The DCMS has failed to deliver for the future

The DCMS has failed to deliver for the future

The eagerly-awaited media ownership consultation paper had a tough challenge. It had to meet the promise of a lighter hand on the regulatory tiller, combined with an enduring solution to both safeguard democracy and encourage a competitive media market.

Disappointingly, this latest in a series of consultation papers, reveals neither an ideology of deregulation nor a long-term strategy to oversee the rapidly changing world of multi-channel, multi- choice multi-media.

Having settled on two key issues - diversity of choice and plural media ownership to guarantee plurality of views - the various solutions on media ownership swing from a buttoned up, precisely measured share of voice equation, to a free market, reined in only by competition law.

The rather piecemeal approach to some very important issues, while shifting the regulatory burden in certain areas such as the regional press, continues to focus on three main media - TV, newspapers and radio - therefore appearing to fail to deal with the fact that the world of information and entertainment is changing rapidly.

Technological innovation is having a massive impact on viewing and reading habits. Consumers can, for instance, grab the latest headlines when they want to, from whatever source they choose. They can view video clips and news items on their PCs or, in some cases, on their handsets. Vodafone customers can get their latest fix from The Times wherever they happen to be.

And this increasing demand for selected information has led to the growth of new breeds of media company - such as the content aggregator; which brings together tailored data to suit the needs of particular customers from a variety of sources.

The whole way that information and entertainment is packaged is moving to self-selection, where consumers make lifestyle choices about what they want to see and hear - and when. With interactive TV boxes such as TiVo, viewers can watch their favourite films and soaps, selected specially for them, regardless of TV schedules.

In moving from a push scenario, where media owners decide who gets to know what and when, to a pull environment, where consumers are in charge and take information from a range of sources, the question of who owns the delivery medium becomes much more esoteric.

Media investors tend to be driven by commercial strategy, rather than a desire to influence the news. But perhaps the DCMS's thinking owes more to safeguarding us from the James Bond world of movie moguls, manipulating the world's media through global control, than the working reality evident in open markets, such as Spain.

In any event, if the UK can accept foreign ownership of its telephone networks and ISPs then the closed shop approach makes neither logical nor commercial sense. If the consultation paper's intention was for an interim strategy, concentrating on today's media in the short- and medium-term, the authors should have let us know. An enduring framework - with diversity and plurality as a solid foundation - needs a much sharper focus on the future.

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