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Thursday, 27th January 2011

Lord David Puttnam,
Miners' Institute, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 12/7/2000

Questions & Answers following the Annual Lecture

"Maybe we are over-obsessed with regulation…. maybe we have to unpick ourselves a little from accountability and reinvent that lovely old word my dad used to use, "trust", and really come down on people if they breach trust. But start off by assuming that they won't breach trust".

"I have no doubt at all that there is a growing, not diminishing appetite for local news…… as the ITV system becomes increasingly national….that won't be where the focus will be, that won't be where the big bucks are, it won’t be where shareholder interest will be perceived, wrongly, to be and it will just get starved of resources to a point that it won't die, it will atrophy."

"The entire football league evolved as a result of the Railway Act because, all of a sudden, it was possible on a Saturday afternoon to get from X to Y, that’s where Third Division North, Third Division South came, people could get around and play against each other, prior to that they were villages playing against each other …What maybe we need is something not dissimilar from that, a kind of must-carry commitment which drove the technology out into outlying areas, but gave….the carrier an opportunity over time to begin to seriously make money"

"I live in West Cork as much as I can, and we have done experiments with community television in West Cork where the people we talk to are not Dublin because we have nothing in common with Dublin, we talk to people in Penzance and we talk to people in the outer islands in Sweden. We talk to people in rural France."


Q: The first question asked about the future of regulation at a time when three individual leaders appeared to be moving inevitably towards a single ITV. Did Lord Puttnam acknowledge that the ITC was attempting to retain standards against this growing challenge ?

A: I agree with what you were saying about the plethora of regulators and the mess of pottage that it's almost become, and the need for some sort of clarification of that. But I think we are definitely in a period of time when the changing technologies make it very very difficult to see precisely how that regulation should be properly implemented.

It's partly there to try and reflect viewers' interest, but it is partly there also to try to achieve public service broadcasting. And the model that people saw in the ‘70s and ‘80s was that we would get the best out of the BBC if it was actually in competition with another public service broadcaster and that is, I think, what actually Channel 3 initially truly did provide and, indeed, as time went by, I’d even go as far as to say that Channel 3 became the principle source of regional television and community television and, to some degree, and to quite a large degree I think, the BBC retreated almost into being a metropolitan producer of programmes whereas Channel 3 continued to become a source of programming in the regions. So in fact it did I think act as a foil to the BBC, a competitor to it, and actually, in many ways, outshone it, although the BBC outshone it in some other ways as well.

The regulatory system has preserved that, but I think - and here I speak personally - I think everybody would agree, in the last few years, that system has come under enormous strain and the three gentlemen that you actually identified earlier on are clearly of a mind that is looking towards trying to develop as commercial Channel 3 as they possibly can. But it's plain, I think, as the nose on one's face, that the ITC, at the moment, is equally trying to prod it in the other direction.

Whether in fact it can sustain that position, in the light of all the technological changes, and the Government's own view about changing regulation, only time will tell. But it is interesting that the two issues upon which the ITC has now got itself into conflict with the Channel 3 owners is on the issue of news, and in fact regional news and regional programmes. So, I think, whatever you may say about the regulators, and the confusion that may exist amongst them, there is nevertheless there a desire to, as it were, hold the position as best they possibly can in the interest of public service broadcasting and it is for that reason that there are currently two consultation papers out at the moment on public service broadcasting and on regional programmes.

So, really, what I am trying to add in that rather lengthy intervention, and ask your opinion of, is can you see the importance of trying to retain Channel 3 as a foil to the BBC because that sort of competition brings out the best in both?

What you have actually set out is, I think you would probably agree, is a series of paradoxes, really.

First of all, I think there was no question that the BBC was short-sighted and foolish in its objections to the creation of the original ITV system and the idea that it was not necessary. There’s a wonderful line I dug out when Grace Wyndham Goldie, one of the greats of television, was giving evidence to the then parliamentary commission on the future of broadcasting. She was asked how she felt about a second challenge and she said: "I don't know what the whole discussion is about. I can't find nearly enough young men…" - and she did say young men - "…I can’t find nearly enough young men to run one system well, one channel well. The idea there could be two is absurd." So that was the thinking and we have got to be very careful. I giggle now that we may all be somewhat culpable of not dissimilar thinking, we have thought ourselves into a box.

I come from the point, I spent 20 happy years as a director of an ITV company, Anglia, but it did teach me some absolute realities.

I think, looking back, that probably the last 20 years the BBC governors’ role has not been serious, it just hasn't, when you look at the way - there is a health warning here, I failed to get the job of Deputy Chairman. I could easily be standing here right now saying, "It’s the most brilliant system ever invented and should never be criticised". But it has not been serious, it has been done on the basis of an old boys club and it is pretty daft and the resources given to the governors is more crazy.

So the whole regulatory pattern has been allowed to drift because, broadly speaking, we created a terrific system. One very important point you make, which I think is vital, ITV - and everything in my speech was intended to include ITV when I referred to public broadcasting - ITV reached the standards it reached because of the particular way in which BBC was funded, it was required to. There was no possibility that when ITV did drama it could do slipshod cheap drama because on the other channel you flip across and you just see the difference. In a way, the ITV system itself got caught in a fix because BBC was continually a programming quality benchmark that all television - indeed, one of the problems that Channel 5 has had - all television had to try to raise its game to. Just silly things, we all travel abroad, I am sure most of you will watch the news in other countries where you have got a newsreader going like that and dropping her paper and forgetting… I mean, we are used to a quality of sophistication on the smallest of the ITV channels, even during a news opt out, which is incredibly sophisticated. That, I think, genuinely is all driven by a kind of BBC benchmark that every news broadcaster and everyone wants to adhere to.

Having said all of that, my belief is that we should move towards a regulatory system which was to do with the form of output we are looking for right across-the-board. For example I hope I have clearly made the point that I believe that we will move towards an ecology which will include real local broadcasting. Now, I don't think we have even yet imagined what local broadcasting can be. I made a speech a few years ago and people, probably quite rightly, giggled when I said a very popular Sunday morning programme locally might well be an edited highlights of yesterday's weddings. Now, I know it sounds bonkers, but if you live in a local community, and if you read a local paper, you will find three or four pages of the local paper are devoted to local weddings and you will also find that the local football teams get a remarkable amount of coverage. Why? Because people know them, they know her, they knew her when she was a little girl, they bumped into her in Tesco’s. Equally, when you come to reading the news, it is a totally different evaluatory process if the person reading the news or doing the weather is someone that you know used to work in Boots, your entire - I sense you may think I have gone bonkers - but your entire relationship with what you are seeing is different, it's "Gosh, isn’t she good? She's really doing well, I knew her Mam." It's different. We have to realise that that is quite legitimately part and parcel of the audio-visual offering as we move into the 21st Century, in exactly the same way that had we only ever looked at national newspapers and I stood here today saying "We might well have local newspapers which showed the local weddings" you may well have all giggled. The truth is, there is a market out there for the community experience and it happens to be, in my judgement, a very very important market because as I tried to say, as we move increasingly into a global world market place, the reaction to that is: Where do I live? Who am I? Who are my neighbours? What do I care about? Who do I feel safe with? That is a completely natural series of emotional responses. That's why I believe that the more global, the more we see Saturday night global television, the more on Sunday morning we may want to see that local wedding that we missed the day before. I don't think this is daft - it's an unbelievably long question to have, and I'm not even sure I have answered your question.

Another question, please.

Q: Lord Puttnam, this region is very good at talking to itself. The transition to community broadcasting is one that would be easily embraced in this region, but what worries me is that you have divorced that from the concept of regional broadcasting as a more complex economy of broadcasting whereby this region could talk to other regions and to other countries. When I left Sunderland Polytechnic in 1980, I joined a regional economy of broadcasting economy that was quite vibrant in terms of talking beyond this region, and that's very much disappeared and I don't hear any sense of how that could be part of this system that you are proposing?

A: First of all, we have got to, and we can’t tonight, none of us could do it, we have got to really work out what form of critical mass we are talking about, even as we come down to the small areas of critical mass.

A lot of it depends on what the interest levels are. I live in West Cork as much as I can, and we have done experiments with community television in West Cork where the people we talk to are not Dublin because we have nothing in common with Dublin, we talk to people in Penzance and we talk to people in the outer islands in Sweden. We talk to people in rural France. Basically, the problems we face, and the opportunities that we face, and the issues we are involved in, are remarkably similar to theirs in other rural communities. That becomes the crossover. For example, how do you keep kids, at what point do you have six form colleges in relatively small communities so that children get educated at home up to the age of 18 and drift off, in our case, to Cork City, or Dublin, because once they have gone, they very seldom come back. These are interesting local issues, but they are local issues that don't necessarily fall conveniently with national boundaries, they are local issues which have got to do with a different form of community.

Now that may be one form of paradigm, I'm not suggesting it’s a permanent paradigm, but it’s one form of paradigm. You will find that farmers really want to talk to other farmers, they don't mind whether they are talking to farmers in Kansas, or farmers in Norway. But they are interested in what other farmers are doing, they are not remotely interested in talking to mineworkers, or fruit stallholders in Covent Garden, it is a different gig.

I think that what we have got to do is begin to look at different forms of community and what they have to say to each other. It is only a half answer to your question and I realise that. To answer it properly, would take a long time and I'm not even sure I'm adequate.

Q: You mentioned the two great interests in your life are publicly accountable broadcasting and education. Is there a view that our existing national regionalism in this country is perhaps too large to engage those with true local community programming? In North East Lincolnshire, there’s an operation called Image 2000 that combined public sector agencies, particularly in the provision of education with NTL, and with other funding agencies to produce community television that was linked to well researched teaching packages that went out on the NTL network. Is there a case for us getting away from our old notions for a national public sector agency accountable to public service broadcasting?

A: Yes, you are talking about Immingham, aren’t you?

Q: Yes.

A: I opened it, believe it or not. I know a little about it. That is a very good example. Now, Immingham is an interesting experiment and I hope to God it works because there is a lot to learn from it. It was formed as a joint venture rather uniquely by NTL and Sony. Sony wanted to find out as much as they could about how local you could make a television service work because there are enormous implications in the sale of hardware and they were very generous indeed. NTL, basically, were trying to fulfil some licence obligations and win some brownie points. Some of the stuff was very interesting. I will give you some of the good and the bad. One of the plans early on - this speaks more to where we are going as a country - one of the plans was that this community television system would televise live all planning procedures because there had been quite a lot of funny business. When it really came to it, the planning committees went bonkers at the idea their deliberations would be heard or seen live so it all collapsed, but I think we will move towards an era where that will be the norm not the exception and people will insist, i.e., if you are going to be a councillor, these are the rules, and one rule is the television camera is on and you’re being filmed.

They did a brilliant job hooking schools up and one of the things I showed David Blunkett very early on was the way in which the local schools were using television and using their connection with the station, not just to show what they were doing. For example, the station was making little films and I will give you an example of one of them I actually got. An English teacher was sitting on the edge of his desk saying "I am the English teacher for 4B this year, we have a very challenging term ahead, we will do this, this, this book…" and he went through what they were going to cover in the curriculum and he said, "I need all the help you can give me." What was done - and it was prepared for every parent and every parent got this video, and had their own English teacher saying, "You have to help me and these are the things you can do to help me at home, and you do this, you do this." Incredibly effective, but what was special about it was because it had been done through the Immingham thing, it was amazingly professional. It had started off - they took a helicopter for a day and they did helicopter shots of every school in the region, so it started with a helicopter shot of the school, nice titles, Immingham Comprehensive, whatever it was, zooming in, Mr Brown English teacher, it was amazingly professional and when you showed it to parents they were amazed, it was, it wasn't local, it didn't feel local, it felt slick and good and thoughtful, and it had some production value and yet it was talking about their kid, and that was the strength of it. That is why the Immingham experience is important. Now what form of governance you create, I'm not sure. One of the things that I am very keen, within a few years, to see is a television station coming out of the University of Sunderland, having its own television station, for all sorts of reasons, as a learning device within the school. Who regulates that? I would imagine that that would probably be regulated in one way or another by the academic board. It would be wrong for anyone else arbitrarily to regulate it. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the equivalent of an ITC laid some very broad spectrum of regulation, but, within that, the day-to-day regulation would be done by the academic board.

That is not a blue sky idea. I was in the University of Pamplona recently, just outside Bilbao, and they have their own television station and their own radio station, all 24-hours, all done by the kids, and tutors, and one of the most interesting things - this is fascinating - tutors told me was that the most difficult kids they have got, they very quickly put on to night work at the television station and they said, "You know what’s amazing, they never let us down". Once they have that responsibility, they become quite different, you know, they are on that 8 o'clock until 3 o'clock in the morning shift and they are there at 8 o'clock. Try and get them to class at 8 o'clock in the morning, a whole other problem, but they will do the 8 o'clock shift at the television station. We have learnt a lot about broadcasting and that beams right out to the whole of the Basque region and there are four of them I think.

Again, what form of - maybe the answer to your question is maybe we are over-obsessed with regulation. I earlier on said, didn't I, that maybe we have to unpick ourselves a little from accountability and reinvent that lovely old word my dad used to use, "trust", and really come down on people if they breach trust. But start off by assuming that they won't breach trust.

I have a nasty feeling that in our modern world we have done the reverse, we no longer trust people at all, therefore we put in these layers of accountability, not because we are trying to stop them from doing anything, but so that when they do something wrong, I say: "It’s not my fault. I gave them the form, I signed it, I made sure he signed it, you can’t blame me, guv" so we have a job’s worth version of trust, which implies no trust.

It's a really great question. There are a lot of problems why we are not where we ought to be. Let's try and - I have to blame your ex-Director General to an extent who fell in love with education at the BBC, then out of love with it, then back in love with it, until poor old Jane Drabble didn’t know whether she was on her head or her heels.

The BBC should have made a much more significant commitment a decade ago to its role within education. There were two reasons for doing it: (a) because it should have always been part and parcel of its public service obligation, but (b) because if you really want to be able to step up when the opponents of the licence fees start whinging and going on about you don't do this, you don’t do that. If the BBC had made a point of delivering the core curriculum as part of its remit, it becomes bloody difficult for anyone to start thinking we could do without the BBC so pure common sense a long time ago dictated that the BBC and the core curriculum should have almost emerged as one and the same.

I think the new Director General has got the plot on that one. Certainly part of the BBC licence fee uplift was based on a lot of discussions about broadcast education and commitment to investing in education, so we begin to put together the pieces that should have been so let's agree we are ten years late for all sorts of reasons.

We are ten years late - it is more frustrating than that because during that ten years what's emerged in the UK is a brilliantly vital games industry, video games industry, computer games industry, so it's not that we can't make it, it is not that we don't have the imagination to make world beating games, it is that it has not been applied to learning. I, the other day we had a very good meeting at BAFTA with the games’ manufacturers, and one of the things is language and how do you get across what is learning to them? They do shoot ‘em up games, Lara Croft, so I said, "OK, imagine for a second you have got a really good adventure game which requires you drop a spy into France in, for the sake of the argument, 1942, and he goes through a whole series of adventures but he, or she (Lara) can only get out of France by speaking French." So in every single twist and turn in the story unless the child is developing the ability to learn some French, their hero is stranded. Now, it's a very crude idea, and I realise that, but as an exemplar of the way in which you can tie a game to an output it is a perfectly good one. There is no reason at all - they all said, "We can do that." I said, "Well, do it." "But who’s going to pay for it?" Now that is, quite reasonably, the next thing, who does pay for it? I would advocate, and have done for a long time, that we should have a not vast, but let’s say £15 million pool of money to seed corn the creation of a whole generation of educational software, stuff which is really imaginative. Now, there’s several reasons for doing it: (a) our schools need it, (b) we’ve got the delivery platforms that can begin to use it, but, most of all, education is the biggest single industry in the world, the biggest industry, it is 14.5% of total European GDP is one way or another spent on all forms of education, it is huge.

If we could get our hands on that market place, and produce world beating educational material, it would be fantastic. Next thing, someone says "Yes, but everyone's education system is different?" "True, true…" as John Cleese would say! But, in reality, the one thing I have learnt about the film industry is that, in terms of production value, 50% of your costs or more go into the sexy bit of the programme, the stuff you build, the special effects you spend a lot of time on. It is relatively inexpensive to re-version something with a different voice over, or different numbers, it is the attracter, the child attracter that is the expensive stuff and once you create that, let's say our game, once you have got your game and it works, it doesn't matter what language he or she has to learn, it doesn't matter where they are, the important thing is how exciting is the game, how exciting is the predicament which they find themselves in and the fact there is a language they have to know to get themselves out of that predicament. That is the cheap bit, so what I have been urging Government, as much as anything else, is let us invest in the creativity of software, then begin to seek out the market place in the hope that we can actually become a world leader in exactly the same way as we have in the games industry. We, literally in Britain, make 36 or 37% of all the world's video games and computer games, it is an incredible business for us. If we can do it in that area, we can do it and some - and we also have the language - we can do it and some in education.

(Audience) Another separate and interesting statistic, 40% of Sony's world-wide operation came from the sale of their Gameboy operations.

A: That I didn't know.

(Bill Bates in audience).

My name is Bates not Gates. (Laughter) I'd like to pick up on a number of points. Thank you for your kind words about the work we are doing down at Humberside. We can do the same in Wearside and in Teesside and in Tyneside if the will is there to do it.

We are doing a number of things on the local community side as well. Within NTL, there are three important things. That's to do some good (hence the local channel bit), is to have some fun (which we all do) and to make some money - making the money comes last, unusual. We are still working on that one. (laughter) But within the local community we do have a local channel in all of our franchises, where we open up our network and say, "Here is the railway line, you put the rolling stock on it, you can use it for free". The difficulty is - and I have tried this over the last three years, as a number of people in the audience know - to say here it is, have it, the problem is they can't get the money to make the programmes to put on it, which was the last point you made, who is going to pay for it? Until funds are made available, from whatever source, whether it is the European Union, the Government, private subscription, it does not matter, it won't happen, there needs to be someone to take up the task of saying we are going to make the programmes and we will put them out.

Now, to help that along, I can tell you now we will shortly launch an education channel for the whole of the UK because we decided to make some programmes and we started it off in this region and, by the way, my new title is Executive Director North East. I’m not quite sure what it means yet, but I get my fingers into everything - hope I don’t get them burnt! What we are trying to do is open up our network for people that want access to it do it to do some good. Now, down on Teesside, three years ago, we decided to make our own programmes within the local channel network. Oddly enough we chose sport as a topic - we made a programme about local football, Boro TV, we made it, we produced it, it cost a lot of money to do and we tried it as an experiment. We were the first cable TV company to do that, put our money where our mouth was and it worked. We have a tremendous base now of customers that watch that and it is interactive too and it is going digital. We are rolling out the digital now on Teesside, by the way, as well as to the rest of the country through the rest of the year.

There is an opportunity there to jump on that bandwagon, to put your programmes on it, but you are going to have to make it. We will help you, we will let you use our studios for a nominal fee, but we will do that because we want to see it succeed, we want to see the educational channels succeed, we want to use our networks to improve the lot of the community and, at the same time, if you are a paying customer, that is even better.

A: A couple of things, not so much respond to it, as maybe add to it. One of the things that may prize this open - it sounds rather odd - is teacher shortage. If we can't solve the teacher shortage in maths, science and modern languages in the next year or two it will become so profound that the absolute logic of beginning to rely on audio-visual delivery systems within schools, and in shortage subjects, will become overwhelming.

The irony is that good may come out of this crisis because there is no question that maths and modern languages are two subjects that software can deliver very effectively and we are just beginning to find out how effectively. What we are looking for is a whole series of important leaps. I mentioned that amazing statistic that ????17% of everything we know about learning having been learnt/discovered since 1985. There is a something I use when I am talking to school teachers about change, and the need for change, and the speed of change, I use this parallel. I say, "Look, always remember, if you took a brilliant surgeon from 1900, a brilliant surgeon, put him into an operating theatre today he literally could only…" - I say he - "…he literally could do no more than mop the brow of the patient, take their pulse, make a cup of tea, and stand around try not to get in the way because every skill he has has been obviated by technology." He might as well be standing in a middle of a space ship, he wouldn’t know what dials to twiddle, or what knobs to press, or what switches, so no matter how good he was, he would be obviated. Yet, if you took a school teacher from 1900, put her - it’s normally her - put her into a classroom, give her a blackboard and a piece of chalk, and 30 reasonably eager faces, in most subjects she could deliver what we all recognise as a lesson.

What that says is that medicine in the late 19th and 20th century has moved on at an expeditious rate, based on technology, and the practitioners have been required to move at the same speed. But that learning has barely moved at all in the 20th Century. But what I - if you accept my hypothesis - in the next 25 years the same type of games, the same type of changes would take place in the world of learning, in the classroom, as have taken place in the operating theatre in the 20th Century.

That being the case, all the problems you and I are trying to address, all the doubts that are in the way will be rolled out of the way. Already, in classrooms we see the difference between teachers - how many of you have actually experienced a whiteboard in a school, seeing a whiteboard being used? It's fantastic. Interactive white boards, when I got my present job almost three years ago, interactive whiteboards were £8-8,500 each. Today you can buy any good interactive whiteboard for £1,500 and, by the end of this year, I guarantee they will begin to dip below £1,000. They are beginning to be accessible to every classroom in every school. We have this tumbling cost of the technology, real excitement among young teachers, no young teacher is graduating for teacher training college not knowing how to teach from a whiteboard, not knowing how to do whole class teaching from computers.

What we have got is one part of the teaching profession terrified of change, is aware that most of the kids in their class know more about the computer than they do, which is a very frightening thing, frankly, for a teacher to deal with, and you have this younger generation coming in who just can't wait to get hold of the latest technology and find out more about how to teach. I think we are at a very peculiar cusp and why this meeting tonight I think is important is we have two choices: do we either cling to the certainties of the past, which many people are doing, and there are whole sections of the media that are encouraging you to, or do we move into the future knowing we have no real serious alternative?.

Let me illustrate it another way. I was at a - I can't always spend all my life in inner city schools so, every now and then, I look for a leafy suburb - and the other day I was in Sevenoaks talking to parents in a primary school in an evening, very nice, very nice people, excellent sandwiches, and I knew I wasn't getting through, I knew that the certainties in the past were overwhelming anything I had to say about the future. So I took a flier and said, "Look…" a woman had asked a particular question and I said, "Look, please understand there is every chance that your granddaughter will be a domestic servant working for a Singaporean family in Brisbane." If I had said "She's going to be a hooker" I couldn't have got more of a reaction. "You have got to be joking?" I said, "I’m not because your grandchild's future will be determined by her ????smarts, is she able to deal with the world as she’ll find it in 2040 or 2050, or will she not be? That will depend on how well we have equipped her and that will depend on what kind of a generation of

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