Maybe not a lot, but the news that the BBC is planning to cut back on its web activities, along with some of its other digital channels, signals a recognition that, in the UK, the public service broadcaster is taking seriously some of the points which are being made about the distorting effect it is having on the broader media environment. Its Strategy Review, published today, expressed the view ‘that BBC content could be more distinctive and ambitious in fulfilling its public service mission’, and ‘a concern that the BBC is not clear enough about where the boundaries are with the commercial sector,
On this side of the Irish Sea, as Adrian Weckler’s excellent post points out, the question of how RTE squares its publicly-funded service remit with its supposedly entirely commercial online activities is becoming more and more pressing. Like Adrian, I don’t believe that any newspaper has a God-given right to survive, but we do need to start talking seriously about whether public service broadcasters are really serving the public interest by using their licence-fee-funded muscle to establish a dominant position in the online news media.
In the UK, the BBC does not compete with its domestic rivals for advertising revenue, as RTE does in Ireland. But there’s still a vigorous debate there about the impact some of its new media activities are having – on regional newspapers, for example. There have also been attacks from the usual quarters (News International, Associated Newspapers etc) on the fundamental principles on which the British public service model is based.
As always, vested interests abound, and I have as many of them as the next man, but it’s depressing that in this country the national broadcaster has failed to engage publicly with the rest of us about the best way to maintain a vigorous and diverse media into the 21st century. There’s little sign here of the experiments in sharing footage which the Beeb has undertaken, and certainly no sign of the linking out to other sites which is now promised in the UK.
At last week’s Digital Media Awards (where modesty doesn’t prevent me from pointing out that irishtimes.com beat Morning Ireland and RTE News Now for the Best in Media award), Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan talked about the challenge of ensuring the survival of quality journalism in the future. It would be good to hear whether the Minister intends to follow up on those words with any actions, and whether RTE might move out of its habitual defensive crouch on these issues.