Labour’s warm words about our industry need to be matched by practical measures

Labour’s warm words about our industry need to be matched by practical measures

Beyond vague promises of widening access, working constructively with broadcasters and cracking down on online harm, Labour must show us what it will do to support this important sector.

As far as the media is concerned, Labour will have virtually a blank canvas to deal with in government. There are commitments on numbers of new teachers and extra GP visits, but the manifesto has little to say about the media and what there is amounts mostly to vague aspirations.

The main thrust is making sure that the arts and music “will no longer be the preserve of the privileged few” and that the creative industries are recognised as part of Labour’s industrial strategy. This is designed to ensure the creation of good jobs “and accelerating growth in film, music, gaming and other creative sectors”.

While it’s fair enough to highlight film, gaming and music, it is more than a little loose to lump advertising, broadcasting and the publishing industry with the throwaway line “and other creative sectors”.

The manifesto does say that Labour will work “constructively with the BBC and other public-service broadcasters so they continue to inform, educate and entertain people and support the creative economy by commissioning distinctively British content”.

Fine words that few would argue against, but there are few hints of an explanation about how the BBC and those other public-service broadcasters are going to be funded in future, in the face of unprecedented competition from international technology and multinational streamers.

Elsewhere, there are commitments to supporting children to study a creative or vocational subject until they are 16 and to improve access around the country.

And Sir Keir Starmer, the keen five-a-side footballer and Arsenal fan, wants to “make Britain the best place in the world to be a football fan” with the establishment of an independent football regulator. “We will never allow a closed league of select clubs to be siphoned off from the English football pyramid,” the document insists.

In a section on the digital revolution, there are promises of universal access to broadband and cracking down on internet harm to children.

Delicate ecosystem

And then suddenly you come across a rather better line or two, surprising in their simplicity but true nonetheless.

“The UK’s world-renowned creative industries will be key to our economic growth. Our iconic film, TV, music and culture depends on a delicate ecosystem,” the manifesto says.

Then there are two specific commitments on broadcasting.

The Labour government, you will be glad to know, will not privatise Channel 4. This is wholly unsurprising, given that even the previous government backed off from the madness of former culture secretary Nadine Dorries.

The second is as important as it is brief: the government will “protect the BBC’s universal service”.

That sentence carries a world of meaning and a huge implication on funding. A universal service should indeed be protected, rather than allowing the BBC to descend into a limited transactional, voluntary offering like a local Netflix.

A universal service implies — in fact, demands — a universal form of funding and that is a decision to be made during the lifetime of the Labour government’s first five-year term in office.

Working together

Overall, in terms of manifesto commitments to one of the UK’s most important industries, it all seems rather thin beer. You have to delve into other documents and previous speeches to get a firmer glimpse of what the new government is likely to do on the most important issues facing the media.

Shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire has promised that Labour will “champion the creative industries” and harness the power of AI in a fair way by protecting copyright and intellectual property rights.

Debbonaire has also stressed the importance of impartial news amid the rise of disinformation and talked about the big decisions they have to make about the future of public-service broadcasting in the next few years.

In contrast with the general attitude of the Conservative government, the likely new culture secretary said: “We have to make sure, together, we are communicating the importance of public-sector broadcasting in our national life and economy.”

What about the BBC?

The biggest question of all to be decided is the future structure and funding of the BBC — something that is obviously part of the battle to ensure impartial news holds its own against the disinformation pumped out by the internet.

A universal service suggests there could be life yet in a reformed universal licence fee, although the time is surely right to try to find a fairer system.

It is more than time that the setting of the BBC licence fee should be taken out of the government’s hands and given to an independent tribunal that can access not just what the level should be but calibrate it against the contribution the BBC makes to the future of the creative industries.

On the issue of fairness, should the new government impose a new tax — one that was definitely not ruled out in the manifesto — on the operations of the tech giants of California?

That, or a tax on broadband operators, could raise money to supplement the public-service broadcasting fee, offer tax breaks for independent producers and even help the publishing industry, which has lost so much advertising revenue to the new billionaire players.

What we will have to ensure is that Labour’s warm words are matched by practical measures that help the creative industries not just survive but continue to flourish.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

Adwanted UK is the trusted delivery partner for three essential services which deliver accountability, standardisation, and audience data for the out-of-home industry. Playout is Outsmart’s new system to centralise and standardise playout reporting data across all outdoor media owners in the UK. SPACE is the industry’s comprehensive inventory database delivered through a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution which delivers the ooh industry’s audience data quickly and simply into clients’ systems. Contact us for more information on SPACE, J-ET, Audiotrack or our data engines.

Media Jobs