Mark Thompson at The Oxford Media Convention

Mark Thompson is Chief Exective of Channel 4. His speech at the Convention was outstanding. His principle point was that the old, Reithian language of public service means little to contemporary audiences and that a new language is now required – one that acknowledges the ‘second order’ benefits of public service ‘merit goods’. These second order benefits are the indirect ones that ripple through society, making use of network effects as they go. For an example he used Jamie’s Kitchen, whose direct public service benefits may be uncertain but which, he claims, has created a new attitude to unemployment, apprenticeship and the obligations of employers.

Ed Richards at the Oxford Media Convention

Ed Richards is The Prime Minister’s priniciple adviser on media matters. He’s a famously shadowy figure (he actually tried to dodge out of the frame as I took his picture!). His presentation was a fairly robust defense of the Government’s record on new services and particularly its attitude to applications from the BBC.

Critics accuse the Government of being too soft on Dyke’s BBC and too quick to grant the corporation entry to new sectors already well catered for by the private sector.

He was one of the few speakers to actually mention the Internet (or at least ‘broadband’ which seems to be the respectable way to say ‘Internet’ these days) but when I cornered him about the exclusion of the net from Ofcom’s scope he held his hands up in the now rather tired attitude of “hey, the net’s too big and complex for regulation…”

Lord David Currie at the Oxford Media Convention

Lord Currie is the first Chair of Ofcom. He’s building his rag-tag team (rumoured to be at least 600 strong) and setting terms of reference now in readiness for the green light once the Communications Bill hits the statute books. Perhaps understandably he remained resolutely vague about the direction and tone of the super-regulator and when I asked him why he thought the net was explicitly excluded from its scope, he literally shrugged his shoulders as if to say “nothing to do with me, guv”. I hope he’s able to form an opinion by the time Ofcom is formally in operation.

Paddy Barwise at The Oxford Media Convention

Paddy Barwise heads the London Business School’s Future Media programme and is a perennial commentator on broadcast regulation issues – particularly ownership and quality. He’s usually defending quality thresholds or opposing foreign ownership. He wasn’t speaking at the event but he told me, intriguingly, that beyond the Communications Bill lurks greater peril for British public service media – in particular he?s worried about the next round of the GATT negotiations which will attack the UK Government’s right to ‘protect’ a state broadcaster and fund it via a compulsory licence fee. The worst case could result in the abolition of ownership rules, content quotas, the license fee and much that British people hold dear. I think that radical change is likely in all these areas but it’s obviously vital that we get a public debate going before it’s too late to influence the outcome.

Andrew Graham at The Oxford Media Convention

Andrew Graham is an economist and Master of Balliol College. His trenchant and entertaining views on media regulation are well known. He famously said that “if you could measure quality it would just be quantity”. One of his observations in Oxford was that the effect of the Communications Bill and Ofcom’s arrival is that broadcasting has been overrun by economists. Mark Thompson bore this out by basing his keynote presentation on a term obviously borrowed from economics (even if only the Bluffer’s Guide): ‘Merit goods’. Graham predicts that the next wave of colonists will be the lawyers, once they get their teeth into the opportunities created by the new legislation.

A convention… How grand…

I’m off to the Oxford Media Convention tomorrow. The theme of the event is ‘Public Service Communications’. If my luvvie credentials were up to date I could probably tell you what the real purpose of the event is. Media types are the ultimate control freaks and would never dream of convening in such a high profile way if there weren’t some kind of ‘agenda’ behind the agenda.

Although I’d be thrilled to learn that the legislators, regulators and media owners present have made progress in redefining ‘public service’ for the networked era, I’m currently struggling to understand Oxford’s ‘Park-and-Ride’ arrangements, so I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’ll write about the event for The Guardian and I’ll post here too. The published programme includes multiple keynotes (what is a ‘keynote’ anyway?) from Mark Thompson (Chief Executive, C4), Lord Currie (Chairman, OFCOM), David Edmonds (Director General, OFTEL) and Tessa Jowell (Minister for Culture).

Distressed geeks

Some scratched and mangled black & white photos I took at Dave & Danny’s ‘Village Fete for the Twenty First Century’ back in the Summer showed up in the post months late. Some frames were lost all together – including all the ones of Dave & Danny themselves. The rest, including this one of Matt “Warchalking” Jones plus Yoz, Paul, Adam, paper folders, my kids, Juliet… and Freeman Dyson are spooky. They should offer this as a service.

Matt Jones at XCOM 2002. A black and white photo from a negative apparently damaged in processing
Matt Jones