Friday, March 12, 2010

Talking tough: The BBC must not be sacrificed to the god of consumerism

The BBC is a fantastic organisation, fulfilling it's mandate to educate, entertain and inform on a transparent and relatively low budget. The BBC strategic review dominated by the closure of the 6 Music and Asian Network contains a lot of positive ideas – it's nearly always beneficial to do fewer things, but do them better.

Linking BBC2 and BBC4; Radio 4 & Radio 7 and moving the best bits of 6 Music onto Radio 2 will ensure that innovative programming reaches a broader audience and is not lost in some back corner of the network. Putting a cap on sports spending, and better Childrens' programming make sense as well. Precisely because it is not a commercial organisation the BBC must continually ensure it innovates and make efficiencies to maintain value for money and our trust. The BBC is the jewel in our cultural heritage and we must remain as 'critical friends' to make sure it stays that way.

The BBC provides a large amount of trusted and free journalism that is the envy of the world – we'd be mad to throw it away. However James Murdoch and other commercial organisations are frightened and angry that the BBC is stopping it making even more money for themselves, not just in the UK but around the world. Using their massive media power, Murdoch and co are trying to creating a culture that makes it trendy to have a go at the BBC. They are aiming to neuter and hollow out the BBC over the next decade. They're using assumptions that aren't being challenged by mainstream media (including the BBC itself) or the main political parties:

1) Commercial competition is always good and must be 'given space' to do well. I see no evidence that the market could provide anything as good as the BBC in terms of programming or journalism (look at ITV or commercial radio). I think that the BBC have showed us that James Murdoch is wrong when he says that "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantee of independence is profit."

I hate adverts and certainly don't want my daughter subjected to their 'buying stuff will make you happy' lies. If the BBC means that there are less commercial radio and TV stations then so be it – we don't have to monetarise and consumerise every part of our nation's life. There is still more than enough space for competition to operate and offer alternative opinions and views – look at the Financial Times' online successful subscription and the vibrancy of Sky Sports. If the Guardian started charging I'd pay because I'm looking for something different from what the BBC can offer.

2) The licence fee is an expensive and unfair tax. At £142.50 a year (less than £3 a week) the licence fee is amazing value for all the radio, TV and web content that the BBC provides. I'd pay a lot more, so shouldn't I pay a subscription service? But why should people less well off than me miss out on the highest quality programming and journalism? Something as important as the culture and news of the nation should be available equally to all. It's healthy to have one place that the nation turns to to debate issues and in a crisis. Yes, the licence fee is a regressive tax, but it's one of the few transparent, ring fenced taxes we have. This makes it an easy target when people want a moan, but actually the form of funding for the BBC is a big strength. A few people may opt out of the BBC like they opt out of the state education and health system. But as a nation everyone benefits from people getting free health, education and accurate information and so everyone has to pay their tax for these services including the licence fee.

3) The BBC is biased. Yes it is. It isn't left wing or right wing, but it does have a liberal slant. It reflects the views of a metropolitan London upper middle class. But so does every other newspaper in the country. However, unlike almost every other newspaper or TV station in the country it does set out to be impartial, which gets it further than most. And over the last 10 years it has worked hard to regionalise and diversify what it does. Again this has benefits for everyone including commercial operators as many presenters who got a start with the BBC move networks in due course. The controversial move of Radio 5 Live to Manchester is a good example of a hugely difficult thing to do, but will have long term benefits.

It's time to challenge the lie that the BBC must be offered up to the great god of money making consumerism. It would benefit no-one apart from a few very wealthy and powerful media magnates who would then dominate and filter the information and news we receive and rely on. Media magnates are accountable not to the nation, but their shareholders.

We can moan to the BBC and contact our elected politicians and they must listen – we need to use that power wisely so that we can take pride in a healthy and robust BBC that we can enjoy in our daily lives.

Photo: The high priest, James Murdoch.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, the BBC is amazing and must be somehow be preserved, even if the next government have sold their souls to Murdoch. Given that I would pay the whole licence fee for Radio 4 alone, I guess I can just about live with them wasting so much of it on Jonathan Ross.

    But the licence fee is a very regressive tax. I've never understood why they aren't funded with a fixed, ring-fenced grant from the government from general taxation. It could be set at about 142 quid per household. If it was renewed every 10 years just like the licence fee is at the moment and there was a law to prevent the government pinching some of it back every time they had a hard time on the Today programme then the BBC would be just as impartial, but the administrative savings would be huge. You could abolish all the TV detector vans, inspectors, call centres, warning letters and stop sending single mothers to prison for not paying.