Lords Trio Slang UK Government Over US-Style Media Bill

01 May 2003

Three prominent Labour members of Britain's second parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, on Tuesday warned the government its upcoming Communications Bill threatens the future of public service broadcasting.

The high profile trio – Lords David Puttnam (former film producer and boss of Columbia Studios), broadcaster/author Melvyn Bragg and Planet 24 co-founder Waheed Alli – jointly moved an amendment to the bill requiring that the public interest be paramount in defining the role of the government’s new media and telecoms supra-regulator, Ofcom.

Unless Ofcom’s brief contained categorical criteria regarding the public interest, argued Bragg, the British media scene would come to resemble the US where liberal media rules had led not to “wondrous benefits of unfettered capitalism” but to the “obliteration of competitors by mega-corporations”.

Continued Bragg in orotund mode: “We should not lose sight of the fact that the massive majority of people in this country get their news, entertainment and education from television and radio. Public interest broadcasting in the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 has been at the heart of our system. It’s the way we do it. And no fashionable financial flummery, or jezebel friends, or talk of greener grass elsewhere should shift us from that ground.”

Puttnam, who chaired the parliamentary select committee appointed by the Blair administration to scrutinize the bill, accused the government of having “tied itself up in knots” over the bill.

While the ever-modest Alli threatened that “clever TV executives like myself” would challenge the government at a judicial review if Ofcom is required to balance the public interest with commercial market demands.

But culture, media and sport minister Baroness Blackstone was unmoved by the trio’s oratory and declined to permit the amendment – which in the finest tradition of British democracy was not even put to a vote.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff