Indies have a lot to look forward to in the new year, especially with two major broadcasting reviews underway, writes Eileen Gallagher.
As I write this final column of the year, it feels as if Christmas has come a bit early. At the risk of sounding complacent (because I'm not), the independent sector is ending 2003 on something of a high.First, the long and hard-fought-for codes of practice will be in place for the start of 2004. All signs lead Pact to believe that the codes will enable independent TV producers to properly grow their businesses in the future.Second, the chancellor, in his pre-budget speech last week, gave the very welcome news that he will extend tax breaks for the film industry after they were due to expire in 2006. An absolutely critical measure if we are to sustain and grow a film production industry in the UK.Both these measures put the independent film and television industries on a firm footing for the next few years ahead.But, as important as these measures are, the real revolution in the UK's electronic media world kicks off next year. Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting dovetailing with the BBC's Charter review show early signs of being more radical in thought than anything that's gone before. The holy cows are being led to the slaughter and sacred mantras consigned to the ecclesiastical waste bin.Anyone believing that Ofcom will deliver more of the same thinking as in previous reviews should get a copy of Ed Richards' recent speech at the Royal Television Society.Every awkward question will be asked: Can we justify the£4bn of taxpayers' money invested in television? Should only one institution benefit from the licence fee? Does the BBC serve its audience best by keeping 70% of its production in-house? Would the market deliver most of the content and services presently paid for by public funds?Britain spends more per head on broadcasting than anywhere else in the world except the US. I personally think this investment delivers a quality of life for the UK public that would be irreplaceable if our broadcasting institutions were dismantled - but Ofcom won't simply take my or anyone else's word for it. We're going to be made to prove it. Prove that, as consumers and citizens, the paying public benefits from every penny spent.But, as well as asking hard questions, the speech gave some very clear steers about the principles guiding the review. It is quite clear that Ofcom takes the view that the public will only get real value for money if pluralism, innovation and creativity can flourish in the media world alongside scale.Which brings us right back to the codes of practice, due to be delivered to Ofcom by the broadcasters as near as damn it on Christmas morn.