Broadcasting minister Shaun Woodward on fixing Television Without Frontiers, public service broadcasting and Sky’s stake in ITV, watched by Julian Clover
Shaun Woodward is the UK’s broadcasting minister, one of few politicians to cross the floor of the house, from Conservative to Labour benches. Married into the Sainsbury family he is also, famously, the only Labour politician to have had a butler. This is now in the past tense, and when he met this week with the Broadcasting Press Guild, Woodward claimed that the gentlemen in question was now a BBC producer on the recently revamped Panorama. No one asked as to whether he might remain on the current affairs programme should the BBC make redundancies there as a result of the recent licence fee settlement being less than the Corporation asked for.
Before entering politics, Woodward also worked on Panorama, as well as Newsnight and was editor of the long running consumer affairs show That’s Life. He consequently comes across as a man well in charge of his brief – how long he stays there will depend on the plans of Prime Minister in waiting Gordon Brown.
Woodward, official title Minister for Creative Industries & Tourism, says his major achievement has been in the reshaping of the Television Without Frontiers directive to a document that suited the UK’s interest, by keeping the country of origin laws. The UK is a major haven for broadcasters that base themselves in the country to beam their programmes into homes elsewhere in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, Sky’s acquisition of a 17.5% in ITV was on the agenda, Woodward drawing parallels with the News International’s move to Wapping in the 1980s. “What they did in revolutionising print journalism means that you should underestimate them [Sky] at your peril.” He stressed the regulatory mechanisms were in place to handle the acquisition, not just at the 20% ceiling, but also at the present 17.5%. “It would be irresponsible to pre-judge the outcome.”
Although ITV looks increasingly less like one, ITV still holds public service obligations, as does Channel 4. The BBC as the commercial free public broadcaster, and the one that alone takes money from the licence fee, is the centre of attention whenever it goes to the government for an increase in it’s revenues. “One of the things we get wrong is that the only time we debate public service broadcasting is when the licence fee settlement is due,” said Woodward. “There’s a need to separate this out and we have an opportunity over the next few years to look at it. Maybe it’s the cup finals more than anything else, maybe it’s Bleak House, we just don’t know.”