Shifting cultural landscape calls for a Minister for Media
MEDIA & MARKETING:When people employed by rival media companies think about each other at all, they spend roughly 80 per cent of that time fuming outwardly about each other’s inadequacies – it makes a blessed change from ruminating on their own.
Another 10 per cent of the time can be summed up as “sounding the other out”, a task best performed with the social lubricant of alcohol, while a further 8 per cent involves desperately trying to put a name to the face, a task best performed without the mental delete button of alcohol.
The remaining 2 per cent is spent in the grand spirit of industry unity and collaboration, which is to say, collectively moaning about public relations professionals, politicians, political hangers-on, members of the general public, friends, family and anyone who just doesn’t understand.
What the media sector would like very much is someone in a position of considerable power who does understand; someone to whom they can turn with their often competing woes; someone who will listen and fix. A cross between Joe Duffy and Thomas Cromwell. A Minister for Media.
We haven’t got one, and we should have – someone “with real clout at Cabinet level” – according to National Newspapers of Ireland chairman and Irish Farmers Journal editor Matt Dempsey.
Speaking in Dublin recently, Ivar Rusdal, president of the European Newspaper Publishers Association, also advocated that the Irish embrace the concept of a single Minister for Media “for no other reason than the special relationship between media and state”, he suggested. “It’s hard to hold someone to account if you don’t know who they are.”
Other countries, including our nearest neighbour, do it differently – not that efforts to hold former British culture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt to account for anything have gone terribly well of late.
Here, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte, the more thinly spread Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, is destined to become the man who can be held to account for media mergers as well as the fast-converging worlds of broadcasting and telecommunications.
Once those long-drafted heads of the Consumer and Competition Bill are dusted off and the troika – not known for its concerns about media plurality – spare the Government a brief legislative window, responsibility for managing changes in who owns what in the media sector will fall under Rabbitte’s remit, rather than that of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
Even with this addition, there are still bits of what might be included in the portfolio of a Minister for Media floating about Government Buildings.
The tetchy copyright debate, for instance, is being overseen by Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, which leaves the NNI uneasy that it is being sacrificed for the greater good of Google.
Fancy making a film? The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (Rabbitte again) serves as a content-funding agency, but so too do the Irish Film Board and the Arts Council, which come under the aegis of the Department of Arts.
Still, when the Consumer and Competition Bill eventually becomes an Act, Rabbitte will become Minister for Matters Relating to Denis O’Brien as well as Minister for RTÉ. These dual roles should give RTÉ-bashing advertising campaigns emerging from the Communicorp stable the power to elicit even heavier sighs.
Last weekend’s Tweetgate-inspired effort was a full-page newspaper advertisement that boasted the words “Newstalk don’t change the results of elections”. The kickers of the advert was “you pay RTÉ a TV licence and their broadcast changes the outcome of elections”.
Of course, Rabbitte is a key ally of RTÉ as well as the person who will castigate it in the Dáil for running up a deficit that is “not sustainable”. With various competitors lobbying for the licence fee to be further top-sliced and/or RTÉ’s commercial activities restricted, he is the man who will stick up for the future of a public service media, defending it with talk of an “irreducible minimum” in RTÉ funding.
Everyone (save Google) is struggling. But the part of the media that does not receive public cash may just have to put up with the dual-funded status quo as long as Rabbitte is the closest thing Ireland has to a Minister for Media.
Still, if there is one thing the entire media sector can surely agree is Rabbitte’s plus point, it’s this: he’s not Alan “privacy law” Shatter. The industry may love the idea of a dedicated Minister for Media to target, but reshuffles can bring nasty surprises too.