Video didn't kill the radio star - and nor will the internet

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The Independent Culture

We report. You decide.

And with that simple, but brilliant, catch-line the most controversial, polemical and - in some quarters - reviled television news channel anywhere in the world is able to sum up its entire justification ... in four words.

Never mind that some Arab-based news channels are used as the laundering conduit for images of terrified hostages' pleas or grisly beheadings, it's Fox News that we should all fear and watch only if holding a crucifix in front of our eyes and wearing a string of garlic round our neck.

That's if you pander to the left-wing, anti-US, liberal brigade of bed-wetting control freaks who fear any form of opinion - other than their own. Let me tell you, I watch Fox News, I like Fox News and I want a Fox News-style service in the UK. Trouble is, the regulators, politicians and watchdog groups conspire to ensure it can never happen.

And one man a million times smarter than me (and many billion times more wealthy) would like it too. But, if even Rupert Murdoch shies away from it, who's got the guts to "do a Fox"? The crisis in Lebanon has, understandably, provided some compelling conversations on the speech radio phone-in show I host. And, second only to the horror of witnessing the suffering on all sides has been the issue of media coverage. As we discuss the British media, typically a caller like Solomon from Hendon will perceive appalling bias in a report that Ali from Stepney thought was totally balanced.

But, the one channel no one ignores and everyone talks about has been Fox News. And, providing you're on the right side of the law, isn't that surely what every news director of any channel would yearn to hear? When a caller tells me, "When I get home, I have to watch a bit of Fox for the entertainment value - then if I want a bit of balance I might go to the BBC", I know which team I want to be on.

Critics point to the pro-US, right-wing slant of Fox and say that's what makes it intolerable. Why? In this country, newspapers like The Sun can happily exist alongside the Daily Mirror and The Daily Telegraph against The Independent. Why on earth can't that be the same with our television offerings? Or are we really saying that the great British public are so brain-numbingly dumb they believe everything they see on the box? What an insult to our intelligence. No, we can consume a bit of Fox without the nation turning into a band of war-mongering neo-cons, I assure you.

The other argument is even simpler. Put a pro-right (or pro-left) news channel on air and if no one watches, the market will take care of business. After a costly relaunch and an even more expensive rejig of presenters, the doomed enterprise will collapse anyway. And, having worked behind the scenes in the television business on both sides of the Atlantic, the British television news business could do with a States-side shake-up. Opinions are healthy, and the sort of Sun vs Mirror competition we enjoy here in print is going on in the US television news game.

Presenter Bill O'Reilly could start a fight in an empty room. He's the tough-talking, opinionated, aggressive and - here's the crucial part - smart star of Fox News. He's angered one of his rivals, Keith Olbermann at MSNBC, so much that it's descended into open warfare. They regularly trade insults and dub each other as a "smear merchant" or the "worst person in the world".

Somehow I can't imagine Eamonn Holmes slugging it out with Matthew Amroliwala, can you?

So, my advice to any news boss here is simple. Don't worry about triple anchoring, zooming camera angles, news sets, pastel colours, or sexy graphics. Get some opinions: that would genuinely be news to many of us.

Nick Ferrari presents the weekday breakfast show on London's LBC 97.3 FM, also available on Sky Channel 0177.

If the City is to be believed, anyone involved in the radio industry should be kept away from tall buildings, not allowed near sharp objects and have belts and shoelaces removed as they arrive for work.

Down in share price by more than 30 per cent, facing shrinking advertising revenues and under continual assault from the online market, the sector that was the darling of the media analysts until just a couple of years ago is experiencing some heavy weather. But, closer inspection reveals a different picture.

While the bungled "merger" of industry giants Capital and GWR didn't help - the resulting G-Cap proving to be to radio what England are to penalty shoot-outs - other radio observers are far more bullish. They have seen that what are initially perceived as the biggest threats to radio are actually its greatest strengths.

They talk of radio as "the Martini medium" - you can listen any time, any place, anywhere. If you doubt that, try getting online next time you're doing 65mph round the M25. And, it's a low-avoidance medium - you can't fast forward through the adverts or turn the page. True, you can change channel but radio is a loyalty business. If you doubt it, look at the following enjoyed by brilliant veterans such as Terry Wogan and Chris Tarrant, whose departure is something from which Capital will clearly never fully recover.

And, above all, it's a branding industry - and that's the future in a digital, new media environment. Radio will no longer have listeners - they'll be "consumers" drawn to the brands they know and love - and using their favourite station's home pages on their computers to access everything from news to pizzas.

This industry's been around for decades and "here today, gone tomorrow" so-called City experts would do well to realise it's been written off before and come back even stronger. Video did NOT kill the radio star, despite the hit song.

But I have to go... I have "consumers" to talk to.

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