Greg Dyke On Broadcasting

The digital switch will haunt our next Culture Secretary

Whoever replaces Tessa Jowell after the next election is likely to be the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who really gets it in the neck. He or she could well get a hammering much worse than the battering Jowell received recently over her plans to reform gambling in Britain.

Assuming we do get a new secretary of state after the election, and everyone seems to assume that will happen, Tessa is likely to be the last one able to commit Britain to becoming a fully digital nation without actually having to live with the consequences.

Since the early 1990s, successive holders of her post - back in the Conservative era the job was known by the exciting title of Secretary of State for Heritage - have all committed Britain to switching off the analogue television signal at some time in the far future. All of them (and remember the job changed hands almost every year under the Tories) did so confidently knowing that they would not be the minister in charge at the time switch-over actually happened.

But, suddenly, what was the far future is getting close, and Tessa Jowell's successor, whoever he or she turns out to be, is likely to be the one who actually starts the great switch-off. As such, he or she is likely to be the minister to get all the flak that will inevitably accompany it. Suddenly thousands and thousands of people like my 89-year-old mother, who has no idea what digital television is and certainly doesn't want it, will be told that unless they buy a digital box they won't be able to receive their favourite programmes any more. They won't be happy, particularly if they have to buy a new television aerial too.

On top of that, thousands more people who believe they have "gone digital" will suddenly discover their second and third television sets won't work unless they buy a box for every set. The reaction among the public to being forced to go digital might well not be a pretty sight.

The question is whether the politicians will keep their nerve or, as Jowell did over gambling, change their policy at the last minute because of pressure from national newspapers and parliamentary back-benchers. On gambling we suddenly had a "listening" government willing to change its plans whereas, only a few months earlier, it had taken no notice whatsoever when the same changes were first suggested. Of course that was before the Daily Mail and others started their campaign.

The perfectly understandable fear of the broadcasters is that the same thing could happen again when the digital switch-over starts to happen. The secretary of state might suddenly start listening to the likes of my mum, supported no doubt by the Mail, and decide that, maybe, it isn't such a good idea after all.

That is why the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five are unlikely to sign up to the enormous costs involved in the process without first getting a legally binding commitment from the Government that, if switch-over doesn't happen, the Government will pick up the tab. The last thing the broadcasters want is to end up paying for both analogue and digital transmission for ever.

So will the switch-over start in the life of the next parliament? On current plans it will happen region by region, with the analogue signal being switched off in the first region in early 2008, and the whole process being completed by 2012. But with a general election likely in 2009, the political pressure on Jowell's successor could be enormous.

There will be one thing going for the unfortunate secretary of state. The first regions to be switched off are likely to be well away from London and the South East. For technical reasons the Crystal Palace transmitter, which covers London, is likely to be one of the last to be switched, which means that most national-newspaper editors, journalists and their families are unlikely to be affected until after the election. Maybe, just maybe, no newspapers will notice what's happening before then.

United we (can't) stand at the FA

The appointment of the former head of ITV Sport, Brian Barwick, as the chief executive of the Football Association will certainly have ruffled feathers at Old Trafford. Brian, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, has never been a Manchester United fan. It wouldn't be going too far to say that he hates United and all they stand for.

When I arrived at the BBC in late 1999, it was the year that Manchester United won the treble. Brian had recently left the corporation, where he was deputy head of sport, to take up his new role at ITV. So when it came to choosing the "team of the year" for the Sports Personality of the Year awards it was the first time for many years that Brian hadn't been involved.

There was never any doubt that the award had to go to United, and the whole team plus Sir Alex Ferguson turned up to collect it. So I was rather surprised a week or so later when I got a call from Sir Alex, who I knew from my time as a director at Manchester United, who thanked me for making sure United had won. I hadn't done anything and was puzzled. Alex explained there was no way United would have won if that "bastard" Barwick had still been there.

I said I was sure Brian would never have let his hostility to United stand in the way of the right decision. The next time I saw Brian I relayed what Alex had said. "Too bloody right," he said, "They'd never have won it if I'd been there." I think he was joking. I hope so for the sake of peace at the FA.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

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
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas