Ofcom reject ESTV’s request to make London’s local TV less local

Back in July I wrote about the comical attempts by ESTV Ltd – the provider of the London local television service London Live – to vary the programming commitments in its local television licence to make it LESS LOCAL.  At the time I commented that ‘ESTV have exactly ZERO change of their request being granted.’

Today Ofcom published the decision of the the Broadcast Licensing Committee (BLC) to whom the Ofcom Board has delegated the discharge of certain of its functions in relation to television and radio broadcast licensing. They have, as expected, firmly rejected the proposed programming commitments variation. The BLC noted that the request could only be approved if the BLC considered that all of the four statutory criteria were satisfied. Those being:

  1. a) that the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service,
  2. b) that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number and range of the programmes about the area or locality for which the service is licensed,
  3. c) that the departure would not unacceptably reduce the number of programmes made in the area or locality for which the service is licensed, and
  4. d) that the service would continue to meet the needs of the area or locality for which the service is licensed

The BLC ruled that ESTV only satisfied one of these criteria, point D.

On point A the BLC decided the requested changes would clearly substantially alter the character of the service. ” in the section headed “Programming Output”, the addition of the words “Will endeavour to”, in relation to the Licensed Service being an interactive news and entertainment service created in, for and by those who live and work in the Licensed Area (as defined in the Licence), and the addition of the words “Where available will”, in relation to the inclusion in the Licensed Service of hyper-local programming delivered through 33 digital platforms in the Boroughs and City of the Licensed Area, would result in a very significant weakening of these elements of the Programming Commitments, to the extent that it was difficult to see how these could be regarded as meaningful Programming Commitments.”

On Point B: “The BLC considered that the changes, taken as a whole, would result in an unacceptable reduction to the number and range of programmes about the area or locality for the Licensed Area. In particular, the BLC was concerned that the proposal  to include the wording “Where available will”, as referred to under Ground (a) above, would remove the obligation to include hyper-local programming delivered through digital platforms in each of the London boroughs. This had been a particularly important factor in the award of the Licence to ESTV. “

On Point C: ” The BLC considered that the overall effect of the changes appeared to be a reduction in the number of programmes made in the Licensed Area, in particular given the proposal to remove the requirement relating to hyper-local programming from the London boroughs and the proposed reduction in the hours of first-run local programming in years 2 and 3 of the Licence. However, the BLC considered that ESTV had not provided sufficiently clear information on the impact of these changes for the BLC to be satisfied that there would not be an unacceptable reduction in the number of programmes made in the Licensed Area. “

Perhaps key to the ruling was the fact that the BLC noted that the invitation to apply for L-DTPS licences published by Ofcom stated that, as the programming commitments would be a binding licence condition, prospective applicants were encouraged to consider very carefully what proposals they could realistically deliver, and that the assessment of applications for the purpose of the licence award decision was based on the applicants’ proposals

This was the first time the BLC has considered a request to approve a departure from the character of service of local TV licence (an L-DTPS).

iPod Classic R.I.P

So apparently there is a new iPhone and a Watch and device to make yourself invisible and a U2 album you didn’t want – actually my computer has seemingly refused to download the U2 album even though the iTunes store tells me it’s there. You know what part of all this means the most to me? Visit the new Apple website and click on iPod. The iPod classic is no more. The iPod Nano, Shuffle and Touch are still there but the hefty original is no more. GONE.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. The last time the classic got an update was 2008 to give it more space. Mine dates from then. 160GB. I have 9.7GB free on mine as of this morning. It is still a device I use every day.

Why not use your phone some friends say. I don’t have a 160GB phone I say.

True, I could get close by adding a 128 Micro SD card to my HTC One M8 – which allegedly will support it, but that would still leave me short and also leave no room for anything else.
Just sign up for Google Music, Deezer, Spotify etc you might say.

I already have my collection backed up to Google music and can stream it from there, and I have a paid for Spotify account – accessible via my phone.

Why do I still need the Classic then, you might ask?

Well, let’s leave aside the obvious fact that Spotify doesn’t replicate my actual music collection.

I don’t know about you, but my phone’s battery struggles to make it through a working day of 15 hours as it is without adding two hours of Spotify/Google listening each and every day. My iPod meanwhile will go the whole week and longer on one charge. It is a device that was optimised for doing ONE thing, and it does it well. Similarly I own a tablet which I can read books on, but mostly I choose to do that on my e-ink Kindle for the same reason – better battery life and it’s a device designed for reading, nothing else. I don’t need one device that does everything – especially one that does none of them as well as a standalone device.

The other problem is that I still BUY music. It is true, that I have (for the most part) stopped buying CDs, but I still buy one Vinyl album a month and I still buy several albums digitally via my eMusic account.

The 64GB iPod Touch is now the largest capacity device Apple make/sell.

Maybe I could buy another Classic now while they still exist? Some people on Amazon are looking for £449.99 for one.

Of course, everyone else gave up making mp3 players years ago, except for in the nano/shuffle type market, so when – as inevitably it will – the hard drive dies on my classic, that will be it. The real end of an era. That, my friends, will be a day of mourning.

Booker 2014: J by Howard Jacobson

“[J]ust one single man and one single woman, subject to rigorous authentication and in reasonable health, and it could all begin again”

The Booker Prize, as all good prizes should do, has exasperated me at times over the years. In 2010 they decided that Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question was the best book out of the original 13 long-listed books. It was a book that would not have made my short-list and one that annoyed me intensely. I disliked the main characters, I found the forced comedy humourless, it left me cold. I had enjoyed The Mighty Waltzer and a couple of his other earlier books, so it wasn’t personal. Still, given that, the thought of a new Jacobson book after Finkler did not fill me great hope.

J is a dystopian love story about two loners, set in a future Britain, where, to paraphrase L.P. Hartley ‘The past is a (dangerous) foreign country: they do things differently there’. This a past that those in power are determined to keep there, a time before an unspeakable event or ‘What Happened, If It Happened’ as it is referred to throughout the book. This is a world in which there is a regulator of the people, Ofnow, tasked with monitoring the public mood. This is a sterile society bereft of challenging art and music – the radio plays endless love ballads – good news for fans of Steve Wright (UK DJ as opposed to US Comedian). A collective amnesia of WHIIH means everyone is meant to think of themselves as one big happy family now – the names have been changed to lurs the lines between the dead and the guilty.

The central characters, around whom the rest revolve, are Kevern Cohen and Ailinn Solomons. They are a couple who are thrown together by an immediately disappearing match-maker in a time where history books are hard to come by, diaries hidden or destroyed and that libraries put gentle obstacles in the way of research. They are an awkward couple. He is a wood turner who makes love spoons for the local village shop. He hears his mother’s voice calling to him, hoards his father’s old possessions – something not allowed in this new world, and suffers from OCD. She, in turn, is an orphan raised by nuns in a convent.

This is a book which reveals its secrets slowly, mainly through its supporting characters – Densdell Kroplik, a barber and local history expert; Detective Gutkind – a man who sees conspiracy everywhere; Edward Everett Phineas Zermansky an art teacher who is observing and writing a report on Kevern; Esme, who befriends Ailinn and offers her a home, and through various letters from the past.

The secrets and much of this ‘history’ is not that hard to guess. The place they live is called Port Reuben, the characters all have Jewish sounding surnames, the letter J is verboten. Perhaps less obvious initially is just why Kevern and Ailinn are our central characters.But that too becomes clear.

J is a compelling read, and represents Jacobson’s best work to date. Seemingly released from the need to try and be funny and to try and force humour into his text he has instead crafted an engaging tale of fear, hate, love and identity. “Identity is nothing but illusion …Only when we have a different state to strive against do we have reason to strive at all. And different people the same. I am me because I am not her, or you. … This is akin to something my own father is keen to stress when people are ultra patriotic – where you are born is an accident of birth, you had no choice or say in the matter. It’s also a novel about the importance of hate to our society, or at least in the sense that it creates discussion and argument, and what happens when that is lost. The answer is not very nice.

J is certainly one of the book of the year and I would be more than happy to see it win the prize.

Jungleland: The Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett

Law of the Jungle
Paul M Barrett
Website: www.AuthorPMBarrett.com
Published 23 September 2014 [US Only: No UK publication date at time of writing]

“What gets my metabolism racing … is the idea that the law can be used as a weapon to club injustice into submission and create a better world” – Stephen Donziger

Bloomberg Journalist Paul Barrett’s latest book has its origins in a profile he did of New York lawyer Steven Donziger for Business week. It details a twenty year legal battle over environmental pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon which resulted, in 2011, in one of the largest ever judgements imposed by a court for such pollution – $18.2 Billion (although as we learn in the book the question as to whether or not that judgement will ever be enforced is uncertain, leaning towards unlikely). It’s immediately engaging, gripping and, in the end, a fascinating look at human nature and the desire to win.

The book opens with the following paragraph:

“The lawyer Stephen Donziger stepped out into 104th Street. He looked west towards Riverside park and east towards Broadway. The dark sedans had been tailing him for at least a month now. They followed him for blocks at a time, slowing when he slowed, stopping when he stopped, their passengers watching his every move.”

Immediately you are imagining Tom Cruise in some John Grisham thriller, well until you learn Donzinger is six foot four and then perhaps you’re thinking Liam Neeson or Bradley Cooper instead (not, of course, that height issues stopped Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher). We have our hero. He is going to take on the big nasty corporate oil giant in a David v Goliath battle and emerge worthy and victorious. Hell, the book’s sub title is ‘ The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win’ . He’s the hero, and he’s going to win, right?

For the first couple of chapters you’re holding on to that thought but then we begin to see that all are not roses in this legal garden and maybe things might not be quite as black and white as we thought. As Barrett himself states, what follows is as tale with no shortage of knaves and villains.

Filed in 1993 on behalf of a group of Ecuadorian Indians of the Oriente region, the Aguinda lawsuits against Texaco, who were later acquired by Chevron, sought the clean-up of a region of jungle that had been left with serious water and ground pollution as a result of years of Texaco’s oil drilling. Donziger, a young man with no civil litigation experience, soon becomes lead council and driving force behind the case. He’s a larger than life protagonist. He has a principle belief of writing the wrongs of the world, and of the law as the leveller to deliver justice. He also has a flare for attention and promotion, and an understanding that media and perception are as important as hard facts in raising awareness of a cause. He is the consummate showman, as the opportunity to appear in a documentary about the case (Joe Berlinger’s 2009 film ‘Crude‘) proves. Little did he know it may also prove his undoing.

In Barrett’s hands this book is a real page turner. We get sucked in to the world where winning, and winning at all costs, is the only thing that matters for either side. We get a picture of a man who becomes consumed by this seemingly never ending case, and is so sure that the other side will use any means to secure victory that he pre-empts their actions with questionable ones of his own – deceit, blackmail, bribery, fraud, raging egotism and double and treble crossing: it’s all here.

For Donziger, this was his only real case as a lawyer. Lose and he’d wasted twenty years of his life and he would have little to show for it. Win, and he’d be a legal giant able to write his own cheques for any future work. If that meant putting pressure on foreign judges or actively trying to prevent the very thing you claim to be in court arguing for – the clean-up of polluted land – so be it.

But this far from a one man story. Yes, the focus is on Donzinger, but no one comes out of this case smelling of roses. Donzinger, Chevron and its legal team, and the various Ecuadorian governments all shoulder the blame for a runaway case that could and should have settled many years ago, but didn’t because ego’s, and winning on both sides became all that mattered.

It’s a case packed with hypocrisy, with both sides flip-flopping on whether US or Ecuadorian courts were the only venue that could provide justice. But, what is justice?

In the end, you feel for the people that this case was supposed to be about. The people meant to be at the heart of the story who in the end were left high and dry by their lawyers – despite ‘winning’ – and who were also hung out to dry by big oil and their own government, who had, after all, invited Texaco in and took 90% of the oil money – and who own Petroecuador who now run the Texaco oil wells. You could even make the same assertion about Barrett himself, as the Ecuadorians take a back seat to Donzinger. The whole situation is best summed up in the book by Sting: “This is all a sideshow … A lot of lawyers arguing … while people are still suffering in the rain forest.”

It would also have been nice to have had more firsthand independent reporting (Donzinger, perhaps unsurprisingly, declined to be interviewed for the book) and less seeming reliance on court record, existing materials and Joe Berlinger’s film – which this book made me re-watch. None of this, however, takes away from it being a good read.

In the end you put the book down thinking that Crude might not be the last time we the see Stephen Donzinger and the Aguinda case on the big screen.

Flights arrival time = point when doors are opened

Most of us, at one time or other, have probably flown on an aeroplane – whether for business of for pleasure, and most of us have also probably made an assumption about flight times – both departure and arrival. But we’ve probably not thought about it too much if the flight goes ok. Today the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) legally defined what arrival time is (and by association departure time).

The case, referred to the CJEU by an Austrian Court, arose from a compensation claim made by a passenger on a Germanwings flight from Salzburg to Cologne/Bonn. Although the aircraft in question took off with a delay of three hours and 10 minutes, the aircraft touched down on the tarmac of the runway at Cologne/Bonn airport with a delay of two hours and 58 minutes. When the aircraft reached its parking position, the delay was three hours and three minutes. The doors were opened shortly afterwards. Germanwings only paid compensation for delay of over three hours. The passenger argued this was the case, Germanwings argued the actual arrival time of flights is the time at which the plane touches down on the tarmac.

The Court backed the position adopted by the passenger in the case. It stated that during the flight passengers are in control of the air carrier and their activities are restricted during that time. As such it makes sense that the concept of ‘actual arrival time’ must be understood as the time at which such a situation of constraint comes to an end. As frequent flyers will know, airlines instruct you to remain seated until the plane comes to standstill at the arrival gate. But even then, stated the court “the passengers continue to be subject, in the enclosed space in which they are sitting, to various constraints. It is only when the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft and the order is given to that effect to open the doors of the aircraft that the passengers cease to be subject to those constraints and may in principle resume their normal activities.”

The Court concludes that the ‘arrival time’, which is used to determine the length of the delay to which passengers on a flight have been subject, corresponds to the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened, the assumption being that, at that moment, the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft, and the doors have been opened.

So there you have it. Your flight has not arrived until you have landed, reached your arrival gate, and the door(s) of the plane have been opened. One to bear in mind next time your flight is delayed.

Case C-452/13 Germanwings GmbH v Ronny Henning

Spectrum Policy in an Independent Scotland

Telecommunications researcher Ewan Sutherland has written an interesting post on the LSE media Policy Blog about communications policy and regulation in an Independent Scotland, and in particular how this far the Scottish Government has failed to address many of the key spectrum regulation issues necessary for the communications industry to operate in the case of a Yes vote later this month. In particular he highlights the lack of any clear explanation of the agencies and authorities that, from March 2016, would regulate:

• Advertising
• Broadcast content
• Gambling (including the present National Lottery)
• Newspapers
• Spectrum

Worth a read.