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Tessa Jowell MP, culture secretary
Tessa Jowell MP, culture secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: TESSA JOWELL, MP, Culture Secretary MAY 5th, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well the digital revolution suffered a real setback this week when ITV's much vaunted company collapsed. It seems that the virtues of digital TV have failed to capture the public imagination. So does this mean the analogue switch off date will have to be postponed? Elsewhere in the world of culture, media and sport, the new stadium at Wembley seems to have got the go ahead - or nearly got the go ahead - and next week the Government's publishing its communications bill. All of these matters end up on the desk of our next guest - Tessa Jowell. Let me begin by congratulating you on the your daughter's 21st today.

TESSA JOWELL: Thank you very much David.

DAVID FROST: And thank you for coming here on your way, as it were, to the celebrations. On this business of ITV Digital, Tessa, Michael Green - as you probably saw - gave an interview yesterday in the Telegraph where he says "There's no question but this Government was useless. I went so many times to Chris Smith, Tessa Jowell and Tony Blair saying we're losing a million pounds a day, please turn up the signal. You never told us it wouldn't work. They sold us a dud product." Do you agree that the Government are partly to blame and has been useless?

TESSA JOWELL: No I certainly don't accept that. If you look at our record in the UK, we are the leaders for digital television take up in Europe and are regarded by many countries as leaders in the world. Four out of ten homes in this country already have digital television. That is something like twice the rate of the European average so, you know, consumers are buying the product, consumers are going digital for the benefits of digital television.

DAVID FROST: But is the same -

TESSA JOWELL: But if I, can I deal with Michael Green's second point, which is about turning up the power signal - it's not the Government's job to turn up the signal. There are two responsible bodies, first of all the Independent Television Commission, which is the regulator, which tests the reasonable and safe limit at which the power can be turned up to - that they've done, they gave approval for the signal to be turned up. The decision about whether or not to turn up the power then sits with the broadcasters and the broadcasters have already taken action to increase the power in 25 per cent of the country. They're going ahead to increase it in a further 25 per cent of the country, but this is a decision - not for government - it's a decision for the broadcasters. And I'm very surprised that Michael didn't understand that.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of what happens next - I mean everybody seems agreed, except perhaps you, that we've got a well established pay satellite network, a well established paying cable network and there's no room for a successful third pay system - nowhere in Europe's got three successful pay systems, and so the only two alternatives that you have in this situation is either making ITV Digital, as it was called, either making that free to air, just free to air, ten or 12 free to air channels, or to give it to Sky.

TESSA JOWELL: Well, I mean I think there are two points there. First of all the Government's role in the promotion of digital technology and digital television is twofold. First of all to ensure the right kind of regulatory environment and the second is to represent the interests of consumers by ensuring choice, which is why the switch off date between 2006, 2010, is underpinned by two very clear conditions. First of all the accessibility test - in other words that everybody who gets analogue at the moment will be able to receive digital - and secondly the affordability test, that the digital equipment is affordable. So the decision to switch over between 2006 and 2010 will be taken and between now and then kept under review in the light of those two tests.

DAVID FROST: But you've got no hope - you've got no hope of it in 2010.

TESSA JOWELL: No I, I don't accept - I don't accept that.

DAVID FROST: As David Elstein pointed out, although there is a 40 per cent figure, as you say possibly of people who switched to digital, in fact that doesn't take care of the fact that a lot of homes have got three TVs for the children and everything and the video, a hundred, a hundred different devices that need changing and only eight million devices have been changed. So there's 92 million still to go and therefore David Elstein and others would say you won't do it by 2020.

TESSA JOWELL: Look, I understand how on this Sunday, so soon after the collapse of the commercial operator of the DTT platform, everybody is talking down the likelihood of switchover. I understand that. But we remain resolute in our determination to work with the industry broadcasters to secure switchover between 2006 and 2010, subject to the two tests that I have referred to. Now one of the key, the second set issue -

DAVID FROST: Yes.

TESSA JOWELL: - is one, is one where, you know, the technology is advancing all the time. I mean this year, we now have a set top box which enables you to convert your analogue set to digital for 99. The price of those set top boxes will come down and of course that will make them affordable for people to convert their second and third sets. But in this drive to switch over, we're working, Government is working with the broadcasters and with the industry, because each have a part to play, and there is more confidence out there than I think David Elstein suggests.

DAVID FROST: And what about 2010? You can't pledge 2010 this morning, it might be 2015 or - for the switch off of analogue - because you can't take television away from two million old age pensioners just because you want to sell off ...

TESSA JOWELL: No, of course not, which is why one of the tests that will determine switchover is the affordability test and linked to the accessibility test. But our, our policy remains firm. Switchover between 2006, 2010, subject to two tests.

DAVID FROST: And what about people watching us now and they're going out to buy a set today? Would you advise them to buy digital and nothing else?

TESSA JOWELL: Well there are digital television sets which are now cheaper than they were even a year ago, but that's a consumer choice and, you know, as I've already said, if people don't want to buy a digital television set today then, you know, in the next few years they will be able to convert an analogue set that they may buy with the use of a set top box. So I mean the choice has got to be with the consumers and I think the problem with the whole digital debate is that for too long it's been a sort of private conversation between government, the industry and broadcasters, you know, and it's people sitting at home that have to be convinced of the benefits. And, you know, it has to influence their choices when they go out and take out a subscription or choose to buy a television set.

DAVID FROST: What about the headline today in the Observer, "BBC faces fines threat from Jowell"?

TESSA JOWELL: Well, I think, I think that if you read the story, the headline -

DAVID FROST: There's not a lot about that in the story but is it basically true?

TESSA JOWELL: The headline rather overwrites, I think, where we are on the policy. Look, as things stand at the moment the, we're publishing next week a communications bill which will include provisions for the regulation of public service broadcasting - BBC and the commercial broadcasters. We are keen to see the regulation, as far as possible, on a level playing field - that's a very important part of maintaining this mixed broadcasting ecology. Now the commercial broadcasters can be fined for failure to meet their licence conditions. The governance at the BBC is different and in order to ensure that there is, you know, a degree of parity, yes we're going to look at whether or not the same sort of sanction should apply to the BBC. That's a conversation that we will have with the BBC -

DAVID FROST: With the BBC?

TESSA JOWELL: - the outcome is not yet determined.

DAVID FROST: And the outcome is not yet determined.

TESSA JOWELL: The outcome is not yet determined. Because of the unique way in which the, the BBC is funded, by licence fee-payers' money, your money and my money, and I think it's fair to say that, you know, I mean I certainly don't think it's quite right that licence payers money should, if in the event that the BBC was fined, go straight to the Treasury. So we need to recognise, in any system of sanction, the unique funding position of the BBC.

DAVID FROST: Right, and fining the BBC is under consideration.

TESSA JOWELL: It's under consideration with the BBC as part of the consultation on the BBC agreement that will lead from the publication ...

DAVID FROST: How much will the new Ofcom have to do with the BBC and are the governors safe?

TESSA JOWELL: Well the white paper which preceded the bill which is being published next week, made clear that the decision had been taken to maintain two separate systems of regulation: the governors for the BBC and Ofcom, the new converged regulator for the commercial public service broadcasters. But the BBC will be subject to the same standards of regulation, standards that will be set by Ofcom, very importantly in relation to content, taste and decency, and the sort of minimum standards that all broadcasters are expected to comply with. But also in relation to the quantitative aspect of, you know, regional programming, independent production and so forth, but in terms of the sort of qualitative aspects of regulation, arguably the BBC, by virtue of the regular weekly, fortnightly, monthly, scrutiny of the governors, will be subject to tougher regulation than will be the commercial public service broadcasters who will, as far as possible, regulate themselves, with the oversight of Ofcom, in relation to their compliance with their public service broadcasting remit.

DAVID FROST: We'll come back to television, well it all links up together, but, but in terms of sport, you're looking at the situation now where there are possibly 30 clubs from around the country that may go broke because ITV Digital has not paid up on its 187,000,000 pounds. Do you think in fact that Carlton and Granada have a moral responsibility to pay what they guaranteed through their joint company? Is that a moral responsibility of theirs?

TESSA JOWELL: Well, you know, I can understand why football fans, why the clubs, why the Nationwide League are furious that the contract that they entered into has not been met and, you know, I think it's going to be a few months before we see just what the long term impact of the failure of ITV Digital is going to be for football. But the contract is a contract between two commercial bodies, between ITV Digital and the Nationwide League and, I mean I think it's not right for me to comment further than that David because it's highly likely to be the subject of litigation -

DAVID FROST: With long, long ...

TESSA JOWELL: - but I can well understand the fury of fans, and the fury that there is in football, about the failure of this deal.

DAVID FROST: You have actually made clear that one ITV is acceptable, that there could be a merger between Carlton and Granada, but the problem there is to -

TESSA JOWELL: Subject to competition rules. But we, but we would -

DAVID FROST: Well I was going to say, the problem with the competition rules is they would have 56 per cent of, or whatever the figure is, of TV advertising, isn't it - that's..?

TESSA JOWELL: What the communications bill, among other things, will focus on, is also reform of media ownership and cross media ownership rules. We've undertaken a very extensive consultation with the industry and what we are aiming to achieve is a balance between deregulation and allowing competition as a presumption, but recognising that media is unique, it's not like other commodities on which competition bears: the importance of preserving diversity, of view and plurality - a range of owners.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of Wembley, this week the FA announced that they had substantially met the five tests that you set them on December 19th. Does that now mean that, assuming that the loan from West Deutsche Landersbank is there, that the new Wembley can now go ahead.

TESSA JOWELL: Well a lot of progress has been made by the FA in negotiating the financing and the governance for the huge new stadium project. It is the FA's project, government's interest arises because the FA have sought further public money, 20 million from government, 21 million from the London Development Agency, in order to fund some of the infrastructure costs. So the Government's conditions apply to the investment of that money and I think that it's fair to say that the FA have made very good progress in meeting the conditions that I set out before Christmas, but it's not yet a done deal.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much, that's very clear Tessa. Thank you very much for being with us.

TESSA JOWELL: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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