Written by Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Minister.
Every one is predicting dire results for ITV next week. The credit crunch has led to an advertising freefall, and the internet and multi-channel TV has diminished audiences. But there is another culprit - the Government. As Neil Midgeley makes clear in today's Telegraph, the Government's refusal to relax any of the regulations that govern ITV has led this former broadcasting giant to fight with one hand tied behind its back.
Midgeley mentions product placement, which is a good example of the Government's attitude. Amazingly, this is one regulation Brussels wants to relax. No one is saying it is a panacea - it would only raise about £15-25 million a year even in the good times. But despite a formal consultation, Andy Burnham has said no. His attitude reveals two problems with the Government's broadcasting policy. First, a complete misunderstanding of the urgency of the crisis, and the need to act swiftly. Secondly, a desire to put politics ahead of common sense. Burnham has attacked us for supporting relaxation, and conjured up images of newsreaders with McDonald's coffee cups on their desk. Leaving aside that news programmes would be exempt, this caricature is exactly that. British broadcasters should be trusted enough to use the rules appropriately so as not to alienate audiences, not tied up in out-dated regulations because of out-dated politics.
When ITV announces its results next week, blame the credit crunch, blame multi-channel TV, even blame ITV. But don't forget New Labour's role as well.