VLV submitted a response to the Lords Select Committee on Communications. The context for this enquiry is the growth of broadband and the number of ways in which the public can access media content via not just computer screens but also mobile phones and iPads. The Government is in the process of selling off spectrum to allow companies to introduce 4G networks capable of receiving broadband signals. This is seen as beneficial to the communications industry.
VLV is concerned that the arguments have tended to be put in terms of new technologies rather than in terms of safeguarding media content for citizens. The process of digital media development has already altered the basis for our traditional system of public service broadcasting paid for by the licence fee. Already the BSkyB satellite service and Virgin cable system have introduced subscription payments which have brought in large new revenues and have allowed these companies to control access to various types of programme content, most noticeably sports. Whilst the rights revenue may have benefitted sporting bodies, the cost of subscriptions may limit the choices of less well-off families to watch sports.
VLV has focussed its campaigning on radio and television broadcasting but it is clear that the development of the broadband internet is affecting the inter-relationship between the traditional media. The BBC now provides websites in print, whilst newspaper websites carry video footage. However the primary cause for concern is the falling sales of newspapers, where many people get their news from online sources and where newspapers have lost advertising revenue to the internet. The economics of national newspapers are now being undermined and there is a danger that such newspapers will close through lack of income. This would mean a great diminution of sources of reliable news and weaken the democratic process. This is a situation which urgently requires discussion of possible alternative sources of finance to ensure the continuation of the national press.