calling for the BBC to be included under
OFCOM. Others have raised the idea that OFCOM should have some
form of arms length oversight of BBC, C4 and S4C. The Union considers
that either of these developments would simply erode the capacity
of these institutions to act to provide public service broadcasting
of the highest quality.
(a) The Union's members are central to the
traditions of public service broadcasting in the UK, in particular
in the area of news and current affairs.
(b) The increased competition unleashed by
the 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting Acts, and the requirement that
the ITN contract be put out to tender have had a detrimental effect
on news provision. It is highly significant that under current
legislative requirements the ITC has no obligation to supervise
the tender process. This has resulted in questions over the quality
of the new service. The regulator should set more stringent and
comprehensive requirements, including minimum funding levels and
also have powers to monitor the process from start to finish.
The controversy over the moving of News at Ten was a direct consequence
of this competition, as has the virtual removal, from peak time
schedules on ITV of high quality news and current affairs programming.
In addition, the recent allocation of the ITN contract has resulted
in a loss of journalists' jobs, as the management sought to cut
costs and maximise profits.
(c) The Union considers that the new regulator
should have the power to include very robust requirements in all
major service providers, designed to make them adhere to high
standards of public service programming. In particular the Union
would like to see licences include a clear, unambiguous and robust
commitment to the provision of regional and national news for
all main providers. This should involve the provision of locally
produced regional news, based on regional production centres,
with quotas determined by reference to a number of criteria, including
quality, numbers of hours per week, investment in production and
position in schedule. Only with pro-active measures such as these
can news and current affairs of the highest quality be guaranteed
a future in the new communications environment.
(a) The Union is committed to maintain a
diverse structure of ownership within the communications industry,
which it sees as a pre-requisite for the maintenance of diversity.
The government, in the Union's view, should not take steps which
deliberately encourage media concentration, within or across sectors.
In particular we are concerned about the impact of concentration
in the ITV sector on regional news provision, and news from Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland. It should look for ways, instead,
of encouraging diversity of ownership in the media. We do not
prescribe how this should be done, but we do think the subject
should be more fully investigated than it has been to date. We
consider that the consultation period on the government's proposals
on Media Ownership is too short, and instead we think there should
be a full scale inquiry into the issue, to allow what are very
complicated issues to be subject to wider public debate and scrutiny.
(a) The Union has been working hard in recent
years to secure for producers of media content control over the
use of that content and of the rewards that flow from it. The
spread of cross media ownership and of electronic forms of production
has led to a concerted assault by employers on the producers of
content, which usually takes the form of attempts to make people
sign away their rights to the secondary use of their work. Whilst
we continue to work on this issue, we would like to see the situation
clarified in future legislation, to ensure protection for journalists
and others whose living depends on their capacity to make fair
use of their work.
(a) On the key issues of the nature and role
of OFCOM, on the provision of high quality public service programming,
particularly news and current affairs, on the need for diversity
of media ownership and the protection of producers's rights, the
Union is keen to see some positive movement from the government.
(b) The Union will be making representations
to the government about the Bill when it is published, but it
hopes the Committee will be able to issue a report that will add
force to the weight of opinion, shared by the Union, that any
proposals must have the interests of the citizen at their heart.
Currently the government's policy is lopsided in favour of promoting
efficient markets, and has insufficient regard to the wider social
purposes of broadcasting.
15 January 2002
13 National Union of Journalists, Promoting Media
Freedom and Diversity: The National Union of Journalists' response
to the White Paper, "A New Future For Communications"
CM5010, DTI/DCMS 2000 (London, NU7, 2000). Back
For details on these issues see: NUJ, Battling For Copyright:
Freelance journalists versus the media conglomerates (London,
NUJ, 2000). Back