Blair: Convergence Prompts Reform Of ‘Irrational’ Media Regulations

Outgoing UK prime minister Tony Blair suggests online media convergence should lead to controversial regulatory reform. From his speech at Reuters HQ in London Tuesday: “As the technology blurs the distinction between papers and television, it becomes increasingly irrational to have different systems of accountability based on technology that no longer can be differentiated in the old way. How this is done is an open question and, of course, the distinction between balance required of broadcasters but not of papers remains valid. But at some point the system is going to change and the importance of accuracy will not diminish, whilst the freedom to comment remains.” (Full transcript).

Earlier: “Internet advertising has overtaken newspaper ads. There are roughly 70 million blogs in existence, with around 120,000 being created every day. In particular, younger people will, less and less, get their news from traditional outlets. But, in addition, the forms of communication are merging and interchanging. The BBC website is crucial to the modern BBC. Papers have podcasts and written material on the web. News is becoming increasingly a free good, provided online without charge. Realistically, these trends won’t do anything other than intensify.”

European TV regulations updated for the internet last month will be implemented in EU nations like the UK by 2009 but the thorny problem is how Britain’s newspapers, currently lightly self-regulated under the Press Complaints Commission, should be administered when they no longer depend on a press and offer TV-like services themselves. The logical conclusion from Blair’s speech would be to extend the same European broadcasting legislation, which Ofcom will execute in the UK, to newspapers – but that’s likely to kick up a huge freedom-of-the-press stink from Britain’s comment-heavy hacks.