How many Rosses is TV news worth?

In television, I think we should start talking about the cost of what we do in Rosses — Jonathan Rosses. Just to refresh your memory, Jonathan takes home (or homes?) about £6 million a year. So ITV News costs £35 million, that's a six- Ross deal. Channel 4 News about £20 million, just over three Rosses. Five News? That's just a Ross.

Of course, when you stop talking about TV news, and just talk about TV, then the system breaks down. BSkyB's investment in ITV, for example. That's well over a gross of Rosses. Putting Jonathan to one side, what does BSkyB's stake in ITV mean for ITN? For starters, they can only hold a maximum of 20 per cent of the company, and you don't spend a billion pounds to win a news contract. Unless you're insanely rich, or insane and rich, and — rather boringly — James Murdoch seems neither.

ITV's total news provision probably costs £90 to £100 million a year, about 40 per cent of that coming from the national service, the rest from the regions. Jeremy Thompson could simulcast on ITV News tomorrow, and Sky News could pocket the £35 million and Murdoch would still be losing money providing a news service. But if he could provide the regional news too, he might just start making a modest amount of cash, although as Sky News Ireland demonstrated, small-scale news operations are expensive.

The caveats hanging over all this are the future of news, national and regional on ITV (and Five). Will BSkyB be interested in moving into disappearing territory? My feeling would be yes. BSkyB likes to occupy space, it wants a bigger share of voice. News is important in that vocal mix, not because it makes money, nor because it gives a proprietor a megaphone (in a regulated news environment, it doesn't), but because it stops someone else doing it. It denies areas of the board to potential opponents. Once you occupy it, then you can decide what to do with it.

Because of its talk segments and current affairs leanings, Channel 4 News could probably survive as a standalone operation. But it would probably cost an extra £10 million a year, just to replace the services and facilities shared with ITV. Andy Duncan may like the pain of public service, but even he would probably wince at paying that.

Strangely enough, ITV News is going great guns under Deborah Turness and David Mannion, causing trouble where trouble needs to be caused. Journalistic merit matters little in the greater scheme of things. It's the price, not the product, that's the problem. And if Murdoch offers Sky News a price tag lower than ITN's, then someone upstairs at Gray's Inn Road might have trouble blocking their ears.

And finally… I'd like to make a little journalistic plea for tolerance. We need a little more of it and a little less respect. I have lost count of the times politicians have called on me to show respect for people's religious faith. Respect a woman's right to hide her face, respect the Church of England's barmy debates over women and homosexuality. Respect religious holidays, festivals, rituals and dogmas.

Absurd, millennia-old foibles over what to eat and when, demand respect. Bizarre rituals with cassocks, surplices and ruffs demand respect. Anglicanism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and any ism or schism you might care to conceive, all demand their share of it. To respect religion runs the risk of giving the supernatural an intellectual credibility that the heroes and heroines of modern thought spent centuries fighting. That's where New Labour's whiny injunction to respect one another was doomed to fail, and why the idea of tolerance is making a welcome return to the political stage.

Tolerance has nothing to do with respect. It is the skill you have to practise in a society where liberal values and a cosmopolitan citizenry mitigate against permanent confrontation with one's neighbours. The limits of tolerance allow me to accept different standards in different places. It allows me to hold my opinions without feeling compelled to walk into a Quaker Meeting House and deny the existence of God. It allows me to excuse belief in fairies or paganism. All so long as the thresholds of liberalism on which my particular society is based are not transgressed.

Although tolerance arrived on the statute book a year after the Glorious Revolution in 1689, there is little glorious about it as a political concept. It was the means by which freedom of religious worship was granted, on certain prescribed conditions, to Dissenting Protestants. It ameliorated, rather than ended, religious oppression. Macaulay wrote approvingly in his History of England: "The sound principle… is, that mere theological error ought not to be punished by the civil magistrate. This principle the Toleration Act not only does not recognise, but positively disclaims." By Macaulay's day, Roman Catholics too had been allowed a modest place in Britain's public life.

It took the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to kick tolerance in the teeth. It granted freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. Three years after the Holocaust, tolerance sounded dangerously complacent. Rights could be enforced.

The use of tolerance relieves us of the burden of making sense of folly or reconciling views that flatly contradict our own. But it is more useful still. We can be tolerant and we can set limits on tolerance. It implies there are some things that will not be tolerated.

By making clear what we will not tolerate, we can challenge the narrow-mindedness of small communities that can imprison and humiliate people by virtue of our respect for their traditions. Politicians too will have a vocabulary that appeals to a society where their own contribution, like that of so many others, is neither respected nor trusted but tolerated. As journalists we can live with a grey world of moral ambiguity and compromise. But as we all get older, a day at a time, it's worth remembering that the virtue of age is that it makes us more tolerant. And hopefully, a little more disrespectful.

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