Fincham slams regulatory 'suffocation'
In his keynote MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Fincham argued that the television industry must move on from issues of trust and deception - issues that tangentially led to his resignation as controller of BBC One - and concentrate on "invention".
"Invention - creativity, call it what you will - is at the heart of what we do," he said. "It's what those in the posh seats might call art and the rest of us would broadly call entertainment."
He noted that Lord Reith, when stating what public purpose the young BBC should serve, said it should inform, educate and entertain. He compared those goals to Ofcom's four goals for modern public service broadcasting: to present "news, information and analysis of current events and ideas"; to "stimulate our interest in and knowledge of arts, science, history and other topics"; to "reflect and strengthen our cultural identity... on occasion bringing audiences together for shared experiences"; and to "make us aware of different cultures and alternative viewpoints through programmes that reflect the lives of other people and other communities".
"What? Is that what's on the telly tonight? God help us - let's go to the pub instead," Fincham suggested. "Here we have the deathless language of the committee, each word carefully weighed, balanced, and rinsed of all life and passion; a definition of public service broadcasting that exists only in the minds of those whose job it is to write such definitions."
He added that one question on Ofcom's public service broadcasting survey suggested that entertainment and informative programming were mutually exclusive.
"So there we have it," he said. Let's scrap Saturday nights completely. Drama's out, and comedy too. No role for sport - the Champions League final, Euro 2008, the Olympics. The 14 million people who tuned into the final of Britain's Got Talent weren't there to be entertained but to watch TV promote understanding of religions, cultures and lifestyles."
He stopped short of calling for ITV's regulatory framework to be completely removed, but said Ofcom should stay away from determining what types of programmes should be made.
"Television needs regulators, just as roads need traffic wardens," said Fincham. "But you wouldn't ask your traffic warden to give you advice on what sort of car to buy, still less how to drive it."
He ruled out rumours that ITV would hand back its analogue licences, drop its public service broadcasting obligations and take its chances in the digital market. He said that a public service broadcaster serving mass audiences needed the flexibility to offer programmes that can entertain and inform a wide audience.
"We can't resist fragmentation, or timeshifted viewing, or multiple platforms," he observed. "We can't and we shouldn't. But unless we fight hard to assert the importance of mass audiences we may find that broadcasting as we know it simply goes niche and splits into a thousand pieces... culturally it's a loss, not a gain."