Friday, 25 January 2008

Purnell out; Bell wrong.

Daniel Bell was wrong, as it turns out. He said in the post-industrial society (to paraphrase) that the application of theoretical knowledge would be the way public policy was decided, rather than unseemly struggles over power and money.

When James Purnell became Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, we welcomed it as a good example of political power being handed to someone who has a fair amount of expertise in his ministerial brief. Without wanting to exaggerate the revolutionary nature of this appointment, it seemed like we had a minister who knew the theory, and was going to apply it.

We thought, and we really believed, Purnell was going to instigate a wide-ranging debate on the future of broadcasting and, as definitively as possible, produce a policy settlement that would last a generation.

Instead, Purnell is yanked out after less than a year in the job, and told to go and replace police suspect Peter Hain at the Department of Work & Pensions. What a shame. And what an indictment of a Prime Minister that he is using this reshuffle to manage headlines rather than produce the best government.

Friday, 18 January 2008

license fee reform

Apparently James Purnell will tell the BBC that from 2013, a portion of the television license fee will be given to other broadcasters with a public service remit. More info here.

This is a good idea if it actually leads to an improvement in the public service content of other broadcasters. We're not going to pay for ITV to keep making Tonight with Trevor McDonald, because they are doing it already.

What this debate really needs to lead to is the abolition of the license fee. If this regressive tax made sense before (a big if), because it was money to pay for a specific service from a specific institution, then it will not make any sense in the future.

There is no Health license fee, nor an Education license fee. Let's start seeing the state's cultural interventions as a public service, not only in terms of its institutional home. This does not mean the institution will not exist (the NHS exists without that separate health tax), but actually strengthens its argument as a provider of a valuable service.


Thursday, 11 October 2007


Radiohead, one of the biggest bands in the world, are making their new album available for free download.

This follows Prince's giveaway of his latest album in a newspaper. Other bands are said to be following Radiohead's example.

I'm worried.

Knowledge Politics looked in detail about the intellectual property regime of the music industry in our Frontiers of Freedom reports. Many would like to see this regime become more restrictive, including Pete Wishart MP, who wrote a chapter of the first publication in this series.

Wishart said artists' livelihood depended on being able to explot that intellectual property. With this move, Radiohead willingly give up the chance to make money out of their IP.

Like I said, I'm worried. Even the most avid music fans probably wouldn't buy more than one album a week: there just isn't enough time in the day to listen to more than that. Which would you 'buy' this week - the one you have to pay a tenner for, or the one being given away?

New, unsigned artists give away their music for free all of the time, whether it is a CD handed out at a gig or on the obligatory myspace page. But they do this in the hope it will help them make money out of it at some point in the future, to build up a fan base willing to pay for their material.

Radiohead have absolutely no need to do this. Their fans will gladly pay for their new album. And I fear that the effect of their stunt will be that, this week, at least some of those people who would otherwise have paid for an album for a band that really needed it have decided instead to download Radiohead's album.

Maybe the impact is marginal, but sometimes marginal is important - it can be the difference between a record company droppping a band or investing in a second album.

If Thom Yorke and the other millionaires in his band really wanted to make a point about how they feel tainted by making money out of music, they should have charged a regular price and given the proceeds to charity.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Localism and the information society

Last week saw the publication of KP’s most recent pamphlet, ‘Localism and the Information Society’, in which we argue that the information society and its tools need not be regarded as purely for global use.

Considering, as it does, the newly developing trend of localism from different angles, this pamphlet demonstrates that there is a coherent and substantial argument for a change in the way we approach the information society. Our existing picture – of a virtual space entirely dislocated from its physical counterpart, where small-interest sites with global reach move like flotsam on a sea of generic domain names and where people mainly interact with others many miles away – is inadequate.

The contributions from Edward Andersson, Gordon Dabinett, Shaun Fensom and Helen Goulden each demonstrate how the tools of the information society that have hitherto been used to address issues on a global level can be manipulated with great effect in the local arena. The range of areas discussed in these papers, from social inclusion to town planning, demonstrates the viability and value of recognising the place of the information society at the local level.

Recognition for the developing trend in localism in relation to the information society is given a more solid foundation in the discussion on City TLDs, in the second section of this publication. The detailed proposals from the and dotBERLIN campaigns indicate that there is demand for an alteration in the way we think about the information society and the internet in particular. As Richard points out in his introduction, City TLDs are not the only solution to bringing localism to the internet, and this is made clear in Monika Ermert’s article, in which she highlights many oppositional arguments to this scheme.

This report, then, shows what we at KP believe: that the information society can be a tool for local use; the diverse range of subjects approached in the first part of this pamphlet, and the different opinions of City TLDs from the second, bear this out.


Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Ofcom's PSB review

It seems there may be the possibility of a significant shift in the future of public sector broadcasting. Ofcom has recently set in process its second review of PSB, with the findings to be published in 2009. Ofcom's last review, in 2005, concluded that while there was a continued demand for PSB, the existing model (particularly provision by commercially-funded channels) would no longer be relevant in a multichannel world; the smaller audiences associated with multichannel television, and the corresponding fall in advertising revenue, mean that commercial PSBs have an uncertain financial future, threatening their ability to meet public service objectives in the future.

Whilst the new review will consider the future of traditional public service television services - provided by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, S4C and Teletext - during and after digital switchover, perhaps equally significant is the emphasis it will place on new media. Crucially, the terms of reference for the review suggest that Ofcom recognises the blurring of the distinctions between TV and non-TV content, and the potential there is for internet and mobile networks to provide public service content. As a consequence, the review will examine what intervention may be necessary in the future to support 'new, alternative or complementary methods of delivering the purposes of public service broadcasting'- including user-generated content, video file sharing services, videogames, interactive services, and social networking sites.


Thursday, 6 September 2007

Face off

I think Facebook are making a mistake. Making (limited) profiles of their
members available to the public will backfire.

Critics have argued that there is now a privacy problem and that Facebook is now
more like the Yellow Pages than a social networking site. There is a privacy
problem, but it is not this. MySpace profiles, for instance, have always been
public. This is what social networking sites are really about; it is why people
make so many 'Facebook friends' - they want people to see their profile.

So individuals don't really have a privacy problem. This move perhaps makes it
easier for individuals to make mistakes, like giving away their date of birth,
for example. But if people concerned about privacy can adjust their settings,
or not use facebook at all. Nobody expects or wants Facebook to be private.

However, what users do expect is that it is user-driven. Such is the promise of
Web 2.0. Advertising demeans this to some extent, by removing individuals'
choice about what is on the webpages they visit, or indeed compile. But we can
live with advertising: you don't get owt for nowt, not in this life.

But Facebook's latest move certainly undermines the site's user-driven nature.
Facebook believes it will be more popular if its content is more accessible -
this move is its own form of advertising. But the beauty of Facebook was that
it was not accessible. Users had to make friends with each other, join groups
and networks. There was an element of reciprocity in that you had to have your
own profile to use the site. People like this, and although it has not
disappeared, it has been threatened.

Think about this. I may want to know whether an old friend of mine is on
facebook. I search for them, but can't find them. Should I assume they are not
on the site? Perhaps they have adjusted their privacy settings. Oh well, I
won't bother joining; maybe they are on Friends Reuinited.

I don't care if Facebook falters. It serves a purpose, but if it is failing to
provide, somebody else will replace it. It's just a shame that corporate greed
leads sites like Facebook to put the interests of profit above the experiences
of members, without whom they would never have grown as such in the first


Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Vint Cerf, regulation and the new Wild West

Vint Cerf, one of the scientists credited with helping to creat the internet and now in the pay of Google, was interviewed on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, discussing the regulation of the internet.

Broadly, he was put on there to argue against regulation. Although we're delighted to see the issue getting air time, the level of the debate was not as high as it could have been. o be fair to John Humphreys though, it was Vint Cerf who was most at fault for not engaging with the question being put to him.

The idea that the internet is not currently 'regulated' is a bit daft. Of course it is, in many of the same ways that any other form of communication is. Harrassing or abusing someone by email is as much a crime as doing it by phone, if a little harder to detect.

But Cerf, responding to accusations that You Tube (owned by Google) often showcased inappropriate matetrial, said that the website would always stay within the law, and that was enough. Very true, the company cannot really be accused of flagrant abuse of the law (leaving copyright aside for the moment).

He also says that parents can filter internet searches to prevent certain material from being available to children (provided the filters are effective).

Is this enough? After all, we don't ask parents to filter pre-watershed television broadcasting to stop children seeing sex and violence. Instead we impose a rule to say that it can't be shown. When similar things appear on the web, why expect parents (who may not have the know-how to filter) to take on this extra responsibility?

Cerf says the web is a mirror of our society, and can't be divorced from what happens in the real world. Of course it can - China does it, with Google's full complicity.

In my opinion it is Cerf who is trying to divorce the web from the real world. In the real world, responsible people take care of the vulnerable and protect the innocent. We do this within our families, our workplaces, and our media - or at least we try to.

Cerf is suggesting that the web is detached from all of this, and not subject to these norms.

He's right to say the web is the greatest communication tool we've ever seen. Untold opportunities exist there - just like they said about the wild west.