Dept. Of Quixotic Studies: The culture secretary who wants to regulate the internet

While we’re on the subject of commercial Armageddon, take a look at the speech delivered by culture secretary Andy Burnham at the Royal Television Society on Friday.

Perhaps aware of Ofcom research which suggests that the TV advertising market could collapse by 2020, Burnham suggested it was time to “even up” the balance of regulation between the web and TV.

The rise of web, said Burnham, had eroded the “confidence” of broadcasters and diminished “innovation, risk-taking and talent sourcing” on TV.

The solution, it seems, doesn’t involve telling TV executives that change is good. No. Instead, Burnham is keen to “lighten up” regulatory burdens on the television industry. He also wants to “tighten up” regulation of the web.

Huh? How exactly? Copyright was mentioned. Taste and decency, too.

Hare-brained stuff, of course. If Burnham really is intent upon regulating t’internet, he might as well go fishing for cod in the North Sea wearing a blow-up rubber ring and carrying a £2.99 kitchen sieve from IKEA.

All the same, it’s significant that the culture secretary is promising to regulate the web on behalf of broadcasters but not (apparently) newspaper groups, whose print-based ad markets will probably disintegrate sooner than those of commercial TV.

You’ve got to hand it to the boys and girls of TV Land. Outside the Beeb, their web strategies might be gossamer thin. But dealing with regulators over the decades has left them skilled at the dark arts of lobbying.

The timing of Channel 4’s announcement of 15% redundancies was superb (a few days before a big announcement on the future of public service broadcasting from Ofcom).

As for Michael Grade, he signaled today that the argument has moved on from the death of regional TV news (yesterday’s argument; it’s already doomed).

This morning, at the Royal Television Society conference, on the same day that the Treasury nationalized the Bradford & Bingley’s mortgage book, Grade suggested that carrying national news on ITV might become too much of a burden within the next decade.

He’s right, of course — not least because TV news-gathering will become more expensive as the number of reporters churning out exclusives on newspapers dwindles. The prospective cost of doing their own reporting must terrify TV executives.

Meanwhile, Sly Bailey and her peers must find themselves marveling at the benign environment reserved for bankers and broadcasters in the corridors of power.

For years, the newspaper industry has thrived on minimal regulation. Now, even the modest pleas voiced by Bailey & Co for a relaxation in regulation are apparently falling on deaf ears.

The grim truth: if you live by the sword of free markets, you’ll probably die by it at some point. Or at least be forced to mop up after a few flesh wounds. . .

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