Event report: Jeremy Hunt on the ‘digital future’ at Media Festival Arts

Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Department of Culture Media and Sport, spoke at the Media Festival Arts at the Roundhouse, London, on 9th September 2010 on the future for digital. Sarah Fahmy reports.

Jeremy Hunt (Minister for Department of Culture Media and Sport) gave the keynote address from The Media Festival Arts Conference (organised by the Arts Council) at the Roundhouse last Thursday. Whilst focusing extensively on digital policy as related to the arts, he also spoke of a wider vision across boundaries for the future of digital infrastructure and content in economically constrained times.

Hunt cited as a key government objective having the highest broadband speed in Europe by 2015. However, this is to be done entirely without public subsidy but through the endeavours of private entities (ISPs?) similar to the proliferation of cable and satellite in the 1980s.

He also stated that broadening participation was an essential aim for the current government but that in terms of arts project funding and evaluation had to move away from ‘box ticking’ mentality. He feared that this was too bureaucratic and instead ‘widening participation’ aims should use the power of digital engagement which is why the government has put so much weight behind the Martha Lane Fox initiative.

He then set out a number of actions and aims for both government and the arts sector:

1) Government has commitment to deliver on infrastructure and digital inclusion- even though these will not be backed by a large amount of public money, it is believed that the private sector will be free to speculate around this.

2) Arts sector has got to deliver a commitment to sustainability and widening participation agenda even with limited funds.

3) All parties have to be imaginative around partnerships. He would particularly like to encourage partnership between the arts and public service broadcasting who have a unique reach and have delivered culturally important products to a mass audience.

4) Arts need to be aware that technology is generally viewed warily in government as it is felt that a large sum of money has been wasted when people ‘got it wrong’. Therefore there would be no funding of ‘big bang’ solutions and investment would be made ‘little by little’ as understanding of audiences increased.

The floor was then opened up for questions:

Q: Why was the UK Film Council disbanded and what has been put in its place?

JH: There are plans for the legacy of the UKFC but this cannot be announced until the results of the CSR are announced in Oct. However as he saw it there were 3 main problems with UKFC:

– Whilst it did support culturally valuable film making- it never cracked the problem of distribution and very few films funded by UKFC ever made it to mainstream cinema

– UKFC did not produce an adequate number of ‘Brit hits’- now being overtaken by Italy and Germany

– Perceived spend on ‘administrative bureaucracy’ ie 24% with 2 people being paid over £100K

Q: Did he feel that Project CANVAS was essential for the arts?

JH: Yes, certainly in terms of digital inclusion ie bringing the chaos of the internet into people’s living rooms however he was concerned about the bandwidth issue.

Q: Did he think there would need to a cut in the BBC licence fee?

JH: Only 57% of licence fee money was spent on actual content, the BBC would need to recognise that the proportions in play would need to change

Q: Australian coalition government promised $43 billion to broadband infrastructure, why is it the sole concern of the private sector in the UK?

JH: Due to Australia’s economic planning, it now had ample public resources to plough into this but this was not the case in the UK

Q: Will there be long-term damage to the arts through these cuts?

JH: Can’t guarantee anything, but cited Greece as an example of what would happen if cuts were not made (slightly dubious figure of 17,000 teachers to be made redundant in Greece in next quarter)