Is Auntie Really On Her Death Bed?

There are few institutions in British society so loved as the BBC. It is surprising then, that culture secretary John Whittingdale has had the audacity to present to parliament a green paper outlining potential changes in the future scale and scope of the BBC. The organisation is undoubtedly the relic of a bygone era, especially the archaic and arbitrary way that it is funded. Yet, having a debate about this large and successful media giant, presents a world of possibilities about the future relationship between Britain’s public institutions and an impatient cash-strapped public.

I have a confession to make, I actually quite like the BBC. I don’t often watch much telly, but when I do it is usually a BBC programme. I think that some of the documentaries on BBC4 are great. Furthermore, my Thursday nights wouldn’t be the same without the ritual of sitting back and being reliably outraged about what various politicians are saying on Question Time. My morning drive to work is usually accompanied by the Today Show and my journey home allows me to catch up on the day’s news with PM. I must also admit that I often rely on the BBC NEWS app on my phone to deliver my ‘breaking news’ if not the analysis. I love the RADIO 1 Rock Show and the Punk Show and genuinely got very into the Bake-Off this year. If the license fee was abolished tomorrow, the chances are that I would be one of the millions of people subscribing to a newly privatised BBC.

It already looks like the BBC approving public have taken up defensive positions. The Conservative’s insistence that the license fee be scrapped for over 75s has been a sudden and intrusive act of vandalism in the eyes of aunties’ most ardent supporters. On RADIO 4’s Moral Maze this week, Giles Fraser vociferously lamented the delinquency of ’conservatives who don’t want to conserve anything’, ripping the heart out the British community and accused the IEA’s Ryan Bourne of ‘free market fundamentalism’.

In the eyes of many free-market folk, the new challenge to the broadcasting behemoth is a welcome one. Yet, a closer look at the facts about Whittingdale’s green paper reveals that it is much less radical than many of us expected. It would appear the panel tasked with assessing the BBC is made up of representatives from private broadcasting organisations and industry experts, surely a clear statement of intent that the BBC is going to be carved up? Not quite, what strikes me about the green paper is how cautious it is. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that in true Cameronesque style, the Tories are talking tough but won’t end up delivering anything remotely radical. I predict that as soon as Whittingdale’s pals in the broadcasting industry are appeased, he will renew the royal charter with little alteration.

This is unfortunate, however with any luck this could be a much needed watershed moment. It is quite clear that the modern BBC goes well beyond the remit for a ‘public service’ broadcaster. Something about news readers having celebrity status and managers with sky-high salaries should make license fee payers wince as they cough up a mandatory £145 every year. It’s quite clear that the BBC wants to be a slick global broadcasting empire, like CNN or Al Jazeera, and I am quite happy to let that happen…but not with taxpayers’ money.

In fact, I would argue that the BBC could have the potential to be a commercialised miracle. Part of the reason why privatisation has such a bad name in Britain is because it has been done so badly. However, with a globally recognised and prestigious brand, a privatised BBC doesn’t have to be a ‘fire sale’; it could be a grand unleashing. Furthermore, as Allister Heath and Ryan Bourne have suggested, in the short term the government could easily provide funding for ‘public service’ programming on a case by case basis. But a blanket license fee in the digital age is clearly unjust.

Another aspect of what will inevitably become a game of political football is the snobbery shown by some supporters of the BBC. I am referring to the idea that without public funding, programmes about philosophy, classical music or obscure melodramas simply couldn’t exist. I would ask people who hold such views to visit their nearest corner shop, and stare at the magazine rack. Despite printed media being one of the most competitive industries in the country, there is no shortage of highbrow reading. For every copy of Nuts, The Daily Star and Closer; there is National Geographic, The Financial Times and Private Eye. I believe that this view held by many; is snobbish nihilism of the worst kind, that the masses requires rivers of freely flowing taxpayers money to have enlightening material rammed down their throats, it is truly absurd.

The real losers of the BBC’s review will be the people who want to see the organisation crushed and humiliated. The Murdoch press, Guido Fawkes fans and anyone who has ever said ‘The British Bolshevik Corporation’ will be disappointed by John Whittingdale’s assessment. I would also like to add here that we shouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about the Culture Secretary giving the BBC a bloody nose, reducing one part of government whilst expanding another couldn’t be described as much of a victory.

On the BBCisation of the world

In the Telegraph Douglas Carswell neatly skewers the bias and short sightedness of the BBC  The BBC love of unconditional welfare, migration and the EU is all consuming and blind. Once he’s done eviscerating their record, he stops to wonder:

If we had state regulation of the press, the BBC would be free to carry on recycling its establishment clichés. But newspapers would find themselves having to answer to the same sort of grandees that preside over the BBC. Is that really what we want to see?

Christmas or poultry?

Over on Samizdata a discussion about turkeys failing comprehensively to vote for Christmas. The turkey here being the BBC, and Christmas meaning austerity with regards to welfare payments. Nothing new here, but I liked this comment by Pat:

why doesn’t the government propose that the license fee be diverted to benefits for the poor- the BBC response should be good for a laugh.

Actually that might be more than good for a laugh. That could actually reframe the debate.  More precisely, a policy proposal that forced people to consider a choice between something they want and something they always ask for might force the debate in the direction of “well who should really get to decide”, and the answer is of course, to each his own.

Now, this strategy would work better, I expect, if the proposal were not so obviously extreme and mean spiritied towards the nations most-watched broadcaster. Are there any other policy proposals that force this kind of choice to get debated?

Taking Hayek in vain

Well, my hopes weren’t high. I made it to the 16th minute of the BBC’s documentary on Friedrich Hayek, before having to switch it off. I challenge anyone to do better than that.

What we are dealing with is a documentary formula, into which Hayek’s life and work has been stuffed. The particular formula is the one they use for pioneering scientists who discover bacteria or something like that, and the need is to stress just how isolated and way-out the fellow was considered by everybody else. That might be fine for doing the mathematician who cracked Fermat’s Last Theorem, and may lend itself to atmospheric long-shots of the presenter walking through empty courtyards and down echoing corridors, but Friedrich Hayek was not a man working alone, and his ideas built on the ideas of other earlier and contemporary economists. I kept waiting for the name Ludwig von Mises to crop up, and it never did. It’s kind of hard to discuss Hayek’s early years in Vienna without once mentioning Mises. The final straw came when the presenter described his work at the Institute of Business Cycle Research which was founded with Mises at the Chamber of Commerce where Mises worked, and where he held his legendary seminars, which Hayek attended, and even then she could not bear to utter Mises’ name. The following is far from a perfect analogy, but it’s like watching a documentary about Mark Antony with no mention of Caesar.

The documentary is from a three-part series called ‘Masters of Money’. The other two parts feature Keynes and Marx. Somehow I figure the Beeb may be in far more familiar territory with these two, especially the last one, although how he can be considered as a master of money, is a mystery, unless it is referring to his incredible talent to leech off his friends, followers and family to fund his decadent, bourgeois life of leisure.

All I can say, is thank goodness we don’t have to rely on the BBC to (mis-) inform us anymore.

The Licence Fee Just Ain’t Enough For The Beeb…

Well it would seem the Beeb are not content with using the full force of the State to rob us in return for some pretty mediocre content. And a second rate F1 service. Now they want to sell us the content we’ve already been forced to pay for…

BBC director general Mark Thompson has confirmed that the Corporation plans to launch a paid for iTunes-style download service, which will allow viewers to buy programmes just after they have aired.

He told the Guardian that the idea, dubbed Project Barcelona, will allow viewers to “purchase a digital copy of a programme to own and keep [for] a relatively modest charge”.

There are no details as to when the service will launch, but there is speculation that the charge for BBC downloads could be around £1.89 per show.

The move is part of Thompson’s plan for the BBC to generate additional revenues to support the licence fee on top of its commercial operations.

I have one question, If the Beeb want to fund themselves in a commercial manner why can’t we drop the TV tax and let them do it..?

Or is that not the point..? Does Mark Thompson just want as much money as he can get so he can fund more crap like BBC 3 and 4, instead of the F1. The latter providing me with at least a sense of value from the TV Tax…