In this submission, we argue that the Government’s Draft Media Bill threatens the few remaining spaces for international coverage within the Public Service Media system. In particular, removing its obligation to cover ‘matters of international significance and interest’ will disincentivise and discourage outward-looking programme-making that brings the world to UK audiences.
In this submission, we argue that the Government’s proposal to privatise Channel 4 poses a significant risk to the channel’s commitment international content that is delivered through a range of genres including news and current affairs.
In this submission, we oppose the Government’s proposal to privatise Channel 4 as we believe that this change of ownership will threaten the channel’s historic commitment to international content, delivered through Channel 4 News, Unreported World and a range of other programmes.
In this submission, we broadly welcomes the BBC’s proposals to bring back BBC3 as a TV channel. However, we are disappointed that there is no mention in the current proposals of the important role that international current affairs plays in the channel’s output. We strongly recommend that the BBC revises its plans for the channel to make clear its commitment to placing international current affairs at the heart of the schedule.
IBT considers that the public service broadcasters (PSBs) play an important role in engaging a range of audiences with international content. They have the unique ability to reach mainstream audiences and are a key source of information for all audiences about global events. Now that the UK has left the European Union, there is a real danger that we will become more inward looking as a nation. PSB has a vital role in engaging the UK public with the wider world.
In this submission we give our support to the continuation of a free television licence for people aged over 75, but we argue that the government should be responsible for financing the licence fee exemption, not the BBC.
IBT’s primary concern is that audiences should continue to have access to high quality public service broadcast content which engages them with and informs them about the wider world. IBT supports Parliament’s original intention to provide prominence for high quality public service content in return for responsibilities placed on the Public Service Broadcasters to provide certain types of content.
IBT believes that high quality television which provides British children with an understanding of the world they live in and broadens their horizons towards the wider world is a basic right. (more…)
Full Submission Executive Summary
IBT proposes that Ofcom should include the volume of non-news international content the BBC broadcasts each year in its Performance Framework. This measurement should include international children’s programmes. Without measuring such content it will not be possible to fully assess the BBC’s delivery of its mission and purposes.
It is worth noting that Ofcom used to measure the volume of non-news PSB international content. Now that Ofcom has taken over regulation of the BBC, IBT believes it should re-introduce tagging of international content for all the PSBs because it is necessary to both assess BBC delivery of such content and to have an understanding of how BBC delivery compares with other public service broadcast provision.
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 BBC Agreement, Clause 5 (2), November 2016
 Ofcom’s preparations for regulating the BBC, Para 2.2
 BBC Trust Response to the DCMS Charter Review Consultation, Technical Annex F, November 2015, para 52.
Reflecting a Changing World: The value of television which engages us with the wider world
Submission to “A Future for Public Service Television: Content and Platforms in a Digital World” By the International Broadcasting Trust.
A critical aspect of a functioning democracy is for citizens to be well informed in order to participate effectively in that democracy. One of the most important ways that people are informed is through mainstream media. The International Broadcasting Trust is concerned with the engagement of the UK public as not just UK citizens, but as global citizens. It is our view that television content which informs and interests mass audiences with the world outside the UK should be a key ingredient of public service television.
Those who are already interested in international affairs will be able to find such content on specialist platforms, in newspapers, online and on radio, but television has a unique ability to engage mass audiences which is why it is so important for civic society. IBT believes it should be the right of all citizens to be informed and engaged with international issues through a range of programming on mainstream channels at peak times, not just an elite who seek such content out.
IBT has been conducting research into the nature of international content on UK television since 1989 and the findings in this paper are based on that research. IBT’s research shows that as a result of the increased commercialisation of and competition within the broadcasting sector over the past 25 years, the opportunity for mainstream audiences to be engaged with informative, serious content about the wider world has been significantly reduced. Instead of broadening our horizons, it appears that public service television runs the risk of reinforcing stereotypes and disengaging us from the wider world.
Why international content matters
At a time when the impact of world events has never been felt more strongly, it is clear that it is important that we understand the external forces which are shaping our lives: global conflicts, international politics, emerging economies, climate change, our relationship with Europe, and the level of influence the UK has on the international stage.
If we want to live in a country which is outward-looking, interested in doing business with other countries, wanting to be involved in international debates and policy-making, then as a society we need to be well informed about what is happening in the wider world.
Television plays a vital role in engaging us with the wider world because, despite the growth of the internet, it remains the main source of information for people in the UK about what is happening in the world. Content on television about the wider world includes both items in news bulletins but also other longer-form programming, such as factual, children’s, drama and entertainment output which are equally important because they provide a more rounded perspective of the world. If the scope, scale and financial resources of our public television services are reduced, this will lead to a further reduction in the quality and range of content which engages us with events beyond our shores and is likely to lead to a more insular UK society.
A narrowing range of content for UK audiences in a globalised world
Since 1989 when IBT and its sister organisation 3WE began conducting research into the coverage of international events on UK TV much has changed, but public service television does not reflect the global evolution of the last three decades.
We now live in a world where events in far off countries have a far more direct impact on our lives; companies operate multi-nationally; UK society has become more multi-racial; and the international political landscape is increasingly complex.
With increased globalisation, one would assume that public service broadcasters would dedicate more time and effort to engage audiences with international stories because they are more relevant today than ever before, however this is far from the case.
In 1989 there were 1037 hours of new international output on the four TV channels available in the UK; in 2014 there were 686 hours on the five main PSB channels. This drop is partly ameliorated by provision on the PSB portfolio channels, but these channels attract significantly smaller audiences and therefore have far less impact.
Alongside the reduction in the volume, the nature of international output has changed. Serious factual programmes have been largely replaced by softer factual entertainment genres such as reality series, travel challenges, and property programmes. These programmes, while set in international locations, often foreground Brits abroad rather than engaging us with the country in which they are filmed. While they have a role to play and are popular, often they do not increase our understanding of other countries, other cultures, religions or ways of life.
The number of countries covered by public service television has also decreased and the topics covered in those countries tends to remain the same year in, year out, so that North America, for example, strongly features crime-related programmes, the Middle East is characterised by conflict, and France and Spain focus on property and reality holiday shows. IBT’s 2011 research highlighted the impact of this trend:
This research… reveals the extent to which some topics and some parts of the world receive little or no new coverage through factual, drama or entertainment programming. Most notably, new factual programming relating to the Middle East and North Africa was found to be almost entirely absent from UK television in 2010. Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen were not the principal subject of any factual programme in 2010. So, when popular uprisings took place in this region in 2011, the lack of previous television coverage meant that many people in the UK had little information about this part of the world.
With the decline in informative international non-news content since 1989, our reliance on news as a primary source of information about the wider world has increased and this has also led to a narrowing of our understanding because news tends to present a view of the world dominated by disease, disaster, corruption and conflict. The international news agenda of the main news bulletins is relatively narrow: they have a strong tendency to cover the same topics, countries and stories and many bulletins reject all but the biggest international news stories. Research in 2001 went as far as suggesting that the “media are engaged in the mass production of social ignorance”.and this limited representation of other countries on television effectively means that audiences are misinformed about the wider world because of the low level of explanation and context which is able to be given in a half hour news bulletin.
The Current Regulatory Landscape
Channel 4 has a commitment to provide international content in its remit and the BBC Charter includes a global purpose for the BBC to Bring the UK to the world and the world to the UK. Both channels make a significant contribution to our understanding of the wider world and IBT does not want their commitments reduced. We have recommended that both channels should make greater efforts to ensure that they find innovative ways to ensure that more non-news international content is made available to audiences.
ITV and Five’s content commitments in their existing licences are to provide news and current affairs about domestic and international matters without any specification of how much international content they should provide. The 2003 Communications Act includes a requirement on PSBs to broadcast content about ‘matters of international significance’ as a Tier 3 requirement but, along with the other Tier 3 commitments, this has not had a significant impact on their output.
As a result of light-touch regulation and the perceived diminishing value of the benefits of being a public service broadcaster, existing regulation does little to encourage more international content. In a world where discoverability is increasingly a challenge for broadcasters to ensure they maintain audience share, preferential EPG positioning is very valuable and it is IBT’s view that the commercial PSBs should therefore be encouraged to do more to engage audiences with mainstream content about the wider world.
The Future landscape – a narrowing choice
As the market becomes increasingly fragmented, competition for viewers will only increase. This trend is likely to mean the volume of less popular content, such as international documentaries, is likely to diminish while the volume of popular content will increase as platforms try to maximise their income. This in turn will lead to less diversity, a narrower range of content and therefore less choice.
While there is much content available online, the reliability and trustworthiness of online information varies because this content is not regulated for accuracy and impartiality, which undermines its public value. And content on commercial channels and platforms is not commissioned with public interest as its motivation, therefore its public value is often less apparent than that produced by public service providers.
The move away from linear schedules towards the personalisation of content will also lead to a potential narrowing of choice. This is likely to lead to less serendipity and will mean that viewers will mostly watch content which will reinforce their existing interests and view of the world rather than expand them.
Funding public service television
The current PSB ecology of the UK is highly effective, allowing for a range of funding models for different broadcasters to co-exist and thrive. On the commercial PSB’s international content and other less popular content is effectively cross subsidised by income generated by other more popular genres. This is a crucial aspect of the UK’s successful public service television model whereby content which specifically provides social value but may attract smaller audiences is supported by content which is more popular.
In order to counter current stereotyping of other countries broadcasters need to think about the picture of the world they are presenting to audiences and be encouraged to broaden our horizons rather than reinforce our preconceptions.
Public service television should be a platform for a range of voices and opinions which reflects the population of the UK and the wider world. This requirement should be reinforced by legislation.
The mixed public service television ecology of the UK should be retained and protected. Channel 4 should remain publicly owned and not for profit and the BBC should continue to be funded by a fee raised equitably across all households.
International content should be a key pillar of public service television, providing a range of programming outside news and current affairs, designed to attract mass audiences and engage them with the wider world. The current commitments in the BBC Charter and Digital Economy Act should be maintained and ITV and Five should be encouraged to find ways in which to engage us with the wider world.
The International Broadcasting Trust is a media and education charity which has conducted research for over 25 years into the nature of international content on UK television and radio. IBT is primarily concerned with the engagement of UK citizens as global citizens. For more information visit www.ibt.org.uk.
 Television is still the most popular source of information in the UK: 75% of people use TV news as a source of information about world events and 82% of the public rank the most important purpose of broadcasting to inform ourselves and to increase our understanding of the world. (Ofcom) The five main public service broadcasters attract 78% of all viewing and 95% of audiences still watch live or recorded tv. (Ofcom)
 Losing Reality (3WE, 2002) pg 1, Reflecting a Changing World (IBT, 2015) pg 5
 Reflecting a Changing World (IBT, 2015). 2014-15 69% of new international content was focused on North America and Europe and Oceania (mostly Australia) pg 7.
 Reflecting Changing World (IBT, 2015) pg 8
 Outside the Box (IBT,2011), pg 8
 The World in Focus (IBT,2009), pg 2
1. IBT’s primary interest is in the existing global purpose of the BBC, To bring the UK to the world and the world to the UK. Television plays a vital role in engaging us with the wider world because, despite the growth of the internet, it remains the main source of information for people in the UK about what is happening in the world.
2. IBT supports the public purposes as a framework for the BBC to deliver its mission: they help focus the BBC strategically and provide a basis upon which to analyse the BBC’s performance.
3. IBT’s most recent research demonstrates that while international content is in decline on the other main UK channels, the BBC’s delivery of it plays a hugely important role in engaging us with the wider world.
4. While we would like to see both aspects of the existing global purpose retained in the next Charter, IBT would recommend that there should be a separation of the two aspects of this purpose because the existing purpose is confusing; it involves two completely different tasks and two completely different audiences which are fulfilled by different commissioning teams within the BBC.
5. We warmly welcome the BBC Trust’s work in creating a framework to assess delivery of the BBC’s mission which has included consultation with the licence fee payers who fund the BBC.
6. It is our view that the BBC needs to remain of a scale to be able to effectively deliver its mission. IBT is concerned that if the BBC’s income, currently provided by the licence fee, is undermined further beyond the existing cuts it is seeing, that it will not be able to produce a sufficient diversity of such high quality content which engages us as a nation, for a mass audience across a range of platforms and genres, bringing us together and helping to create a national identity.
7. We question the suggestion in the DCMS Green Paper that audiences might be better served by a more narrowly-focused BBC.
8. IBT believes that market failure does not simply refer to whether or not there are other providers in the marketplace; it refers to a situation where regardless of the number of providers in the market, there isn’t a wide range of high quality, diverse and informative programming, especially in genres which may not be considered commercially attractive, such as content which tells us about the wider world.
9. While it can be argued that there is international content which tells us about the wider world on commercial channels and platforms, it is less reliably accurate, and it is not commissioned with public interest as its motivation, therefore its public value is often less apparent than that produced by the BBC.
10. If the BBC does not provide a universal service with a diverse range of content this would increase the democratic divide so that only those who are able or prepared to pay for high quality content about the wider world will do so.
11. IBT opposes the process whereby the licence fee settlements of December 2010 and July 2015 which were conducted hastily, without any public or Parliamentary scrutiny. Both settlements have diverted money from BBC budgets, and have undermined the BBC’s independence from government and its ability to deliver its mission.
12. IBT opposes the move to spend licence fee income on projects which do not directly support the delivery of the BBC’s public purposes. IBT therefore urges that, whatever the outcome of this Charter Review, there should be no more top slicing of the licence fee as part of this Charter Review.
13. IBT believes that the licence fee is the best way to fund the BBC for the coming Charter period although it should include catch up TV. We would welcome further research to be conducted by DCMS on the household fee as a model to fund the BBC.
IBT RESPONSE TO BBC TRUST’S INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT’S GREEN PAPER ON BBC CHARTER REVIEW.
IBT agrees with much of the BBC Trust’s response to the Government’s Green Paper on BBC Charter Review issued in July 2015 with the exception of one point – we strongly disagree with the proposed new wording for the first public purpose, Providing news and information to help people understand the world around them. IBT believes the UK delivery aspect of the current ‘global purpose’, ‘bringing the world to the UK’, should be retained across all genres of programming.
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1. IBT believes that, overall, the BBC’s speech radio services are of high quality and serve a range of audiences well. Their coverage of international stories and issues is generally of a high standard, both in their news output and throughout their schedules. This coverage plays an important role in delivering the purpose of ‘bringing the world to the UK.’
2. Radio 4 has, in recent years, successfully become more internationalist in tone and content. This can be seen particularly in its non-news content. Coverage of the wider world, outside news, plays an important role in providing audiences with a more rounded picture of life in other countries. We commend the efforts that Radio 4 has made in this area in recent years.
3. Radio 5 live covers international breaking news stories with verve and confidence and makes a notable effort to include international experts and news makers.
4. However, we believe that news coverage on the BBC’s speech radio services is too dominated by the big story of the day; space needs to be found for a wider range of stories which better reflect the wider world.
5. We note that there has been a significant change in the tone and content of foreign news coverage as a result of the merger between BBC News and the World Service. We welcome this and we don’t underestimate how difficult it has been to achieve. We congratulate those who have worked hard to achieve this transition.
6. However, whilst there have been efforts made by BBC Radio News to improve the diversity amongst reporters and presenters, we believe that there is still some way to go in addressing this issue in terms of contributors. We would like to see more experts from ethnic minority backgrounds featured across BBC Radio News.
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1. There is extensive evidence that engagement with the wider world leads to a more tolerant society which is able to do business with the wider world. These wider social benefits of international content which reaches a mass audience are IBT’s primary concern when encouraging the BBC to deliver its global purpose.
2. IBT’s research demonstrates that news and current affairs are the dominant sources of information about the world outside the UK and that, as a result of their focus on wars, conflicts and disasters, UK audiences have a distorted view of the world. This perception needs to be balanced with content which provides us with deeper understanding of the lives of people in other countries and the forces shaping our future.
3. BBC Three has played an important role in delivering the BBC’s global purpose for the past 12 years, providing an alternative model of international current affairs and factual programming. Its international current affairs content humanises many of the stories and issues we see on the news.
4. BBC Three attracts a younger audience than any other BBC television channel. This audience should not be deprived of content which is designed to engage them. If the BBC neglects this key sector of the audience, it is likely that they will migrate to other online platforms and any loyalty they had for the BBC will be diminished.
5. There is evidence that the public are looking for more distinctive, original and innovative content. BBC Three is the most distinctively innovative BBC television channel and therefore needs to remain on a broadcast platform which will provide reach and impact.
6. There is extensive evidence to demonstrate that live and recorded viewing is still the most popular means to consume audio visual content. If BBC Three’s content is moved to a primarily online platform it will have significantly less reach and impact than it does currently.
7. The proposals from the BBC Executive do not provide guarantees for the amount of new BBC Three factual and current affairs content or the retransmission of such content in a peak slot on either BBC One or BBC Two.
8. We understand that this proposal will not reduce overall expenditure by the BBC because the savings provided by moving BBC Three from its broadcast platform will be used to bolster other BBC services. IBT believes that the financial benefits which accrue to other BBC services from the closure of BBC Three as a broadcast platform are not significant enough to justify its closure.
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1. IBT welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation by Ofcom on the
renewal of the Channel 4 Licence.
2. The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) is a membership-based organisation.
The views in this submission reflect the concerns of IBT’s member agencies
regarding adequate common understanding of the world in which we live. These
concerns are shared by millions of UK supporters of these organisations. Channel
4 has always contributed significantly to UK understanding of the wider world
and is valued by our members.
3. IBT supports Channel 4 in the delivery of its public service remit, especially in its
commitments to support and stimulate well-informed debate on a wide range of
issues, including by providing access to information and views from around the
world and by challenging established views and to inspire people to make changes
in their lives.
4. IBT views Channel 4 as an essential element in the broadcasting ecology of the
UK – providing a platform for a diverse range of alternative voices.
5. IBT welcomes the report by Ofcom prepared for this consultation which usefully
lays out the context of this licence renewal and highlights aspects of Channel 4’s
performance which are relevant to the delivery of its public service remit.
6. IBT agrees with Ofcom’s conclusion that the licence conditions for independent
production, out of London production, originated programming and UK news
and current affairs are appropriate and should remain unchanged.
7. IBT supports Channel 4’s proposal that the out of England production quota
should be set at 9% in 2020.
8. We also support the maintenance of the Schools programming quota at 0.5 hours
9. We agree that the term of the new licence should be for ten years.
IBT congratulates the BBC for its children’s output, as the dominant UK supplier of a varied schedule which includes factual, drama, animation and entertainment for children under 12 years old.
The Global Purpose
While IBT recognises that the six public purposes should not be seen as entirely separate aims but as parts of a whole, whose boundaries necessarily overlap, in this submission, we primarily focus on the delivery of the purpose remit, Bringing the UK to the world and the World to the UK (the global purpose) since this is IBT’s area of expertise. We focus on television provision CBBC and CBeebies because, again, this is where our expertise lies and do not address radio or online content.
In response to the request from Ofcom for comments on these proposals, the International Broadcasting Trust submits this paper.
IBT welcomes the fact that Channel 3 and Channel 5 have not proposed any changes to their national and international news and current affairs obligations. We also welcome that no changes have been proposed to the original production or independent production quotas by either channel.
Thus, in answer to Question 1 of the consultation, IBT agrees that the there should be no reduction in the existing obligations on Channel 3 and Channel 5 licensees in respect of national and international news and current affairs, and original productions should be maintained at their current levels. However, IBT would like to propose that Ofcom should monitor the delivery of international current affairs.
Ofcom used to monitor the amount of international content in general but stopped doing so two years ago. We propose that Ofcom should resume measuring the amount of international content – specifically analysing, as an element of this work, the amount of international current affairs. As well as being an explicit obligation in their licences, it is a statutory commitment in the Communications Act (2003), clause 279, that both Channel 3 and Channel 5 provide news and current affairs programmes which deal with international matters.
IBT is concerned that the obligation to broadcast a range of international current affairs programmes isn’t being adequately met at the present time. From recent research it is clear that there has been a decline in the spend on current affairs programming in general and a significant reduction in the amount international current affairs programmes.
1. The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) welcomes this opportunity to respond to the request for evidence from the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications as part of the Committee’s inquiry into Media Plurality.
2. While addressing some of the broader policy questions raised in this call for evidence, IBT’s focus is on the plural provision of broadcast content which tells us about the world outside the UK because this is where IBT’s expertise lies.
3. IBT is concerned by the decline in international content on mainstream UK television since 2005 and wants to ensure that a framework is in place to ensure the public has access to a diverse range of information about the world around them.
4. IBT urges the Communications Committee to consider how to ensure that there is range and diversity of content provided by the public service broadcasters, rather than focus primarily on plurality of supply which doesn’t guarantee plurality of content.
5. IBT believes that all genres should be covered by plurality policy.
6. IBT is concerned by a current failure of plural supply in international current affairs on the commercial PSB’s and this issue needs attention.
7. We wish to emphasise the importance of qualitative as well as quantitative analysis in establishing whether there is a plurality of content available.
8. We agree with Ofcom that there should be a periodic review of media plurality every four or five years.
9. One aspect of plurality which IBT believes needs to be addressed in this inquiry is the wholesale provision of news content.
10. Public service media such as the BBC and Channel 4 should be included in any assessment of media plurality.
11. It is IBT’s view that politicians should be removed from decisions on mergers and plurality. The final decisions in this policy area should be made by an independent media regulatory body such as Ofcom.
The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) welcomes this opportunity to respond to
the BBC Trust’s Review of BBC Online and Red Button services.
1. IBT’s response to this review is focused on BBC Online and doesn’t include
any comments on the BBC Red Button service because we have no relevant
research or expertise related to this service.
2. It is IBT’s view that BBC Online broadly fulfils its remit to promote the BBC’s
public purposes by providing innovative and distinctive online content. It
offers UK users greater choice and control over how they consume BBC
content. It also provides potential greater range and depth for audiences than
they would have otherwise.
3. We especially focus our response on the iPlayer because we have research
about the iPlayer and its role in enhancing delivery of the purpose remit of
Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK.