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Technological or Ideological Convergence?

How the Concepts of Market and Technological Convergence are Displacing Public Service Commitment in the New Communications and Broadcast Public Policy of the UK

Tony Sampson University of East London Jairo Lugo Liverpool John Moores University Presented at the RIPE@2002 Conference, 17-19.1.02, Finland “In the age of the Internet and digital, it’s certainly striking how durable our oldest types of television have turned out to be […] public service broadcasting is a battle standard we no longer need to relay to - a redundant piece of voodoo”. Michael Jackson, Chief Executive, Channel 4 (UK) Introduction: In this paper we explore the use of the concept of technological convergence as a justification for media deregulation and privatisation in the context of a neo-liberal discourse by the current Labour government in the United Kingdom. In our view this is part of a strategy to restrain the commitment and participation of the British State in broadcasting and telecommunications. Throughout this paper we intend to argue that there is a clear ideological discourse which, under the assumption of technological determinism, aims to undermine the State commitment to Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in order to open up spaces for private interests and profit-making participation. In our view this is the result of a pre-electoral political compromise between the current Labour party leadership and several media conglomerates that operate inside and outside of the United Kingdom.

This paper argues that technological convergence is not, as the party line would have us believe, a new phenomenon. Furthermore, we suggest that the current use of this concept in the British political debate transcends the technological level and is part of a neo-liberal ideology. Therefore,

we contend that technological convergence should not be the defining element of the media future in the UK.

The Labour government and corporate media lobby groups in the UK have given the term ‘technological convergence’ a neo-liberal interpretation in order to use it as a central justificatory concept in the political development of current communications policy in the UK. Analysing the discourse used by the current Labour government within the media debate we have found that ‘technological convergence’ is being intrinsically linked to the concept of the ‘market’, when in fact the term belongs to a number of discourses, which are discussed herein. Furthermore, this terminological syncretism has enabled New Labour1 to rationalise a political discourse in which a deregulatory impetus, used for stimulating market competition, is not only necessary, but also inevitable. This Orwellian-doublethink approach intends to undermine the main arguments of media regulation and public Broadcast tradition in the UK (and much of Europe), which in the past has attempted to protect the public sphere by regulating media ownership so as to reduce media concentration and the subsequent influence of commercial interests on media content. This discourse argues that regulation obstructs effective commercial decision-making that is essential to a place in the competitive global market and maintains that competitiveness means pluralism and sequentially deepens democracy through widening access and consumer choice.

However, we argue that competitiveness is leading instead to a displacement of the public service commitment within broadcast and communication policy design and public access to the media spectrum. This is a commitment that has historically characterised UK broadcasting. In Britain, PSB has been used as a political tool that has guaranteed a certain degree of institutional balance in the political debate, largely dominated by a partisan press and media conglomeration. It is careless to assume that technological convergence can per se democratise access to the media spectrum, nevertheless that is precisely what seems to be...
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