London Centre reviewed the RTS Cambridge Convention, with a high-level panel looking back at controversy over broadcast regulation and Channel 4, as well as praising James Murdoch’s speech and the convention’s strong focus on diversity.
Virgin Media senior public affairs manager Alex Stepney said Cambridge 2017 had been a far more political event than the previous convention two years before, pointing to the different positions taken by Ofcom chief Sharon White and culture secretary Karen Bradley in the area of broadcast regulation.
Ofcom had investigated the Murdoch companies’ commitment to broadcasting standards and found there was no case to answer, but Bradley had decided to refer 21st Century Fox’s takeover of Sky to the Competition and Markets Authority on the ground of broadcasting standards as well as that of media plurality.
The convention speech by James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, went down well with the panel, which also included Sky head of public affairs Lucy Aitkens and Toby Syfret, director of TV research at Enders Analysis.
“He’s a very different personality to his father and I liked his visionary sense, pointing out with so many new technologies coming, [that] we need to make them work [and] always seek to improve what we do as broadcasters,” said Syfret.
Bradley came under fire for insisting that Channel 4 move some staff out of London. “I don’t think the Government has the first idea of the destruction it could inflict on Channel 4,” said Syfret.
“The advertising department has to be in London, and it’s important Channel 4’s programme commissioning groups work closely with them.”
Syfret suggested that the Government is treating Channel 4 as if it were the BBC, with thousands of employees they can cast across the regions of the UK – but that isn’t the case.
“Channel 4 is a much smaller broadcaster than the BBC, and it’s the continuing intense and dedicated vision of [its] chief executives that has given Channel 4 a remarkable success. This kind of political interference shows no understanding at all of that,” he said.
The panellists praised the Convention’s focus on diversity and, in particular, class diversity in recruitment. Stepney praised the RTS for making diversity such a mainstream subject at the convention.
“It did generate an ongoing discussion, with some interesting examples of how some companies tackle the issue, but there wasn’t much focus on the independent production sector – shouldn’t they be asked to respond too?” she asked.
Tabitha Elwes, head of media at CIL Management Consultants, chaired the RTS London panel at the late-September event, which was held at the Hospital Club in the capital.