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Ofcom's Nathan Barley quango slammed by public

Letter of the week, via the telco regulator...

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Ofcom has published the public consultation responses to its PSP concept. And they don't make comfortable reading for the regulator.

The PSP, or Public Service Publisher, is a new quango that would cost taxpayers between £100m than £150m a year - handing out money to new media types for interactive websites, and other "user generated content" gimmicks. Ofcom loves the idea - and gave the task of investigating it two new media production houses who would stand to gain handsomely from the new gravy train.

Unsurprisingly, they thought a Nathan Barley Quango, or NBQ, was a splendid idea.

The public responses should be sobering, however. Most are skeptical of the need for the new quango, while many more are completely indifferent. And some are very scathing. Step forward, W Jackson:

As a self-actualizing media node, I welcome this redistribution of government funds from provincial luddites to new media 'creative' Sohoites.

Cool Britannia lives! The creative industries initiative was good but didn't radically empower young creatives and their 360-degree thinking. Unleash the collective wisdom of new media and see us swarm!

If Tony had done this when he first got in (and I know how hard you tried, Ed) then thousands of people could already be employed - let's use those redundant factories to turn out polyphonic ringtones.

Critics - like Orlowski at The Register - will complain that this is pork-barrel politics for tech. utopians. That this has no relevance to' 'ordinary' people and their lives.

Well, I've had enough of that patronising rubbish. I've launched a post-ironic web brand - nar.ciss.us - that was created using the competitively-priced labour of redundant industrial workers. It shows that anyone can 'get' asynchronous java - even people from the North.

If anyone wants to brainstorm this - then twitter/IM/SMS/Skype/email me. I'm up for an 'emergent conference'.

Ed Richards's initiative 'gets' new media on so many levels. Let's flashmob this bitch up to escape velocity.

PEACE

Excellent stuff, sir - take a bow.

Another, Dr Stephen Jones, points out that new and old media are complimentary, and don't need taxpayer-funded pampering.

The consultation document is founded on several dubious premises.

The report states that new media displaces old media, and that public service material should therefore be targeted at new platforms. However, as commentators have pointed out, new media enhances old media.

Nor is there a rationale for public investment in platforms where the barriers to entry are already low, and where private investment is plentiful.

The PSP idea in its current form is little more than a taxpayer-funded subsidy for web production houses.

OFCOM should instead fulfill its commitment to strengthening public service broadcast material.

Reader Mark Splinter submitted a long, thoughtful, and passionate response that boils down to: why not just give the money to a thousand mavericks directly? You don't really need a quango.

The Ofcom proposal before me does absolutely nothing to alter the problem that the best creative ideas can be lost in bureaucracy. The examples given are uninspired grey goo, the illustration styles used are ten years old, and sending text messages to a panel of experts is elevated to the status of innovative debate.

It smells bad, and I must present to Ofcom the possibility that they are a regulator, not an artists' loft, and they really don't know what they are doing. Asking a couple of the internet equivalents of Werner Hogg to comment on the idea of receiving free public money will get you a distorted answer, probably involving "yes please" and "exactly how high would you like us to jump?"

If you offered me 50,000,000 I would also probably tell you that you need an "edgy urban mix of interrelated electronic Web 2.0 synergies" and then laugh all the way to the bank.

Trust the punks, the mavericks, the lunatics, the fringe of the fringe. Use public money to help them fight against the bland requirements of corporations and venture capitalists. Be not afraid of 1000 failures. Be bold, or you are being superfluous and irrelevant, and perhaps ridiculous.

Ofcom doesn't think it's being ridiculous though. Turning its own "evidence based" policy-making guideline on its head, it concludes there's "broad support" for OFCOM intervening with a new quango, so it's full steam ahead.

That's democracy in action, then. ®

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