I suspect when candidates go knocking on doors, one issue least likely perceived to be a vote winner is that of a party’s media policy. In fact, in an effort to clamp down on government expenditure, many commentators and politicians have pointed to abolishing the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and moving the remnants of it within BIS and Health.
However, the legacy of this department played a small yet significant role in the last Parliament. From the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, the roll out of super broadband across the country and the creation of new licences for local TV stations. The inquiry into press standards culminating in the Leveson Report still rumbles on as the new body succeeding the Press Complaints Commission, IPSO attempts to establish itself.
This was the Parliament that saw Rupert Murdoch hauled in front of a Select Committee, the 54-day reign of BBC director-general George Entwistle, the News of the World close its doors for a final time, BT taking on Sky over football, Wikileaks tell the world government secrets and the Coalition create a Royal Charter on press regulation.
Media policy may not be high up the list of government priorities, but its impact and funding is huge.
Perhaps the most significant policy in the next Parliament may lie in the upcoming renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016. Negotiations in 2010 saw the then Director General Mark Thompson and former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt agree a licence fee freeze, as well as a top slicing to fund broadband and the Welsh language channel S4C.
What will happen to dear old Auntie? The most recent report by Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee stated clearly that while there is no immediate replacement for the licence fee, it is becoming clear that in its current form, thanks to technology and audience behaviours, it is becoming harder to sustain.
Politically, the BBC must renew or declare what its overall strategy and existence really means. While the Beeb is valued as a public service broadcaster, the founding qualities that it continues to hold so dearly are not as distinctive in a world of BuzzFeed, Twitter, HBO and Netflix. Traditional rivals in ITV, Channel 4 and Sky will ask if the things they are known for are any better.
I suspect that given the recent examples of the failed £100m digital media initiative, the ‘tax avoidance question’ over the sale of the Broadcasting House site and even the handling of the departure of Jeremy Clarkson may only make the BBC’s hand weaker when it comes to negotiate.
The other question remains around plurality. While all parties are committed to this and media ownership, there are huge questions of how it will work in practice. Harriet Harman said Labour would like to see ownership capped at no more than 30 per cent. News UK, part of the Murdoch empire, owns 34 per cent of the UK newspaper market. Then again, there are questions around cross-media ownership and where the BBC stands in all of this. Any direct intervention would only end up in the courts and take years to resolve.
No doubt it’s never going to set the agenda alight, yet with a growing media and cultural sector helping the UK economy at home and abroad, it’s not something we can or should take lightly