Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

The BBC Needs More Than The Kid Glove Treatment

Yesterday, the BBC offered to cut off its own arm finger in an effort to assuage its critics. The BBC Asian and 6 Music radio stations are to close. Some have suggested that, despite its best efforts to bring about a different result, the Beeb is expecting a Conservative government after May which will freeze the licence fee.

The Tories, for our part, are talking about making the BBC publish details of top executives’ and presenters’ pay. This is in keeping with similar policies in other parts of government and state organisations. Fair enough, as far as it goes.

As a critic of the BBC – not necessarily of its output, but the way it is funded and operates – I support the policy, but suspect it’s about as far as Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Secretary for Culture and Stuff, can really go at the moment. The Conservative party is not united on the subject of the BBC licence fee. There are those, like me, who think it is an anachronistic method of financing a corporation that the state has no business in owning. At the other end of the spectrum are those who seem to believe that, because it produces what they like to watch/listen to, everyone should be forced to pay for it – it’s for their own intellectual good.

Forcing publication of pay details is a bit like the old trick of calling for a public enquiry. It enables you to be bombastic and vocal about a policy that would otherwise split your own ranks, but without having to come off the fence until the political ramifications are clearer, hopefully after the next election.

Well, let me repeat what I would do: in 2012 the digital TV rollout will be complete. There are many channels on the digital bands that earn revenue from their subscriptions – Sky being the most obvious, but many others too. Can you see where I’m going here?

If the BBC is such fantastic value for money already, what have the Beeb got to be afraid of? If the BBC is so good, why does it need to force people to pay for it?

Just before we start getting sniffy about commercial breaks, why couldn’t the BBC’s unique selling point continue to be the lack of intrusive commercials? (Of course, they could start straight away with cutting down on commercials for the BBC, including all those programme plugs masquerading as news items.) The lucrative overseas markets and programme-related merchandising could continue and flourish alongside the adoption of product placement, freed from the resistance to the same that arises from the BBC’s publicly funded status.

Oh, and of course, privatise it. State-owned broadcasters are the toys of one party states and banana republics. Despite Labour’s best efforts I don’t think we’re quite in that league (yet), but there is a small matter of a public deficit that needs dealing with.

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