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Lords enter the fray over TV listings priorities

The House of Lords spent part of its session yesterday afternoon debating the Digital Economy Bill, which aims to bring communications into the 21st century now that we’re 17 years in. Yesterday, questions over the BBC abounded; specifically, on your TV guide on your television, why does the BBC always have to come first?

This is one of those “but it’s always been that way” questions. Your editor has had Sky, Virgin and Freeview and has never questioned that the BBC has pre-eminence in the listings; it more or less invented public service broadcasting in the UK, we all pay for it through our license fees so it’s the default broadcaster. ITV and Channel 4 (and OK, 5) have been around the longest so they also need to be near the top.

Reading that back, it’s entirely probable that this is a reflection of your editor’s age rather than of any empirical logic.

We’re digital now

The arguments from the BBC and ITV at least have focused on the difficulty people might find in seeking out their favourite programmes if the terrestrial channels don’t have this pre-eminence on screen. Sky, at least, has countered with the argument that this is simply self-serving and inappropriate in a digital age.

An extra complication is that the terrestrial channels are regarded as “free to air” (or “pay your license fee or else” might be a better way of describing it). Many of the rest ask for further cash, so they are in a different category.

Coming at the same time as the BBC comes under fire for its Brexit coverage this latest development, that could even prevent people taking the terrestrial programmes off their personalised digital planners, might be seen as another attack on the big players’ self-interest. Something even more remarkable is the bland assumption, embedded in the idea that people need to find their favourite programmes easily, that the “favourites” will by definition be on the BBC or ITV.

The entire session of the Lords – almost eight hours of it – is available for viewing here. And you won’t find that on many listings services.