Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Tories And The BBC

There have been rumblings in recent weeks that Cameron, if elected, is set to do something, though it's not clear what, about the BBC. The Mirror jerked their scaremongering ruby red knee to a piece by Dan Hannan as proof positive that it is to be scrapped if the Tories win power, but then when has Cameron ever listened to Hannan?

If, however, there is to be some sort of move against Maiden Auntie Beeb by the Tories, there shouldn't really be much rational complaint. But then, as Hannan continually illustrates, the British do have a tendency to hang on to inefficient 'institutions' even when they are well past their prime.

Funding any broadcaster via a licence fee is hopelessly outdated and has been since we advanced beyond three TV channels and strictly controlled airwaves. What's more, in some cases, the BBC itself is stifled by the burden of internal regulation not expected of its competitors.


There is no longer, for example, any need for content guidelines for the public good. The BBC, as I understand it, is supposed to offer a wide range of programming to reflect all tastes while adhering to guidelines on quality. There must be a quota of educational output, a certain amount of news and, of course, shows which reflect cultural diversity.

However, any of the above, which government at one time (a long time ago) decided we should be offered, is both easily avoided now we have hundreds of channels, whilst simultaneously readily available if that is truly what we wish to watch.

You want to watch wildlife? There are entire weeks of sharks on Discovery. You don't want to see animals at all? Just glue yourself to MTV all day. You want news? There are a dozen channels. You hate news? Well, the BBC being forced to show it isn't going to make you more aware of your surroundings while Dave is pumping out wall to wall sitcoms. Ethnic programming? Tons of it around now, the BBC is one of many. If you like it, you'll find it.

And since freeview, all that the Beeb offer is now available without subscription. The analogue switch off renders my argument even more valid.


We're way past the days where the BBC offered anything particularly notable to justify a fee on every one of us. Once pirate radio stations began gaining acceptance and their own licencing, the BBC were in a free market (or should have been) for music, and Radio 1 competes with an unfair national advantage. In London, LBC were for a long time a better news source than the BBC but had to find their own funding via advertisers which Radio 4 didn't need to do. The advent of Radio 5 just made the disparity even more unfair.

There may well be an argument to be made for the world service, but how many ex-pats pay a licence fee?


There is supposedly a requirement for impartiality ... yeah, if you say so. If the higher echelons of the BBC truly believe that they are fulfilling their obligation in that regard, then it must be pretty shoddy journalism which results in daily outpourings of execrable guff.


Does the BBC do anything substantially better than Channel 4? Both beholden to quality standards, yet Channel 4 does it without the need for a licence fee. See, it can be done.


The biggest downside to an institution which relies on a universal flat fee is that of interference. Andrew Gilligan and Jonathan Ross loom large. Much of what I have previously mentioned can be swept away at whim of government, as evidence by Gilligan, and ingenuity can be stifled as shown with the fallout after the Jonathan Ross affair. Where other channels are able to defend themselves, the BBC is forced to curl up in a ball when challenged, and ultimately the result is always that output is compromised. BBC internal rules are now so convoluted and restrictive that I'd be surprised if Mark Thompson feels relaxed enough to fart in his own office.


And what if the licence fee is scrapped? Would EastEnders die tomorrow? Quite the contrary as, shorn of a guaranteed income stream, it would need to uphold high standards to remain a BBC production. Viewing figures like that would attract envious eyes and offers of increased investment. Would quality suffer? Not really, there would still be obligations as imposed on Channel 4, it's just that we wouldn't be asked to pay for it. Would impartiality be prejudiced? It would be nice if there was some to start with.

Most importantly, would the BBC become better? I think it would. More streamlined, more in tune with the public mood, whilst less lackadaisical and wasteful, as would be required if it was forced to compete on an equal footing with other broadcasters.

The BBC is always going to be a potent brand and, divorced from the straitjacket of the fee, can be even more of a force. It might even be able to buy some decent sport once in a while.

If rumours are correct, it would be eminently sensible for the Tories to look seriously at scrapping the licence fee. It would mean a £140 pre-election gift to all but a few households in the country, but is Cameron brave enough to take on the challenge?

Yes, I see the flaw now.


Oldrightie said...

I'll settle for impartial.

Reason said...

"There may well be an argument to be made for the world service, but how many ex-pats pay a licence fee?"

The World Service is funded by the Foreign Office not the licence fee.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Reason: Thanks for that. Even better, scrapping the licence fee wouldn't affect those outside of the UK, either.

All good. :-)

Reason said...

"BBC World Service is funded by the UK government through Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid. The Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It is not subsidised by the Licence Fee."


Angry Exile said...

I was always up for a bit of BBC bashing over the licence fee but while I still agree that it's out of date and unreasonable I'd like to sound a note of caution. You do at least have the choice not to pay it by getting rid of the goggle box altogether (there are also non-approved methods of course), although the bastards probably won't believe you and will hassle you for money until you're finally able to convince them. This may be the better known devil when compared against the alternative funding of The Mouth - straight out of general taxation as with the upside down version of Auntie. The Aussies ditched the licence fee in the 70s but Auntie gets $800 million of our money, or in the region of 100 bucks a year per household. I have a slight problem with this since rounded to the nearest whole hour our weekly viewing of ABC output is very roughly fuck all. Not only that but, unlike the UK, we'd still have to pay if we got rid of the idiot's lantern. Subscription is the only way to go (and if they'd just fucking do it I'd subscribe to some of their stuff as an alternative to some of the arse vomit on commercial networks here).

But all this is moot isn't it? Cameron not only doesn't have the minerals to change it but as PM he'd have more incentive to try and make it sing his tunes than make it survive on it's own.

ArronC07 said...

If you look at how much rival channels cost you in extra cost on the products sold in shops, the equivalent BBC channel costs you less. I'd vote Tory if it wasn't for the fact that they've got into bed with Rupert Murdoch and as such have sold out our cultural heritage to the bidding of a foreign media owner who only wants the BBC removed so we spend our money with him instead.

The BBC should be protected and the real threat to our media sector and our way of life, Murdoch, should be reigned in...... some hope of that happening.