Greg Dyke on Broadcasting

Some of us simply don't want to embrace the digital age

But just as the Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, was making this important policy announcement in an assured keynote speech at the Royal Television Society's bi-annual Cambridge conference on Friday, I had an heretical thought. Why are we doing this?

It was heretical because I've been an active supporter of digital switchover for as long as I can remember and, as one of the people responsible for the creation of Freeview, I played a significant part in making it possible. If charged with aiding and abetting digital switchover I'd have to plead guilty.

So why this sudden doubt just as Ms Jowell was outlining how switchover was going to happen? The answer is it's all to do with my 90-year-old mother.

Let me explain. I recently bought her a new Bang & Olufsen television set. I expected her to be pleased and excited. Sadly, she was no such thing. When it arrived my mother burst into tears because she didn't want that much change in her life.

Now, if that's how she reacted to the arrival of a new television set and having to learn how to use a new remote control, how is she possibly going to cope with digital switchover? Who is going to convince her and thousands of old people like her that, in the interests of greater viewing choice (choice that she has made very clear to me she doesn't want), her viewing life will be totally disrupted?

Who is going to fit the set-top boxes on to her two televisions? Who is going to teach her how to use them and, most important of all, who will sort them out when they go wrong, as they inevitably will? And who is going to explain to her that her video recorder won't record any more because of switchover?

Even Tessa Jowell admitted in her Cambridge speech that the process of going digital is going to be as disruptive to Britain as decimalisation and the conversion to North Sea gas. In which case, why are we doing it?

I scoured Tessa's speech for an explanation. I discovered that there was an economic reason - the old analogue spectrum could be sold she reckoned, for between £1 and £2 billion. But the real cost of switchover will be vastly more than that with all of us having to buy countless set-top boxes. When the Government proudly boasts that Britain is already 63 per cent digital, they seem to forget that in most of those digital homes there are also a lot of analogue sets that will need set-top boxes to make them work in the future.

But according to Tessa the decision wasn't really about money at all; it was about better quality television and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everyone to have more choice. But what if, like my mum, you don't want more choice? No doubt Ms Jowell has ways of making her want it - after all, that's what New Labour is all about, forcing market choice upon those who don't necessarily want it.

Given that Freeview and the new ITV/BBC joint venture Freesat mean that everyone who wants to go digital can do so at very little ongoing cost, why force those who don't want to?

To be fair, the Government did run a trial project in two villages in Wales where 99.2 per cent of the population voted to keep digital television once they had tried it, but there were probably more television engineers in those villages for the period of the trial than there were villagers, so conversion would have been easy.

Tessa also announced in Cambridge that there is going to be an increase in the BBC licence fee to help pay for set-top boxes for the over-75s like my mum, which in itself is a bit strange, given that the licence fee is an unfair tax with the poor paying as much as the rich. This means we are now going to disproportionately tax the poor to help the elderly, some of whom are not poor at all. An odd concept of socialism.

But just as soon as it had arrived my heretical thought disappeared. I remembered all the arguments I'd used over the years to argue in favour of switchover. Banal arguments like digital is good for us, it's progress (and we can't let my mum stand in the way of progress), and just think how expensive it would be for the likes of the BBC, ITV and Channels Four and Five if they had to continue broadcasting in both analogue and digital?

Suddenly I was back as a switchover supporter, a digital loyalist - but for a brief second I was nearly lost to the cause.

One deputy head that's happy to roll

There are some laws of business that can be summed up in easy catchphrases. One is that the biggest lie in business is the phrase "I'm from head office and I'm here to help you", but my favourite has always been "we are in crisis, deputy heads must roll". We saw an example of the latter in ITV last weekwith the news that the head of ITV advertising sales Graham Duff was leaving, pushed out by those above him who needed someone to blame for the collapsing ratings, depressing sales and falling share price. Duff left with a pile of money, but the funniest side of the story is that he's delighted. He has hated the job for some time, and has been looking for another job for months. It was a win/win for him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power