Channel 4 Mulls Merger Or Bust?

channel4buildingTV broadcaster Channel 4 (UK) have been rumoured to be in financial trouble for some time. Currently they are are a public service broadcaster who fund themselves despite being publicly owned unlike the BBC which is funded by the annual license fee.

The department of culture, media and sport has denied that an upcoming  ‘Digital Britain’ report by Lord Carter will suggest that Channel 4 merges into a new public service body, possibly seeing the BBC sacrifice their majority holding in BBC Worldwide as a way of Channel 4 remaining financially viable.

Mixing Oil And Water

The BBC would probably not like to see Channel 4 brought under the wing of the TV license fee funding and so may be willing to allow BBC Worldwide , a profitable wing of the Beeb(earning £112 million last year with the Radio Times and BBC DVD’s part of its offerings) to be offered up in this way though BBC Director-General Mark Thomson has suggested that he’d rather see Channel 4 and Five merge which was not initially received well by Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan who described the prospect as akin to mixing ‘oil and water’.

Big Brother

Channel 4 are perhaps less known these days for the edgy niche content it broadcast in the early years of its inception in November 1982. Over the years they have brought us programmes such as  Countdown, The Tube, The Snowman, Father Ted  and The IT Crowd and part funded films via its Film Four wing but Big Brother was its cash cow for funding which let it subsidise departments such as the well respected Channel 4 news but with controversy in recent years dogging the Big Brother franchise and the end probably in site for the reality TV stalwart the channel is now looking at other sources of funding to stay afloat.

Ofcom has calculated that Channel 4 needs £100 million a year to survive.Less than this and the Channel will allegedly go bankrupt.The channels public service remit currently includes the provision of programmes for schools.

Channel 4 programmes

Sources: 1 2 3
Photoshop image of the Richard Rogers Partners designed Channel 4 HQ by nick.garrod under this creative commons license

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Turkeys Must Be Free To Vote For Xmas?

EU member states
Image via Wikipedia

I am both greatly amused whilst being equally heavy hearted at the usual lemming like outcry from many of the well indoctrinated inhabitants of these British Isles over the news that Europe has voted to remove Britain’s opt out concerning the EU 48 hour week working time directive.

Gobble Gobble

The BBC’s Have Your Say (always a good place to visit to find out how a certain element in Britain is thinking) is awash with outraged of Tunbridge Wells and the like spouting forth some well tutored vitriol at Europe for limiting the number of hours they can keep their noses to the grindstone in any working week.

In essence the repeated sentiment is along the lines of ‘British turkey’s must retain the right to vote for Xmas’.

Got To See It Their Way?

You’ll find similar sentiment in our nation’s slightly biased media happy to spread the kind of misinformation that their consumers seem only too ready to believe.

The fact that so many people actually believe that this piece of EU legislation seriously  restricts the number of hours an individual wishes to work shows how much influence Britain’s largely right wing press has and how well it is able to spread such misinformation to an eager public so desperate to have their irrational fears and xenophobia stoked to near boiling point.

Can You Hear Me?

To clarify, the legislation is and has always been about preventing employers from making it compulsory to work more than 48 hours per week and being able to unfairly treat or even sack employees who did not wish to work those hours. It does not prevent anybody from working more than 48 hours by their own free choice. It’s about protecting people from being unduly pressured to work long hours and those who would find their employment terminated if they do not comply.

Shamefully, in my opinion the British Government has had an opt out on this legislation which allowed British employers to impose working hours over and above 48 hours arguing that Britain’s businesses needed the ‘flexibility’ (read ability to make their employees work very long hours by default) in order to remain competitive.Europe has now voted to remove Britain’s veto on this legislation so in time British businesses will be required to comply with the directive.

Personally I welcome the end of Britain’s compulsory long working hours culture (at least in law if not in practice).If you want or need to work long 60-80 hours weeks in order to make ends meet (and it might be interesting to ask exactly why this is ever so in Britain) then you are still perfectly free to do so.

Seasons greetings to all the British turkeys who still wish to vote for Xmas

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Markets Marked Down

It’s been interesting to watch the whole Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac business in America become perhaps an example of losing trust in ‘the market’ and the belief that ‘the market’ will always be able to self manage.

As a republican government who would traditionally espouse small government exercising few regulatory controls and a free market left alone as much as possible to do what it wants to do moves to effectively nationalize the failing mortgage lenders at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payers money then you have to wonder about how we may in future place stricter controls on how the free market operates. Do we need the market to be slightly less free?

Radio 4’s point of view recently gave time to Katharine Whitehorn’s view of the market as she questioned the blind faith many put in it as system that could always deliver the most efficient results.

She says:

It’s not just the markets as such, though that make me grind my teeth; market forces may be fine when they apply only to the markets. It’s the conviction that commercial principles are always the most efficient; that anything done for private profit and in competition must always be better and more effective than anything done for any other fudsy old reason such as the common good.

Once we wanted right-wing economics and left-wing social policy. Now it’s the other way round

I was also interested to read a piece via The First Post on Sunday by Phillip Blond some time ago under the attention grabbing title reproduced here.Well, attention grabbing to me anyway.
Blond argues that the neo liberal social policy in Britain can be seen by many to have failed on many levels we find that the right wing economic beliefs are equally not standing up to scrutiny as the credit crunch and global recession begin to bite, food and energy prices increase month on month and the divisions between rich and poor become even wider as social mobility returns to post WWII levels.

In Britain which more  than the rest of Europe has embraced right wing economic policy the breaking up and selling off of the previously nationalised industries has not resulted in dramatically better and affordable services for the consumer. It can be reasonably argued that without government controls the free market would further maximise profits to shareholders, reducing further any investment in infrastructure which it still often expects central government to fund (didn’t government spin these things off in order to unburden the cost to the public purse & hopefully bring private investment on a scale government could not afford?.

Regulating The Market

So how do we get the free market to deliver what we the consumer wants without government having to continually bail out its excesses & legislate against its more unethical and selfish aspects.

Some industries have benefited from private management whilst others (perhaps notably public transport and the various utility and energy companies in the UK ) have ultimately failed to deliver greater choice and a better service than their state owned predecessors.When selling off the public utilities was first floated during Harold Macillan’s time as Conservative Prime Minister he dismissed the idea as akin to selling off the family silver.

Phillip Blond further argues that neither the left or the right has been able to do anything very effective about the poor (or for that matter, the needy) and so the idea of the government employing them directly becomes an idea that has never been quite been tried before.

A New Era?

Personally I’d prefer that the regulation needed to keep a free market in check were made by independent bodies of regulators rather than solely by government that is prone to force through opportunistic legislation with an eye to beefing up their by election or general election prospects rather than soberly regulating independently of that.

So are we entering a new global period in which a greater government intervention in the operation of the free market will now be necessary. A new era of balancing right wing economic policy with left wing social policy?

Photo by charles.hope under this creative commons license

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Not A Nation Of Wombles

Sticker graffiti near Borough Market, Southwark, London, England

Sticker graffiti near Borough Market, Southwark, London, England

I managed to catch up with last night’s BBC Panorama programme which featured author Bill Bryson examining the shocking state of litter in this country. It’s one of those sobering examinations which probably needs someone like Bill Bryson, an American who clearly has a soft spot for this island and who desperately wants to do what he can to somehow stem the ‘background noise’ of litter that is spread across Great Britain throughout the towns, cities and in the countryside.

Passing The Buck

The sad part was watching individual council’s and supermarkets passing the buck on responsibility for clearing up our mess & failing to enforce the stringent littering and fly tipping laws that are available to us in this country. In one example a concerned member of the public had to take independent legal action against his own local authority via an abatement order for not carrying out their duty in clearing litter in his own town.

Different But the Same

I have this pet theory about Britain, that there’s something slightly ramshackle and ungovernable about its people due to its resentment of any form of a nanny state. I can never quite work out whether Britain is just really good at apathy and buck passing or whether we’re just congenitally bad at management.

Join The Dots
It really irks me the way local authorities have different ways of applying the law across the country.It’s just ludicrous that we don’t seem to take litter seriously enough and if it’s even suggested that people should be heavily fined for dropping litter then our knee jerk seeming distaste for a ‘nanny state’ comes into play. But if nanny doesn’t nag us or encourage us to be better people us then we simply would not control our urge to do whatever the hell we like and that includes defacing this land with litter.

Try To Remember

Back in the day (play the old Hovis advert music, it’s flashback to my youth time) I worked in between my education during the summer for the local parks department. The public were always very keen to come up to anyone working in the park & chide them for not picking up some piece of litter they’d just seen. The official council line ,sobering though the point of view was, ran along the lines that they weren’t the ones dropping the litter. It was stalemate really. Very little seems to have changed in that a change of culture is still needed to stop litter being dropped and authorities need to treat the clearing of litter as a serious matter.

The programme can be watched again in the UK via the BBC iPlayer.

Photo by yersinia under this creative commons license.

Throw Another Scapegoat On The Fire

Should Mums stay at home?

Is a mother's place at home?

Torturing myself reading the BBC’s ‘Have your Say’ is my equivalent of picking at an open wound but it’s a self imposed reality check that reminds me that an awful lot of people have some very dubious different viewpoints. This one is an exception in a sea of frankly worrying retrograde drivel. The question, in my humble opinion, is a loaded one as it just cries out for a scapegoat. I’m no defender of bad parenting but as this comment points out, we’re in danger of focusing on one small aspect of a society that forces all kinds of less than satisfactory life decisions.

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Freesat PVR Ghost Ship In The Night

Feesat PVR

Freesat PVR

It’s not been long since the official launch of Freesat and take up in this short period has been good, statistically outstripping any ongoing Freeview purchases though it could be argued that most of the major take-up for Freeview has already happened with only the minority still using existing analogue broadcast signals prior to the total analogue switch off in 2012.

One of the missing items in this first generation of Freesat boxes is that of a suitable PVR. The first available models are unlikely to reach the market until just before Xmas so I was intrigued to see this fairly affordable Freesat box from Maplins. The Fortec Star FS-440 (snappy name!) has PVR capabilities built in once an external USB hard drive is plugged into it. If you have a redundant sky satellite dish sitting on your wall then the addition of a Freesat box will yield the many free-to-air TV and radio channels the service provides.

For this price it’ll only yield a standard definition pictures but makes for an affordable stop-gap until the high definition capable Freesat boxes come down in price. A word of warning in that this is not a natural Freesat box and may require a firmware update to be applied in order to receive a Freesat EPG .

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Kissing Neutrality Goodbye

net neutrality world logo

As someone who has their brains picked for technical computer solutions I cannot tell you how many times fully grown adults ask me how they get to download music via the Internet.

I take them through the usual options of purchasing via iTunes, emusic, napster etc but am often met with an irritated response in that the idea of purchasing music is a little bit irksome to them. On the whole these are not people who would ordinarily purchase music legally. They just want to download illegally because they can. Once obtained I doubt that the music would be listened to that much.

A Warning

I’ve been warning parents in particular about the then upcoming and now very current state of play where our own illustrious government is compelling Internet providers to report and ultimately remove the Internet from persistent illegal downloaders of music.As many parents may be totally unaware that their offspring are merrily downloading illegal music it may come as a shock when threatening legal letters drop onto the mat one morning.

ISP‘s are skewing internet access to favour a particular ‘struggling’ industry. That’s a government ordered bias imposed on the commercial sector isn’t it?

The right and wrongs regarding on-line copyright, fair use and whether illegal downloading really impacts on how much music is purchased and whether the music industry is partly to blame for not making music available to all computer platforms and at a price the market wants to pay can be argued elsewhere.

Approved sites only?

The main worry I have is regarding in this altered role for ISP’s and the prospect of an end to the concept of  net neutrality. What happens when Internet providers start manipulating what we can and cannot access. Blocking illegal downloads is one thing but what about blocking  or slowing access to a specific social networking site but enhancing the experience of accessing a commercial partner’s site instead. We are heading into the dangerous territory of ISP becoming the gatekeeper for Internet content that they approve of only. Indeed we may see ISP’s degrade the easy access and speed experience of sites that they get no commercial benefit from as a matter of course.

In the meantime some ISP’s will begin to intercept our browsing data in order to manipulate our future internet experience.

We seem to be on the slippery slope of losing net neutrality in Britain. The Internet is a resource and should, I feel be as unhindered and unfiltered as possible. Controls and filters should be made available easily to those that require them but decisions about what we can and cannot access is a very worrying and very anti-democratic, anti-freedom move.

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