Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention - 12

Speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention


I'm delighted to be here today not just as Shadow Culture Secretary but as an avid viewer of television.

I was brought up with very strict TV rules - which basically amounted to me and my sisters being allowed to watch our black and white television once a week - and that was the Lone Ranger.

And because I'm still compensating for the envy I had of my school-friends who were allowed to watch TV when they wanted and even choose their own programmes - I cannot watch enough.

It is odd that people think that television is a threat to "conversation" or deprives you of "culture" or interferes with family life – because great television generates conversation; it brings culture into people's homes; and it binds people together as part of their family life.

And then there are people who think that television is going to be obsolete because of new technology and services. And certainly people now watch television content at different times by downloading or streaming programmes onto different devices but I'm in no doubt that the collective family and social event that is television watching is here to stay.

And far from being undermined by social media – it is bolstered by Twitter. Looking at Twitter is an essential part of watching the X Factor or Question Time at the same time as everyone else. So there's a premium to watching - not just when you choose - but also when everyone else is. And for every programme broadcast there's an often witty and wise and diverse Twitter commentary to accompany it.

That's why though Kevin Spacey in his MacTaggart lecture was so right about the creative brilliance of our broadcasting – I am sceptical about his belief that on-demand is going to make programmed broadcasting a thing of the past

Curiously, I don't think the language that the broadcasting industry sometimes uses quite gets it.

It’s more complicated than the distinction between ‘active lean forward’ viewers who download and catch up in contrast to ‘passive lean back’ viewers who watch programmed or scheduled material. There's nothing laid back about watching programmed material as a family – well certainly in my house. And those who watch and tweet are far from passive and no longer just viewers - they are participants in a shared broadcast experience.

And Kevin Spacey is right about the slow-burn television programmes. People like to "discover" television programmes like the advanced guard of devotees who discovered the Great British Bake Off. They've now been joined by the whole of the rest of the country.

Who would have predicted that a programme about baking would become such a phenomenon that more men tuned in to watch Paul Hollywood judge bread than watch Arsenal’s Champions League qualifier on ITV1.

Public policy should support this success story

British television is a massive success story. The industry has an annual turnover of £12 billion and accounts for £1.5 billion of our exports. Half of the world's television formats are created in the UK and despite everything revenue from advertising is buoyant. Innovation, ingenuity and competition means that our industry is continuously upping its game.

It is extraordinary that Sky Arts is giving Radio 3 a run for its money. And competition between different broadcasters and platforms has seen an increase in investment in original UK television content. Audiences in this country are growing; the industry is growing and it is the envy of the world - trouncing the competition.

And because the British TV industry is in such good shape – with such healthy competition – all of that is good for creators and for consumers.

The success of the industry is down to you, the creators, the innovators and the talent.

Our role, as public policy makers, is to bolster your success.

It is important to have laid down the right framework for regulation which we did when we were in government through the 2003 Communications Act and we supported this government's introduction of tax relief for high- end TV.

Because of the importance of your industry and your huge potential for yet greater growth, we need to listen to you about what you need in terms of public policy intervention. And the message we're hearing is not that you want substantial regulatory change now, but there are some issues which should be attended to.

We have to make sure that demand for spectrum from mobile operators is properly balanced against the needs of broadcasters, especially Freeview. That's really important to viewers.

Given that TV is such a valuable export commodity - the Government could be doing more to support it, particularly through UKTI and the British Council. When the Prime Minister leads overseas trade delegations, he should showcase the TV and other creative industry as well as defence manufacturers and the pharmaceuticals

And we need to protect our precious creativity with a more robust intellectual property regime which respects the rights of creators and is enforced both here and abroad. Protecting copyright is not just a private property issue – it is a public policy imperative not just for creativity but for our economy.

Action from the industry

Some actions are best coming from you the industry - rather than government.

So, for example we all want to be sure that there is as much protection as possible to shield children from unsuitable content on TV. That is massively more challenging than when it was possible just to rely on the old watershed but it’s important for the industry to come forward with solutions.

To stay as a world class industry, broadcasting must draw on the widest pool of talent, ability and skills. And though TV is loved by people from all walks of life, its doesn't reflect diverse Britain - either on or off screen.

A glaring example is the absence of older women on our TV screens. It is curious because TV is representative of the age breakdown of the country. And for presenters under 50 there's a pretty even breakdown of men and women.

But something seems to happen to women when they reach their fiftieth birthday – it’s like the viewer needs to be protected from the sight of them.

Its fine for Jeremy Paxman to go grey and grow a beard but not for a woman.

And here we are in the 21st Century yet you see everywhere the old fashioned TV format of an older man teamed up a glamorous younger women.

George Entwistle, when admitting that something needed to be done about it, said he'd go out and look for older women.

But it doesn't need a search party. They're right there under your nose. The problem is not that they are not there, but that they pushed out the door as they get older.

I've met with broadcasters about this and have asked your Creative Diversity Network to agree a common methodology which can be used as a benchmark - so I hope we will see some progress on this.

And broadcasting - which is such a desirable and popular world - must be careful to ensure that it is giving opportunities to, and using the talent, of all. Not just those who live in London and the South East, or from a well-off or well-connected background.

Television has always prided itself on being an industry which draws on the talents and abilities of people from all walks of life. I was reminded recently that the likes of Melvyn Bragg, John Birt, Greg Dyke and Charles Allen - did not come from privileged backgrounds.

But what's worrying is that that appears to be decreasingly the case now. Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility charts the fact that over recent decades broadcasting has become an increasingly exclusive profession. Journalists and broadcasters born in 1958 typically grew up in families with an income of 5 per cent above the average. For those born in 1970 that proportion had risen to 42 per cent. There has been a faster shift away from social exclusivity than any other profession. Television, beloved by people from all parts of this country and from all walks of life must draw on the talent of people from all parts of this country and from all walks of life. And that's not going to happen by itself - it needs positive action

I'm sure everyone here wants to do more to in increase its diversity and an important way to address this is through the opportunities offered to young people to get their foot in the door. Lots of you are. Tony Hall recently announced a new non graduate apprenticeship scheme in local radio stations but I hope that is just the start. Whenever I go to television interviews - especially if it’s at some god-awful hour on a Sunday morning - I always take note of the young person who takes me in....often on work experience or doing an internship. And so often it's the son or daughter of someone who works there.
And never someone from my constituency of Peckham. It's really important that we look at and open up those chances for all the committed young people who are so keen to get a break into the industry.

And this is especially true of the BBC which is of course belongs the public.


I could not join you at the RTS this week of all weeks and not talk about the BBC.

The BBC is loved in this country and admired around the world.
It has faced the challenges of new technology and embraced them - leading the way as with the iPlayer and continues to surpass itself with the quality of its output

But it was a depressing and degrading spectacle that played out at the Public Accounts Committee.

It's not right for licence-fee payers' money to be paid out in massive severance packages in a way that looks to many like reward for failure - and it’s not right for those at the top to end up blaming each other.

But it is not just about the amount of the severance packages and how they were handled- it is the issue of sky high pay for the top management of the BBC that the severance packages were built on.

The justification given for this is that this is it's what the BBC has to pay to attract and retain the best.

I challenge that. For three reasons.

Firstly, where is the open, transparent, independent process which has compared the pay for the BBC top and middle managers with those in commercial broadcasters and other large enterprises and also takes into account the non-financial rewards which draw people to work in and stay with the BBC. To work in the BBC is to work in the most well-known and globally admired broadcaster. It is to have the opportunity to work with a team of the best, to develop your skills and experience through working in a huge broadcaster with massive scale, reach and influence. That's non-financial reward that should be taken into account.

Secondly, I don't think there's the right balance between the pay for the management at the top of the BBC and the pay for those who are working on the front line, taking responsibility on a day to day basis for the brilliant creativity and content of the BBC. Tony Hall is right to point out that the "officer class" has got out of step.

Thirdly, we should expect those who choose to work at the top of the BBC to remember that they are not working for a commercial organisation - they are working in an organisation financed by the licence-fee payer - many of whom are struggling with the cost of living. So they need to look not just across to their colleagues in commercial broadcasting but also down to the licence fee payers who pay their salaries.

And it is odd that though the BBC rightly sees itself as different from commercial broadcasters - in terms of how it is regulated and treated in terms of market share - yet they argue that it’s the market pure and simple which should dictate their pay. I think they cannot have it both ways.

So as well as transparency, proper sign off and accountability for pay and packages, there must be a new look at the base-line for top pay too.

What was evident at the Public Accounts Committee was also the failure of governance at the BBC...We'd already seen governance failures on Jimmy Saville - where one programme didn't broadcast damning testimony of the victims of his sexual abuse while another broadcast a tribute to him.

There is the wider discussion to be had about governance at the BBC and that needs to proceed from basic principles including the fundamental importance of the independence of the BBC. Central to people's trust in the BBC is their confidence that it is editorially independent and not run by government or accountable to politicians. They want their money well-spent but they even more than that they want untrammelled editorial independence.

So, when it comes to governance, we mustn't reach for a quick-fix answer on this issue - accountability at the BBC is a thorny and complex issue. I know that you’ve been discussing the various options this morning with Steve Hewlett and I would be interested to hear if there were any firm views or solutions when we do our Q&A session.

This is a difficult time for the BBC and change does need to happen. But we must not allow the fact that it's lost its way on pay, or failures of governance, to be used as an opportunity for the ever-present and powerful political and commercial opponents of the BBC to undermine it. And we must not allow ourselves to be bounced into any knee jerk reactions.

You heard from Maria Miller yesterday about her proposals for the NAO and that she wants to go ahead of the Charter process. A concern about the NAO is that it's accountable to a committee of MPs and people don't want any sense of political interference in the BBC.

We have a charter renewal and licence fee process coming up. The debate around that will affords us the opportunity to take stock of whether the BBC has been able, itself, to make progress on sorting out its pay and governance or whether more needs to be done.

So it's Maria Miller's task to resist knee-jerk reaction and set out a clear, open, transparent process for charter renewal with a sensible timetable and she must stand up for the BBC - and not succumb to the siren calls from its political and commercial opponents.

We must be determined that the BBC emerges out of this turbulence - not weakened - but stronger and more confident.

And finally...

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today and thank you for the amazing work that your industry does.

At last week's G20 David Cameron was forced to defend Britain against the Russian's jibe that we are just a small island.

He reminded everyone about our fight against fascism and that we're the 6th largest economy. He was right to mention Shakespeare, Elgar, and One Direction. But when it comes to our impact on the world - today and in the future I would add the excellence and pre-eminence of British broadcasting.

And we'll work with you to support you as you take that forward.

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