Such a tautly-worded stand-off has seldom been seen in the Assembly as that between Michael Grade, executive chairman of ITV, and Alun Davies, boss of the new broadcasting committee.
At its heart was the future of commercial broadcasting in Wales with the ending of digital broadcasting in this country next year.
Not that there might be no ITV shows broadcast to Wales after that date – or 2012, when the rest of the UK changes. But as to whether they might say anything to this country about itself, rather than show non-stop England-produced derivatives of such as Coronation Street and X Factor.
Michael Grade is renowned as one of the top figures of British Broadcasting. A former chairman of the BBC in addition, he is also renowned as one of the toughest nuts in that world – and exceedingly competent with it.
Fantastically convinced of his own position and views, as well.
He came to Cardiff with a strong – and apparently exceedingly tough – message. This was, basically, ITV is up a financial creek. And the cosy days of old-style regional broadcasting have gone for good.
A tough man, who made no apology for representing private industry and the interests of his shareholders; both could (only ?) be served by producing shows which gained the maximum audiences (the hint that this would be via a version of The Sun, minus page three was never far away). Very few AMs are of the calibre to counter him and his views.
Alun Davies (Labour, Mid and West) is one of that exceedingly select band. If you want to argue figures, Mr Davies would argue the clash, million against million. Is it £200m, £40m or £25m ?
In one of the most new-Thatcherite views ever heard in the Senedd, Mr Grade declared (which is much stronger than “said”), “We do not believe that public subsidy is appropriate for a free market” – in how, in the advertisement-poor climate of the future, you pay for ITV’s “regional” output.
This was a “problem which needs to be solved”, he expostulated.
This was a job for the BBC alone, he seemed to say. Perhaps ITV’s attitude was, responded Mr Davies – who has a record of taking on top-dogs and forcing them to notice – “We will sit back after lunch and see if someone comes to see us.”
At this, it was remarkable that Mr Grade didn’t blow up, as this directly countered what he had been arguing for perhaps five minutes.
Peter Black (Lib Dem, South West) was near the only other AM who could make a mark. But he got no hint of an answer to, “Is not there an obligation on you, because you have a devolved government in Wales, that you should do more here than in the regions of England ?”
When Mr Grade returned to London, the message he returned with was plain. Your company’s got a big obligation which you have to pay. And the paeon of praise he had issued for the glories of ITV network carried entwined with it a concomitant admission that he couldn’t get out of – that the centre possesses duties to its components.
Editor’s note: For those of you that have never heard of Alun Davies AM there is an interesting background article about him …HERE