” To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise” Voltaire
” In a liberal society, the government should provide only “public goods” that the market cannot or will not provide if left to its own devices … Arguments for public broadcasting now rest on emotion or self-interest ” Adam Creighton writing in The Australian about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The BBC’s charter review is under way but why should we have a public broadcaster in the 21st century? What is its purpose? And if the decision is to keep the BBC, what form should it take going forward and how can it be effectively controlled and regulated?
These are the current six purposes of the BBC in its Royal Charter: 1. Sustaining Citizenship 2.Promoting Education 3.Stimulating Creativity 4. Representing the UK 5.Bringing the UK to the world and vice versa 6. Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications.
This is an extremely comprehensive remit for an organisation with no accountability to the electorate and with no control over its political bias.
” The BBC is a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large ” All this he said “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC” Attributed to Andrew Marr in the Biased BBC website
There appears to be no prospect of returning to the fair minded and non-partisan ideals upon which the corporation was founded as is there no sign that it wishes to empathise with the UK’s silent majority’s views, loyalties or concerns. There’s talk of developing more personal, audience focused content in its programmes but when on air, current affairs viewers and listeners are “educated and informed” as per the ruling BBC ethos, e.g. global warming is not up for debate, Israel is always a villain, remaining in the EU is essential (as was joining the Euro), public spending cuts mean austerity, political parties other than Labour and the Lib Dems are the enemy, etc., etc. The in-house attitudinal problem also includes a history of arrogance coupled with a total disregard for loyalty to the UK. For example, it was recently revealed that during The Falklands campaign, guidelines issued to BBC staff by management required that reports were to remain neutral because “We are not Britain. We are the BBC”
” They were sometimes reporting as if they were neutral between Britain and Argentina. At other times we felt strongly that they were assisting the enemy by open discussions with experts on the next likely steps in the campaign. My concern was always the safety of our forces. Theirs was news” Margaret Thatcher
There’s also the unhealthy relationship with The Guardian, a loss-making left-wing newspaper with a rapidly diminishing circulation. The paper is used as a reference point for news stories; its journalists regularly appear on BBC programmes and it’s the publication of choice for advertising BBC job vacancies.
“In the later stages of my career [at the BBC], I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told “it’s all in there”.” Peter Sissons, BBC News anchor for 20 years.
Then there’s the lack of commercial efficiency or competence. There was the Digital Media Initiative shambles which wasted over £100 million before it was scrapped (the executive responsible for it was paid £290,000 a year plus bonus). And what about the Top Gear fiasco? Worldwide revenue from this programme was reported at in excess of £150 million a year but management felt compelled to fire the Top Gear’s mainstay after an altercation, despite his global popularity. And of course there’s been the widely reported massive and unnecessary termination payments to managers caught up in the cross fire of BBC scandals. The list goes on. At the back of this is licence fee (television tax) income of over three billion pounds and there’s even a move to make it payable by people who don’t have TVs but who may watch BBC material on computers, iPads, etc. The fact that it’s mandatory and guaranteed makes it easy to understand why there’s no urgency within the corporation to (a) make sure that the majority of its subscribers are satisfied with the service and (b) increase efficiency and cut costs.
” …they [the BBC] are heavily overstaffed, there are too many jobsworths and the organisation is not run in a manner that a commercial organisation would be…” Lord Sugar addressing the House of Lords
Nobody denies that the BBC is a world class broadcaster and is exceptionally good at a broad range of programmes, especially in the natural history, drama and light entertainment categories. It just needs to re-set its priorities to avoid needless criticism.
The BBC’s mission statement is “to inform, educate and entertain”. In its adopted number one public purpose, Sustaining Citizenship, it intends to focus on “providing an in-depth explanation of the most significant issues facing the UK and the world (such as the Middle East, global terrorism, climate change, public service reform, crime and immigration). Rather than pursuing some kind of quest to disseminate its own agenda, the BBC needs to focus on its strengths and weaknesses. It needs completely restructuring. As Alan Sugar stated “There is a need for a more commercial approach with an experienced board of directors…” The first step should be to draw up a three year plan financed with the current level of licence fee followed by detailed progress monitoring and reporting. If the plan targets are not met then the BBC should be scaled back to a core entertainment and news service with a reduced licence fee and independent external supervision. In the 21st century, the future of terrestrial TV is under serious threat from entertainment services provided via the internet and the BBC must radically adapt if it is to be a key player in this new challenging marketplace.
Focused on its strengths and appealing to the majority of the population, an entertainment driven, non-biased, commercially disciplined BBC would definitely be a vote winner with UK audiences.