Martha Lane Fox gave the Dimbleby lecture this evening. She raised some excellent points but i can’t stay up to see the broadcast at 2245 (how quaint) so here are some reactions based on an early draft I saw.
The BBC – Martha is delivering one of the most BBC of things – an invitation-only lecture in honour of one of its leading journalists broadcast on the prime channel. Yet at the heart of what she says is the failure of the BBC to become the dot everyone organisation she describes. The BBC now mainly sees the internet as another means of transmission for its video and audio output. And running a magazine and news website – great content but little imagination in its presentation. There’s some great innovation around the edges like the Ebola What’s App service or the BBC Genome that are purely of the internet. All the early internet verve of the post Birt era and BBC 2.0 has evaporated or diluted. The DG’s recent internet vision speech was mainly about TV, only fleetingly touching on the ability of the internets to transform the way the £3.6 billion a year BBC does its otherwise brilliant work.
For the internet, the BBC now resembles a 1950s British Rail – proud to be running an excellent service – of steam trains – oblivious to different more modern forms of traction and transport in plain view elsewhere. It needs to beware a future Beeching. Particularly if the BBC starts to lose a guaranteed route to it’s audiences through ‘broadcasting’ as people shift to algorithmically filtered online content that gives them what they want rather than what is good for them.
Digital inclusion – I defer to Jim Knight’s excellent post on this, he is chair of the board of Tinder Foundation where I am a non-exec. Digital work for the technorati funded by the public purse has no legitimacy if not outdone by work to help people get on line and make the most of it.
Money – how much cash should a dot everyone institutuion of the sort Martha describes cost? A fair analogy is a public service TV channel. The late BBC3 cost about £150m a year. Over it’s ten year life the BBC spent over £1billion on it. Did it deliver a billion of public value? Hard to tell, but I think dot everyone could do more with the money. This could easily come from a ‘google tax’ which American tech companies can anyway offset against their USA tax bills when they repatriate profits if Obama’s 14% repatriation tax gets through the house.
Regulation – dull though it may seem, an excellent regulatory framework can be a competitive advantage for the UK. As Martha points out, as modern digital services become more intimate and more personal ethical issues will crop up more and more. If we can bring British pragmatic, tolerant, multi-faith approach to ethical issues to a regulatory framework then we can bring stability and deliberation to regulatory issues that will attract investment. (Subject to managing the depredations of our tabloid press.) In bio ethics, the UK has superb institutions such as the HFEA that have allowed brilliant scientists to capitalise on the legacy of Dolly the sheep and push hard at the very edges of ethics and science. It’s entirely achievable to learn from this in ethics and technology. I wrote about ethics and digital regulation last year for the Digital Government Review to the Labour Party.
Data – I was pleased to see that the Labour Party has accepted our call in the Digital Government Review for a fundamental rethink of our data protection system. The Information Commissioner’s office is no longer fit for purpose – his staff do a valiant job with too little resource, an archaic structure and a Byzantine rule set.
Snowden – one area where the UK is out of kilter with the rest of the world is regulation of intelligence services (for my own involvement see LinkedIn). The country that gave us Le Carre and Bond hasn’t been roused to the same degree as the USA, France and Germany by the Snowden revelations that won a British Newspaper a Pullitzer Prize. Maybe it’s because we haven’t directly experienced modern totalitarianism or that our country wasn’t formed by people fleeing from it. Or our regulatory framework works (maybe not)? But this puts us sharply out of line with our competitors and could be of huge concern to tech companies wanting to house their data. The idiosyncratic UK political consensus here would be a challenge for dot everyone.
International – on regulation and Snowden and so much more the UK needs an outward looking global dialogue between technology entrepreneurs and policy makers. The sort of thing that seems alien to the modern UK anti-european, anti-immigration political debate in this depressing election period. It was a weird multi-national institution, CERN employing a Brit that gave us the world wide web. It’s a multi national outlook informed by science and the best social policy that will help us deliver on the potential Martha sets out.
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