Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The BBC makes its case

The BBC is in the process of negotiating with the government over the renewal of its charter, which includes the pernicious TV “license fee”. Naturally, the Beeb is looking for an increase in the tax. Yesterday the BBC website posted a Q&A on the future of the BBC, which I think deserves some comment.
The unique way the BBC is paid for and governed means it is owned by the British people and accountable to them.
Actually it means it is owned by no one, and the British people, on their own, can do little to hold it to account, for if they refuse to fork over their money they go to jail, regardless of any objections they may have to the way the BBC operates.
Some think the BBC has been too occupied with ratings-chasing populist programmes and its public service role should be more clearly defined and imposed.
This is the unavoidable dilemma of the BBC if commercial broadcasters are allowed to exist. If it competes for viewers with other broadcasters by producing programs that the public at large actually wants to watch, then it is demonstrably not providing a service that commercial players can’t or won’t provide. But if it eschews ratings to fulfill its inaptly named “public service” (read: elitist) role, then it is demonstrably not serving the public at large that is forced to pay for it.
On top of the everyday output, BBC supporters say a healthy, independent public broadcaster is vital to a vibrant, well-informed country.
Oddly, no mention of what BBC detractors say. Funny, that.
The corporation says its role is to provide high-quality, creative and trustworthy services for everyone that other broadcasters cannot always provide because of commercial pressures.
Can anyone think of an example of such a service “for everyone” that cannot be provided by someone else due to “commercial pressures”?
The BBC also says it exists to investigate and challenge those in authority on behalf of the British people.
What makes the BBC think it is uniquely placed to do this? It strikes me, given that its existence is dependent upon those in authority, that it is instead uniquely subject to suspicion on this front.
The future of the BBC, as the UK's largest broadcaster, is also vital for the country's media industry. For example, the charter looks likely to give more work to independent production companies.
Oh, well, that’s OK then. Tax us all in order to provide income to production companies. Perhaps the government should use tax monies to create the UK’s largest clothing store, thus becoming “vital” to the textile industry.
BBC TV ratings have declined as multi-channel viewing, through services such as Sky Digital and Freeview, has become more popular.
In other words, as the BBC’s monopoly on broadcasting has waned, others are providing more and more of those previously mentioned services which supposedly couldn’t be offered due to “commercial pressures”.

The case for a state-mandated, tax-funded purveyor of news and entertainment has always been weak. It only gets more so as time passes.


Anonymous Deckchair of despair said...

Good analysis! You show that their arguments range all the way from woolly and unconvincing to completely non-existent. Sadly, the standard of most public debate in this country (on any subject) - stupid or dishonest, or both - is like this, and is to me one of the most depressing features of modern life, so congratulations to you for exposing this particular corner of it.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous David H said...

"The BBC also says it exists to investigate and challenge those in authority on behalf of the British people."

This is certainly the most pernicious argument in favour of the BBC. It's very similar to the John Humphrys statement about his job being to hold the government and similar authorities to account. Of course their job is nothing of the sort - their job is to present the news in an impartial and unbiased way. As soon as you start talking about 'holding authorities to account' you are giving up your position of impartiality and entering into a partisan debate.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Vol Abroad said...

I have no problem with the BBC holding government to account - in the sense of asking those in power to render an account to the media of what they've been up to with the media's responsibility to share it with the rest of us in a reasonably unbiased way.

Course that's not what happens.

My sense is the BBC is far less willing to hold this Labour government to account than they were in the dwindling days of the Major Government. Since Iraq, the Beeb has been a bit more critical, but in the early days they were clearly some major sycophantic-lust-like relationship with New Labour.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous avaroo said...

The BBC gives itself away when it says it exists to investigate and "challenge" authority. Investigating is fine, that's what reputable media is supposed to do, investigate and REPORT, not investigate and CHALLENGE.

Challenging authority is the responsibility of the people, not the media. And it's well past time for the BBC to give up the charade that it is impartial and has no political agenda.

4:33 PM  

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