Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: BBC / Media

We Have the Technology; It’s Time to Kill the BBC Licence Fee

BBC Television Centre

BBC: So good you have to pay for it ... or else

Next year the TV licence fee will become technologically obsolete. The switchover to digital TV will be completed and the final technological barrier to moving the BBC onto a discretionary subscription funding model will be removed. (Whether or not that model should also include advertising is a related but separate debate.)

So why should the licence fee, which has existed for 89 years, be scrapped? Supporters of the ‘BBC tax’ will cite a number of reasons including the low cost, guarantee of independence, freedom to innovate, the enabling of the corporation to produce programming for minority tastes and the provision of public service broadcasting.

So let’s take each of these in turn.

That the BBC is cheaper than, say, a Sky subscription is undoubtedly true. After all, when you are able to charge all customers – including those of your competitors – for your product then the cost of your service can be spread more widely. Whether it provides value for money is a different matter, and is ultimately a subjective one. The acid test of this proposition must be to allow viewers to choose to receive the BBC and pay for it. Here the supporters of the licence fee are faced with a fundamental question that I have not yet heard an answer to; viz. if the BBC is that good, and offers such value for money, there should be nothing to fear from asking people to pay for it. Or, to put it another way:

If the BBC is so good, why do they need to force people to pay for it?

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Those Crazy Americans on @theJeremyVine Show: Another Balanced Debate from The BBC

Aerial view of the White House in Washington, D.C.

The United States: not European enough apparently ... you can't see a single Greek rioter anywhere.

Yesterday’s Jeremy Vine show had a discussion on “What has gone wrong with the USA?”. Though ostensibly a discussion about the current federal debt crisis, I can’t help thinking that in the programme’s planning the rather broader premise of the question was barely queried.

This could still have been an engaging debate – even with the time restrictions imposed by the show’s easily digestible puréed format which shoehorns four topics and music into less than two hours, leaving little time for the sort of audience engagement that listeners of ‘proper’ (sorry, Jeremy) phone-in shows allow. Sadly, though, one is left distracted by the BBC disease: a lack of impartiality almost to the point of failing to “educate and inform”.

First up was Justin Webb, the BBC’s former Washington correspondent, who quickly settled into a caricature of the U.S. that we have become familiar with from the BBC. Within seconds he had mentioned Sarah Palin and “rootin’ tootin’ huntin’ fishin’” types not wanting anything to do with the federal government. How ungrateful these people are, he opined, given how much the federal government had spent on them. Americans, he said, “don’t really understand the extent to which, in a modern society, you need the government to spend money” … they were not “willing to pay for it”, he lectured.

America needs to become “more modern and European”, said Webb, without a hint of irony or clue that he’d actually been aware of the economic hurricane over the Euro-zone. (Perhaps, like so many, he had been more focussed on the media’s navel-gazing and BBC’s Murdoch gloatfest of recent weeks.)

Then, in a statement that would have struck a sweet chord with so many Marchers for the Alternative, Webb pointed out that the U.S. national debt was not that high, as a percentage of GDP.

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Again We Say, “What About the BBC?”

It’s heartening to know it’s not a lonely furrow I’m ploughing. Far more respectable names than I have been writing about the double standards being demonstrated by those challenging News International’s ‘dominance’; Murdoch’s bad empire needs dismantling, says Ed Miliband for one, while a far less accountable (to their consumers) media empire is left untouched in the form of the BBC.

Melanie Philips and John Redwood, among others, have made much the same point as I did last week. No-one is suggesting that the BBC were guilty of some of the more despicable acts that the NOTW or other titles (within and without News International) got up to, though in the not too distant past the Beeb has hardly acted like the pinnacle of quality and ethical journalism it would like to think it is. However, if you’re going to set a threshold for what is ‘too powerful’ then it has to be consistently applied, for who is to tell if power that is currently wielded for ‘good’ will not be turned to ‘bad’ in the future?

(Update: A deserved link to Bill Quango MP’s effort at Capitalists@Work)

‘A picture paints a thousand words’, so here’s some pie:

Not to Grauniad Datablog standards, but you get the idea.


The BBC: Never Mind the Facts, Stick to the Script

If I were to highlight every bit of bias I hear or saw on the BBC it would take a whole separate dedicated blog. Fortunately there already is one, and the team there are doing a far better job than I could manage. Even so, I’ll add my two penn’orth here.

Today saw the release of the latest unemployment figures. Overall, unemployment was down, but the dole count was up. A mixed picture, to be fair, and thus the room for biased interpretation is greater. However, and critically, the government has started shifting people who can work from incapacity benefit to jobseeker’s allowance, so a rise in those signing on would be expected, and this would certainly go a long way to explaining the apparent discrepancy between the two statistics.

So, how have the BBC fulfilled their role to educate and inform in an impartial fashion? In their usual modern way, which is to say they have abandoned all pretence of impartiality.

The line on most BBC radio bulletins today, so far, has run thus:

– Unemployment is down

– But the numbers claiming jobseeker’s allowance are up

– Here’s a clip of Liam “There’s no Money Left” Byrne saying this is terrible and shows how the government’s economic and fiscal policies aren’t working.

– [next news item]

What’s that? Someone from the government side to provide balance? Sorry, no time, have to fit in more about News International’s and The Mirror’s involvement in ‘phone hacking. Anyway, public spending cuts are bad for the economy and this proves it, it’s all in the script, right there, the bit in Ed Ball’s handwriting…

Contrast to one of those dreadful commercial stations, like Planet Rock, whose news bulletins (syndicated from the evil Sky) included Chris Grayling explaining the point about incapacity benefit claimants.

In other news, politicians, the BBC and left leaning media continue to work hard to ensure that one single organisation cannot exert too much control (and, thus, potentially dangerous biased influence) over too large a share of the media market, because that would be very bad.

Do Lib Dems Back Break-up Of The BBC?

Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat peer and close ally of Cable, said: “Liberal Democrats from the cabinet to councillors to Focus deliverers are totally united. We want to … break up the BBC empire.

“It’s far too powerful – we don’t let Tesco have over 35% of the market. This is not just about blocking the bid, it’s about ending a serious danger to our democracy.”

Yes, I’ll ‘fess up, I’ve done a bit of a Hari on his Lordship’s words there. He was, of course, talking about Rupert Murdoch’s bid to control BSkyB, not Auntie Beeb, and the Tesco reference was to 40% market share (the supermarket’s current share is around the 30% mark). The 35% I inserted is, of course, the BBC’s audience share (including 1.7% for it’s 50% share in UKTV, jointly owned with Virgin).

The point, I hope, is clear though. If a market share of more than a third is deemed to be ‘too much’ by those in government or opposition, then fair’s fair: state-owned businesses should be bound by the same criteria – more strict criteria even, given that, unlike NewsCorp’s businesses, the BBC is not exposed to the same natural regulation of the market – i.e. it’s customers. Go on, try un-subscribing to the BBC, and see how far you get without breaking the law.

The Hastened Demise of the News of The World: What If It Had Been The BBC?

So farewell – or good riddance – the News of the Screws. While it initially seemed to be a victory for the anti-Murdoch hordes on Twitter and rival media empires, it seems that the closure re-branding of the NOTW was pre-planned. Even so, it is clear that the plans have had to be drastically accelerated by the phone hacking storm.

Yet consider this thought experiment: suppose that a branch of another powerful media organisation had been guilty of such criminal and unethical practices. Suppose they had been found guilty of exploiting the vulnerable for a good story. If a bad apple hack or rogue investigator at, say, the BBC had done this sort of thing, what could we expect to happen?

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the ...

Thank Goodness for Auntie

One would expect a storm from the rest of the media, debates in Parliament calling for heads or demands for major reform or even closure of the guilty channel or of BBC itself – including veiled gloating from the likes of Sky. One would expect an apology, maybe a resignation, then … errm, what?

Could a significant number of subscribers to the BBC cancel their direct debits in protest? They could, but they would risk, ultimately, imprisonment.

Could other market forces be brought to bear in the form of advertisers pulling their business from the Beeb? Apart from the BBC itself running irritating adverts for itself or the licence fee, there are of course no advertisements anyway. This non-commercialism, as we know, is a Good Thing because it preserves the BBC’s arrogance independence and protects it from the voice of its customers evil free market.

So, in other words, apart from some sideways shuffling or early retirements of token scapegoats, we would see little else apart from going through the usual motions of reviews and enquiries.

Of course, the BBC’s ethical credentials are impeccable so this is all purely academic. Even so, thanks to the special way the BBC is funded, we can be sure that there will always be one media behemoth that will continue to trample the opposition and apparently be the envy of the world.

Prince Philip At 90 … And the BBC Still Doesn’t Get It

Prince Philip, Patron Saint of the Harmlessly Politically Incorrect

Prince Philip, Patron Saint of the Harmlessly Politically Incorrect

I am pleased that the first post of this blog should be to mark the fact that the Duke of Edinburgh is 90 today. I wish a very happy birthday to His Royal Highness. One of the few of us who can speak his mind, exercise some old-fashioned no-nonsense officers’ mess humour and get away with it … unless you write a blog under a pseudonym, I guess.

Now a Royal event involving Prince Philip is too good an opportunity to miss for the BBC who, true to form, have done a fine job today of reflecting the views of the British public banging the anti-monarchist drum. On Radio 2 this lunchtime, Jeremy Vine has some republican whose name I cannot be bothered to look up, facing off against Peter Oborne.

Have they not learnt from the Queen Mother’s death, or the Royal Nuptials of last April? In both cases they got it wrong, thinking it a good time to give a leg up to miserable and humourless republicans. Are they really sure that such a minority viewpoint should get so much airtime? Can you possibly imagine them giving a spokesman for Better Off Out or the People’s Pledge – movements which represent a far greater constituency among popular opinion – getting behind a BBC microphone every time some news came out of Brussels?

You’d never know that recent polls have shown a vast majority in favour of the monarchy. Of course, where the pollsters went wrong was not conducting the survey within 400 yards of Broadcasting House (or Shepherd’s Bush, or wherever up north they’ve sent the Beeboids).

Whatever. 90 years of upsetting Lefties? That has to be worth celebrating. Congratulations, sir.