Media: Is it time to call off the dogs?

The Independent Television Commission is under fire from a host of critics and vested interests. But, argues its chief executive, as the digital revolution sweeps the industry it must stand up for the interests of consumers.

Peter Rogers does not seem to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Instead, he has the demeanour of a rather affable headmaster, slightly dismayed at the unruliness of his pupils.

And yet Mr Rogers, the chief executive of the Independent Television Commission (ITC), is under attack from all directions. First, there are those who say that the ITC should have no business deciding on whether or not News at Ten should be abolished - that such things should be left to the market.

In a second camp are the critics who assert that the ITC is out of its depth when it tries to regulate on economics, and that it has got itself into a mess trying to determine the shape of Britain's digital future. Rarely, since it was set up eight years ago, has the television regulator been so widely criticised.

The latest broadsides began at the recent Edinburgh International Television Festival. Peter Bazalgette, the television executive who delivered the prestigious McTaggart lecture, declared that the age of the ITC was over, that the regulation of television content was redundant, as viewers had become grown-ups and could make their own choices.

The view was seconded by Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, and chief executive of Sky Networks. She spoke of an explosion of choice in television viewing, and of programming decisions no longer being enforced on people from the top down. "The public will decide," she said.

Mr Rogers leapt to his own defence, and seemed very much like a senior figure from the old school taking on uppity young rebels. Then, before the week was out, he was presented with one of the most difficult "top down" decisions of his career. His organisation will, after consultation, have to dictate whether the public gets to keep its news at 10pm.

To some degree, Mr Rogers is caught between a rock and a hard place. Let News at Ten remain, and he will receive brickbats from the Bazalgettes and Murdochs who think a fixed time slot absurdly anachronistic when CNN, Sky and the BBC are all broadcasting 24 hours news on other channels.

Allow News at Ten to be abolished, and the majority of viewers who have not yet signed up to the new channels will, along with Tony Blair, doubtless voice complaints or even a sense of betrayal.

Mr Rogers acknowledges that he is at an uncomfortable juncture between television past and television future. He says that the ITC's decision on News at Ten must be based on the situation as it is now, not as it might be in a year or two's time. "Seventy per cent of people still have only terrestrial channels... and the decision will be harder in a few years when 60-70 per cent are receiving Sky and CNN."

Rogers, 57, is a grammar school boy who became a career civil servant before joining the ITC's predecessor the IBA in 1982. Working his way through the ranks, he reached the top job at the ITC in 1996. His approach hints that ITV may not get its way.

"A decision on News at Ten has come before the Commission before," he says. "And it may come before the Commission again."

The second line of attack - on the ITC's forays into economic regulation - could cause the regulator permanent damage. It faces a legal argument that it has been acting beyond its powers - that it has become too big for its boots.

Mr Rogers smiles wryly when this is mentioned, and points out two large black files in his office, full of legal documents. The case, brought by programming company Flextech, is about a phenomenon known in the industry as "bundling" - the process whereby less popular television channels are bundled together with other more desirable channels to make one "package" which then goes on sale to the consumer.

There is a joke which explains bundling. Two mice are sitting together watching television. "Why are we watching the Kitty Kat channel?" says one mouse. "Oh, we had to subscribe to the Kitty Kat channel to get the cheese channel," replies the second.

Mr Rogers and the ITC outlawed "big bundles" of channels, even though bundling contracts had already been signed. They thought it unfair that subscribers to Sky or cable should have to buy into big basic packages of channels, which would include some channels which they simply did not want. Mr Rogers presents his decision as serving consumers' interests.

But the backlash from the television industry has been vicious. "The ITC does not understand the market," is one allegation. "You can't interfere with contracts freely drawn up between two parties."

"The decision does not serve the consumer at all," is another. "It will mean the end of smaller niche channels, which need to hitch a ride with more populist channels. That reduces viewer choice."

Mr Rogers might well be on shaky ground. When questioned, he acknowledges that two other industry watchdogs, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and OFTEL, both reached different conclusions on bundling. They thought the market would sort out the big bundles - that Sky, cable and terrestrial providers would compete to offer smaller, lower priced packages.

"We thought this might happen in the fullness of time," says Mr Rogers. "But not quickly enough. It was crucial that we intervened and that digital television got off on the right foot."

Many in the industry see this as a busy-body approach, asking not only whether the regulator should be interfering in such matters, but whether it has a role to "promote digital" at all. You don't have car industry regulators promoting hatchbacks, they argue, or building industry regulators campaigning for bungalows.

The ITC is said to be anxious about the imminent judicial review. If it loses, its credibility will suffer greatly at a time when there is a turf war amongst regulatory bodies to see who will survive and flourish in the digital age.

Mr Rogers says that, despite criticisms that television is dogged by regulatory spaghetti, the ITC or something like it should continue to exist alongside OFTEL and the OFT. He would like to see the demise of the Broadcasting Standards Commission though, and wants the BBC brought under the same regulatory umbrella as commercial companies.

"Television should have a wholly new body," he says, "which is not the ITC. I'm an old man who retires in two and a half years' time - I've no axe to grind."

In that sense, Mr Rogers is battling only to ensure that the ITC distinguishes itself in its final years. It only makes his task harder that these years are throwing up the biggest challenges of the regulator's short history.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all