Monday, July 31, 2006

Let's Scrap Ofcom Balance Rules

LBC 'Shock Jock' Nick Ferrari has written an excellent article in today's Independent calling for Ofcom rules preventing the creation of a UK version of Fox News to be scrapped. He reckons there is a real appetite for such a channel. Here's an excerpt from his article...

"Critics point to the pro-US right-wing slant of Fox, and say that's what makes it intolerable. Why? In ths country, newspapers like The Sun can happily exist alongside the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph against The Independent. Why on earth can't that be the same with our television offerings? Or are we really saying that the Great British public are so brain-numbingly dumb they believe everything they see on the box? What an insult to our intelligence. No, we can consume a bit of Fox without the nation tyrning into a band of war-mongering neo-cons, I assure you.

" The other argument is even simpler. Put a pro-right (or pro-left) channel on air and if no one watches, the market will take care of business. After a costly relaunch and an even more expensive rejig of presenters, the doomed enterprise will collapse anyway."

Mainstream TV should not see the creation of such a channel as a threat. Indeed, I would not propose changing the rules for taxpayer funded channels or terrestrial TV. But we are moving away from the era of the mass media into the era of the niche, where every single minority interest is catered for. The only thing preventing this in the area of political comment and news coverage is Ofcom and its regulations demanding balance. Just as well no bright spark in Whitehall has thought of Ofblog, isn't it? Can you imagine it if blogging was afflicted by regulations demanding balance? If the Ofom rules were abolished we could enter a wonderful new era of political broadcasting which really would re-engage people currently lost to the political process. So roll on Fox News UK, Toynbee TV or, heaven forfend, the UKIP Channel.

43 comments:

strapworld said...

Where is the 'balance' on BBC News these days?

Ofcom has failed in its primary function, in relation to the BBC and there is massive evidence to support their bias,and should be scrapped.

Nick Ferrari is not everyone's cup of tea but I used to enjoy his newspaper slot on Sky but they obviously did not take to his anti Blair observations. He should have a programme on the box.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have Will Self and Nick Ferrari hosting a show interviewing someone from two different political viewpoints?

BUT in relation to your blog, Iain, Nobody would watch another leftie channel we have got two definate ones already...BBC and Channel Four!

Anonymous said...

You must be joking, a Fox like channel would be allowed to fail if nobody watched it!! There would be far too much neo-con money supporting it to be allowed to fail, even if Guido and Ian Dale were the only viewers

snooo said...

50 per cent with you here. While being a lefty liberal I'd love to see a British equivilant of Democracy Now or even the Daily Show - which probably sails far too close to the wind of Ofcom regulations dispite being a satirical show - I think a seperation between news and opinion should be maintained, and if possible regulated.

The major reason for this is that news broadcasting is an expensive, resource sucking operation. With the exception of the video news agencies, there are only three companies in Britain which currently broadcast national news, and one of them - Sky - has reportedly never made a profit on the endeavor.

Access to broadcasting is therefore limited to those who have the cash. Even in the age of "niche-media", only the very few can actually run a proper news operation. When it comes to reporting "facts", as resources are limited I believe its fair to expect firms to show a wide bredth of opinion, and stay out of politics in their news shows.

That said, opinion and conjecture is a different kettle of fish and, as a certain Mr Scott might remind you, comment is free. It doesn't cost much to get onto Sky's EPG, and so I think a healthy market for new entrants can be established. Righites could get their show on Sky (where it would be bound to be shown) while lefties could probably get something like LinkTV or equivilants running. A relaxing of the rules on opinion would also allow radio stations to end the facade of "balance" - especially on TalkSport where presenters are usually quite obviously biased in some way or another.

Interesting debate, and I think something certainly needs to change.

david kendrick said...

It is reasonable to argue that the BBC should no longer be funded by licence fees. Neither we, nor it, needs the current Beeb.

From a libertarian view point, we should allow things like fox news. There is a problem with allowing both. Should ofcom require to the BBC to be neutral in itself, or should it provide balance given the overall media output? And then weight the bias in relation to channel viewuing figures....nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Don't fret, in a couple of years we will be watching whatever type of media channel we want, via broadband.

Al-Beeb and the other main channels have very little time left to make their plans for when the MSM fragments.

I have never owned a tv, partly because I can get much better news from the news websites & blogs (without all the left-wing editorial) and partly because I'd rather sit in a blank room and stare at the wall than pay a licence fee to those swine.

I can hardly wait to be able to watch the 'right-wing death squad' news channels. Of course they'll have to be 'based' in somewhere that Tony's Thought Police can't catch them, but who cares.

Roll on News Freedom! Death to Al-Beeb!

David Farrer said...

Not that we have "balance" on broadcasting now of course.

burmah toad said...

Both Nick and you, Iain, miss the point. We already have obviously slanted coverage of stories like the Middle East on TV. It's called Channel 4 News.

Tone made me do it - he's a bad influence said...

1.This suggestion does not loosen Sky's monopolistic control of the EPG.
2. It does not prevent Sky supplying news to Channel 5 TV, Virgin Radio, Talksport Radio, LBC, Heart, Galaxy. (the tabloid-style radio news feeds start with "Tony Blair" and a doing verb 20-30% of the time - this is how NuLab have kept the blue collar vote, IMO).

The only way of stopping Murdoch's sale trimming is for Dave Cameron and Gordon Brown to announce that they BOTH plan to break up his Empire, no matter who wins the next election. They could have done this on Sunday when St Tone was addressing 500 "top executives" from News Corp.
-That would have been amusing.

No other country has its media concentrated in the hands of 1 person. (except Russia)

David said...

And Jon Snow's ties are definitely unbalanced.....

Anonymous said...

Iain, since Fox News is an object of ridicule to everyone bar those who watch it, do you not worry that a similar channel in this country would make the right a laughing stock and undermine right-of-centre parties?

Extreme right-wing views hurt the moderate right and the inarticulate and, at times, idiotic views of people like Ferrari could be taken as the view of the mainstream right and give ammunition to the left.

Rigger Mortice said...

'Ofcom and its regulations demanding balance'.........
except from al beeb in relation to anything from anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Obviously the BBC does show anti-Israeli and anti-Common Sense bias in it's dealings with all matters Islamic, but I am concerned about the attacks on the Beeb nevertheless; as we saw during the now alomost forgotten (another victory for NL spin) David Kelly episode, sometimes the BBC is the last hope of democracy or independent thinking. Not as much as it should be, but it is still there. The so-called independents like Fox are another kind of tyranny - the mouthpieces of very rich men, like Murdoch, who follow their own whimsical agendas. Now the worldwide portrayal of ideas is in the hands of just four media operations; Fox/Sky/Murdoch, BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera. Bearing in mind that the latter glories in the slaughter of innocents and the first is rampantly and sometimes absurdly unobjective, we are left with the BBC and CNN and I think really criticism should be focused on their objectivity and impartiality, but not on attempting to do away with them. I am very suspicious of British politicians who long for the removal of the BBC, my first thought is, "in what way are they working for Murdoch"? And Iain, I can't help noting your regular appearances on Sky.

Benedict White said...

The issue I would have is not the relatively un rabid fox news, but the pottentialy very rabid BNP or Al Mahajaroun (sorry about the spelling) news.

We would need to think very carefuly about how to deal with them all in a sensible but apparently fair framework.

Fred Funk said...

I find Fox News on Sky channel 510 as far to the right as BBC News 24 is to the left!

I'm dubious as to whether we Brits could pull it off though. Fox has a brazen self-confidence, a bit of chutzpah and outrageous visual style. I don't think we could be so non-apologetic in tone.

Croydonian said...

I could just about put up with the BBC's selective use of facts, film footage etc if their hacks would stop emoting and using loaded words when 'reporting'.

Michael Oakeshott said...

We already have a version of Fox News in the UK. Two crucial differences. 1. It is left wing. 2. It is funded by the taxpayer. For the BBC to pour out the filth it does, and then expect people to pay for it(or send them to jail) is disgusting. Like all forms of tyranny, people will eventually tire of this, and destroy it. I long for the day. Am quite puzzled why Iain is more concerned by UKIPTV than a LaToynbee channel. But then I remembered Dave's feeble cop-out and broken promise on the EPP, and suddenly it all made sense.

Anonymous said...

Why does anyone expect 'balance' from any broadcaster?

It might be argued that the taxpayer who funds the BBC has a right to expect 'balance'. But equally the taxpayer has the right to expect 'balance' from all of the other bodies that he or she funds.

Any chance of that? I doubt it.

And would anyone care to offer a definition of 'balance'?

Brynley said...

That's the way to go. Scrap Ofcom. Suborn the Beeb. Make the vile Fox News part of the national curriculum. Follow the technology. Dispense with a national debate. Who needs one nation when we could be enjoying corporate babel?

You're not serious are you, Iain?

Croydonian said...

On a more philosophical point, what we see with the BBC and the rest of the state sector is that when an entity attempts to serve the public interest, through an invisible hand process it ends up serving itself.

garypowell said...

Rupert Murdock is greatly resposible for 10 years of this New Labour government. His news media is not as big as some seem to believe, however his papers control many floating voters, so have a dispoportionate effect. He backs Tony Blair AND Gordon Brown and is undecided about David Cameron.

Rupert Murdock is the reason why Labour will have to select Gordon Brown as leader, to have any chance of winning at all.

I think the decision on who he backs next time is dependant on, which one of the two options delivers him a terestial TV liecence. So it will happen, so get used to it.

The one and only good thing about the devil we know rather than the devil we do not BBC is. While the BBC exsists the chances of a succesfull Murdock or otherwise, owned left of center TV channel is NIL.

However a right wing Murdock inspired terrestial TV channel could change the country forever for the better, and reignite British political debate.

Francis Walsingham said...

'Balance', or the assumption that there is a balance to be struck, and what that balance is, is itself a political stance.

What is the balance between terrorists and democrats?

Neil Craig said...

There is an inherent problem in the fact that people who own newspapers & TV channels tend to be of above average income & thus inclined to more right wing views.

Nonetheless the traditional best way to find the truth, as used in courts for centuries, is to allow both (all?) sides to put their views & question evidence.

The idea that the BBC, whose censorship of UK government authorised genocide is undenied, is so impartial & judicioial as to be trusted to report all views & find the truth is a considerably greater threat to our freedom than the similar assumption about Russia's media.

ed said...

Just for the record, I think Al-Beeb may be starting to grow some balls, last night's Panorama was a fantastic peice of journalism that exposed the evil activities of Interpal and their ilk. Combined with the quality of BBC4 if they do more stuff like this my faith in them may yet be restored.

Anonymous said...

Gary Powell yet again shows his powerful intellect. his ukipbnptv vision of the right wing
future is typical of someone who cannot think his way out of a paperbag!

But there again we have read his northern mill owner influenced management thinking in previous comments...so we should not be surprised by this nonsense.

Chris Doidge said...

I don't think there'd be much of a market for this - if there were then wouldn't we see "opinion" slots on BBC News 24 or Sky News? They wouldn't break OFCOM rules, but so far there hasn't been any demand for them.

ian said...

Did you see Regev on the BBC after Israel hit the UN outpost with Precision Guided missiles? He was like the Anti-Paxman.

"It wasn't deliberate." "It wasn't deliberate." "It wasn't deliberate." "It wasn't deliberate." Repeat ad nauseum.

I think he's full of shit.

ian said...

I agree that there's no balance on the BBC, but to me it seems rabidly right wing. I guess it all depends where they sit in relation to ones own (entirely reasonable) viewpoint.

Johnny Norfolk said...

The Tory party should have done this when they were in office. Why did they not do it

Scary Biscuits said...

Nick, as far as I can tell Nick Ferrari has no evidence to support his claim that a UK Fox News would be banned. Has he asked?

To correct a few other errors by fellow bloggers:

No, running a news channel isn't expensive (unless you choose to make it so). Most of your source material comes from the newswires, as used by the BBC and everybody else. Foreign correspondents can be free-lance and so reduce travel costs.

"There is an inherent problem in the fact that people who own newspapers & TV channels tend to be of above average income & thus inclined to more right wing views" (Neil Craig). No, people who earn more don't necessarily vote Tory: this is a myth put about by socialists. How do you think previous Tory government won well over 50% of the vote (compared with Labour's all time record of 40% in 1997) without most of the working class voting for them? Also, while approximately half the newspapers might be Tory supporting it doesn't follow that the journalists who work for them are. My aunt used to be an editor of the Mail and then the Express and I'm pretty sure I'm the only Tory she's every spoken to. In fact, I'd estimate about 98% of journalists are left wing. This is the reason papers like the sun sometimes sound so off-key; they're not writing what they honestly think; they're writing what they think right-wing, nasty, biggoted [add your own tautology] people want to read.

MJ Martin said...

Or are we really saying that the Great British public are so brain-numbingly dumb they believe everything they see on the box? What an insult to our intelligence.

Uh... well not all of them! But seriously though, look at what the TV is like in America. It's pure propaganda from both sides. And those who don't follow things closely like us politicos just accept what's being said. I mean the propaganda and guff on their TV is unbelievable.

Just look at their last elections and the smear campaign against Kerry for example. (Okay, we get the same spiel about Cameron here but at least we only had to go through 2 of those chameleon broadcasts!). It was unbelievable.

I totally oppose any kind of biased TV (I'm not even going to get started on the BBC!) because it's far more influential than the papers. It's one thing to read about genocide or war, another to see it in glorious technicolour, for example. It's a hugely powerful medium.

Before I hit the net, I just accepted what was said on TV. I had no particular knowledge of politics and if the BBC was biased, it went straight over my head. We politicos are a small group - the vast majority of people just accept things that are on TV. Even if the channels stated their bias will that even mean anything to that 60% who didn't even bother to vote? No, they'll channel hop, accept the propaganda and move on thinking it's true.

Just as I totally oppose the upcoming European Union TV (broadcasting happy people thanking the EU for their wonderful lives 24/7), I oppose any biased propaganda TV here. We don't need it and I honestly believe it'll do far more harm than good.

snooo said...

A news-channel filled with coverage from news wires would be as exciting and watchable as CCTV9. Where are you scoops and exclusives going to come from, Reuters? A good news channel takes an investment in people, and that doesn't come cheaply.

Anonymous said...

A UK version of Fox News? Yes absolutely - bring it on!!!
I am so sickened by the anti-Israel bias of the BBC and, to a lesser extent, by Sky News that I am tending to watch Fox for Middle East coverage so I don't end up blowing a fuse!!!!!!

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Rather than have something that skews the sense of objectivity even more, can't we ask for a news outlet that is transparent and as impartial as is humanly possible?

I know it would piss on everyone's dream of a carbon copy of Fox News to insulate them from the real world, but I'd be more content with something distinctly independent of bias and determinedly British in style and substance (I know that'd be a negative point for some of the cynics here).

Scary Biscuits said...

Machiavelli's understudy, The beauty of the English system is that it recognises that the thing you ask for cannot exist. Didn't your master say that only a fool is independent?

In Europe you are prosecuted and judged by the same 'independent' person (a system that did nothing to stop the rise of dictators). Once, in Moscow we had a single independent news outlet called Pravda. The BBC is, officially at least, exactly what you are asking for.

In traditional English democracy we achieve true balance through freedom of speech, not through the well-meaning wisdom of our leaders and their appointees.

Neil Craig said...

"No, people who earn more don't necessarily vote Tory"

Dodonline your are right about "necessarily" but it is the way to bet.

You make a fair point about many journalists being personally left wing (or just cynical) as I suppose I would be if I had to spend my life dancing to Murdoch's tune but even then they tend to be statist, Guardianista, rather than liberal left wingers.

the underdoug said...

I have no problem with de-regulation to allow FOX News (UK) (although for Mr Murdoch's convenience, Sky News will probably undergo a metamorphosis). Just so long as no one is allowed to trademark the phrase 'fair and balanced'

RedEye said...

The problem with BBC bias is that it's the sort that occurs when most of the journalists there are so signed up to liberal left orthodoxies that they seem genuinely unaware that there might be another point of view. So News 24 presenters witter to each other about how great the single currency is when it means not having to change money when going on holiday, and Niall Dixon (when Social Affairs editor) sneered about the prison population rising 'when crime is falling' (I honestly believe it really hadn't ocurred to him that crime might be falling precisely because the prison population had risen). And, of course, there's Roger Liddle's anecdote about the BBC official who labelled Lord Pearson of Rannoch as 'quite mad' because he wants UK withdrawal from the EU.

One solution might be to make all BBC employees change newspapers every week - from what I've read, they all read the Guardian and Independent (which explains a lot).

As for Fox News, it's got its faults, but its coverage of the mid-terms four years ago was superb (loads of graphics, stats, just like a British GE, whereas the BBC and CNN just had a load of talking heads interspersed with verbal tallies of results).

Yak40 said...

mj martin

Two points, one, Kerry wasn't smeared unless you think one can be smeared by the truth and two, you say I oppose any biased propaganda TV here well, you've already got it, it's called the BBC which no longer even tries to hide their agenda.

Abolish the TV licence, make the beeb compete on a level playing field for starters.

Anonymous said...

I think it is disgraceful. The vicar's friends in the Church of the Latter Day Morons led by Pastor GDubbya should be allowed it's mouthpiece over here.

'Democrats Abroad' will find it a most useful recruiting tool!

Paul Burgin said...

From my blog (being too lazy to repeat it):

I have to say I have grown to like Iain Dale, following that false start the one time I briefly met him three years ago. Admittedly if I were in John Prescott's shoes I would hold a very different view, and like any other leading Conservative blogger, one should not be surprised at some of his views and indeed be aware of that invisible health sticker "This blogger is somewhat right-wing and is a Thatcherite Conservative at the end of the day!" But he is considerate, sincere, gives those of us on the left more time than he might otherwise, and he does wear his heart on his sleeve, which may well both be is success and undoing.
That said I was somewhat surprised to find that he spoke out on his blog today in favour of a UK version of Fox News, if only those pests at Ofcom relaxed their guard a bit! He thinks there is a market for it!
Well that's one way of looking at it, but has Iain actually watched Fox News? I am sure he has, but if there was a pro left news channel as openly biased, as shrill, as bullying as many find Fox, I would feel rather embarrassed.
The ofcom rules are there for a reason. There are many in this country who are not party political, who need to rely on at least one aspect of the media which is neutral and balanced. If people want bias they can find it in the newspapers (bar perhaps The Independent) , and you can hardly compare news channels to the blogosphere. Newspapers, TV, Blogs, Town Criers, they all provide news but each has their own culture and their own style. Blogs are usually individual things, it is in their very nature to provide a degree of bias, TV stations are something else entirely, usually involving literally hundreds of people in front of a broader audience.
As someone who holds a degree in Media and who at one time wanted to be a news journalist, the power of the media and the integrity of the journalist being of unfettered and neutral help, along the lines of a civil servant, is a position I hold dear. The moment we have an openly biased news channel in the UK will be a sad day for journalistic integrity.
Incidentally, talking of biased journalists. Hat tip to Kerron for this. I personally think Paxman came of better and that Ann Coulter was not used to being on a news channel where she was not openly slated or given deference, and therefore was not used to the gentle prodding in the style of a prosecuting lawyer. In any case she strikes me as a dangerous, angry, and bitter woman.

Ross F said...

There might be an argument for enforced balance on terrestrial TV because that is a scarce resource, with only 4 differnt news providers, but it makes absolutley no sense in the modern world where 100s of channels are in existance.

ian said...

Can I just take this opportunity to sycophantically second the ideas in the first paragraph of Paul Burgin's comment?

Neil Craig said...

"integrity of the journalist being of unfettered and neutral help, along the lines of a civil servant, is a position I hold dear"

That is the problem Paul. Is Sir Humphrey Appleby really unbiased?

I have only ever met one person who is unbiased & I see him in the mirror. Unfortunately others do not recognise this & some even consider that they, not I, are unbiased. That is why what legalists call an adversarial system & Marxists a dialectical one works best.