Safeguarding the future of news is an ‘absolute priority’ for the government, communications minister Stephen Carter assured the industry today.
Lord Carter – whose wide-ranging report on Digital Britain is expected later this month – told the Westminster Media Forum in London this morning that the government would thoroughly examine how broadcast news and the newspaper industry can survive in a digital age.
“There is a critical question about the plural provision of news – an absolute priority,” he said.
“We take this point too lightly at our peril. Alternative, independently funded, impartial news provision is an essential part of a healthy, democratic society.”
Although he would not comment on the contents of his report, Carter said it was now “universally agreed” that the BBC should not become the sole provider of broadcast news.
Both ITV and Channel 4 have warned that the public service requirements that form part of their licence are becoming increasingly difficult to meet at a time when advertising revenues are falling.
The BBC has offered to help by sharing some of its broadcast facilities and news footage, a move praised by Carter as “both politically astute and welcome”.
Carter said the future model for public service broadcasting should begin “with a strong, fully funded and efficient BBC acting as an enabler for the rest of the sector and as a cornerstone for a system”.
He added: “But that means there needs to be more than the BBC. We need a strong alternative to the BBC which is viable in the long term. I think the issue of whether public service competition beyond the BBC is desirable is now universally agreed.
“If I’m allowed one very personal observation it is that given that this is supposed to be one of our most creative sectors, it is often one of the most conservative sectors when it comes to looking at future solutions.”
Media regulator Ofcom is expected to publish its final report on the future of public service broadcasting next week. Its findings will be passed to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and will be considered as part of the Digital Britain project.
The interim report on Digital Britain is due to be published in the last week of January. Carter said a fuller, final report was likely in “May or June”.
Carter added: “A fully funded alternative news provider alongside the BBC is I think something that future generations will thank us for.”