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Jeremy Hunt's verdict on the Digital Economy Bill: "We wanted an iPod, but we got an Amstrad"

HUNT JEREMY OPEN NECKED SHIRT Yesterday saw the Second Reading in the Commons of the Digital Economy Bill (which has already gone through the House of Lords), which is due to go through all its remaining stages later today.

Shadow Culture Secretary used his speech yesterday to set out his overall position on the Bill and to identify the contentious sections which the Conservatives will seek to block being passed into law during the "wash-up" this week. Here are some key excerpts:

"Instead of a big, ambitious vision for this country, we have a digital disappointment of colossal proportions. As well as the controversial measures it does contain, we should not forget what it does not contain, because it is a catalogue of ducked decisions. The Government have ducked sorting out digital radio switchover, which the Secretary of State has just talked about. They are giving Ministers the power to switch over in 2015, yes, but without taking any of the difficult measures necessary to make it practical or possible. They have ducked reforms to help our struggling local newspaper and radio sector, when local newspapers are closing every week and local radio stations are losing so much money that their very existence is being cast into doubt."

"The Government have ducked reforms to give Britain a credible path towards super-fast broadband, leaving us languishing with one of the slowest broadband networks in the developed world. They have ducked public service broadcasting reform, failing both to clarify the limits to commercial activity by the BBC and to ensure that it has strong competition from an independent sector that will still be burdened by outdated regulation."

"One final thing that the Government have ducked, which is incredibly disappointing, is the possibility of giving the public a right to access Government data sets, which was mentioned in the “Digital Britain” White Paper, and which President Obama has successfully introduced in the United States. It would have been a huge leap forward for our digital economy for people to be able to access those data."

"I want to say plainly to the Government that, while we recognise that some parts of the Bill will have to be let through if we are to avoid serious damage to the economy, other parts of it are totally unacceptable, and we will use every parliamentary means at our disposal to remove them. They include the additional duties for Ofcom, which are at best unnecessary and at worst completely distorting."

"Another part of the Bill that is totally flawed covers the Government’s plans for regional news. The Bill makes provision to subsidise ITV regional news by accessing the licence fee. Our starting point has to be, however, that our local media are in crisis, that newspaper and commercial radio groups are under severe pressure, and that we have never had proper local television in this country... Instead of measures to stimulate investment, innovation and change, the Bill proposes plans for regulation and subsidy that are so flawed that even ITV now thinks they will make a bad situation worse. ITV is right, and that clause will go."

"We have already mentioned another fundamentally flawed proposal—clause 43, which deals with orphan works and extended licensing. These measures have the right intention, and with proper scrutiny could have yielded huge benefits for consumers and authors alike."

"I conclude by talking about what this Bill should have contained. It should have asked one simple question: what needs to be done to stimulate investment in Britain’s digital and creative industries by both domestic and international companies? Companies that thrive in the digital world tend to be small, nimble and fleet of foot. They thrive on competition and deregulation, not subsidy and regulation. A Conservative Government will end the micro-regulation of the broadcasting sector. We will stimulate investment in a new generation of local television, radio and newspaper companies by removing the cross-media ownership rules at the local level... In short, we could have had a proper Digital Economy Bill. We wanted an iPod, but we got an Amstrad."

Jonathan Isaby


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