It is, once again, that time of year where everyone and anyone gives their predictions for the twelve months ahead. Will the economy benefit from an Olympic boost, or slip back into recession? Will the Coalition still be playing happy families, or will one disagreement too far lead to divorce? Predicting the future is never a simple task.
It would be fair to say however that 2012 is shaping up to be a turbulent year for the media sector. As the FT pointed out last week, no fewer that fourteen different reports from a plethora of influential inquiries, government departments and committees are expected this year, all of which pertain directly to media.
The revelation that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World has led indirectly to the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics and Dame Elizabeth Filkin’s inquiry on the relationship between journalists and the police (which recently delivered a critical report on the “serious harm” caused by cosy Met/media relationships).
In Parliament, the Culture Committee continues its high profile probe into phone hacking – an inquiry juxtaposed, somewhat ironically, with another on media plurality and ownership (remember when News Corp was still in the frame to take full ownership of BSkyB?).
Meanwhile the Home Affairs Committee scrutinises the police, the Lords Communications Committee looks into the future of investigative journalism and the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions questions media executives and politicians on the future of corporate governance and press regulation.
The alleged illegality of goings on at the NOTW means that the police too are conducting inquiries into phone hacking (Weeting), computer hacking (Tuleta) and corrupt payments to the police by the press (Elveden).
Ofcom is also due to deliver no fewer than three reports with very direct implications for media, and all of this is before the sector even has a chance to consider intellectual property, spectrum, the BBC license fee or any other seemingly minor, but in reality major, issue.
We expect soon a green paper from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which will set the wheels in motion for a new Communications Bill. This is the point where only the bravest (and perhaps a select few within the DCMS) would willingly give a prediction on what exactly it will look like. The unavoidable fact is this – the magnitude of the phone hacking issue means that the outcomes of many of these inquiries will need to be published, considered and debated before the Government can even consider drafting legislation.
By December 2012, we may not be as close to a new Act of Parliament as the Government may want. And the likelihood that the media sector will be looking to a stable and certain 2013 is fairly low. However one thing is becoming increasingly clear – the media sector at the end of 2012 will look significantly different to how it looks today.