The UK is being tested as never before in peacetime – and in an age when communication is immediate and uncontrollable and diffuse. But, if the nation does come together and get through the challenges of Covid-19, it will have done so with the help of the most traditional forms of public service broadcasting (PSB).
This was always going to be a big year for Ofcom. Its to-do list for 2020 includes: overhauling the telecoms market and upgrading the UK’s broadband network; a major review of public service broadcasting and its future in the face of changing technology and audience habits and huge global competition; tackling both “online harm” and industry diversity issues; updating EU “audio-visual services” rules post Brexit; and, as the BBC’s regulator, trying to sharpen the corporation’s performance and decision-making.
One of the best contributions to the issue of the public purposes of the BBC was written almost 20 years ago by a then-future Chair of the BBC Board of Governors, Gavyn Davies.
He wrote: “Some form of market failure must lie at the heart of any concept of public service broadcasting. Beyond simply using the catchphrase that public service broadcasting must ‘inform, educate and entertain’, we must add ‘inform, educate and entertain in a way that the private sector, left unregulated, would not do’. Otherwise, why not leave matters entirely to the private sector?”
When Ofcom holds its final board meeting of 2015 in December, it will have a list of the candidates competing to be the next Chair of Channel 4. At the top of the list will be Mark Price, outgoing Chief Executive of Waitrose and Deputy Chair of John Lewis.
The advert for the post – a hugely sensitive one, as the Government explores the possibility of selling off Channel 4 – was hurried out on 10 October by favoured headhunter Dom Loehnis of Egon Zehnder, with a closing date of 16 November.