Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: BBC

Nick and Cut

Coming soon on the free-to-air BBC:

The BBC’s Nick Robinson reveals what happened when the residents of an ordinary street in Lancashire had to run everything for themselves .

Ponder instead how you’d do if you had to run not the whole country but just your own street.

What if you didn’t have a budget but each house had to decide how much to spend on what?

Like a budget, then.

What if you had to organise and pay for the everyday things we take for granted: the bin collection, the recycling, the street lights

Errm, we already pay for them.  This is sounding like it was written by someone who works where other people pay for everything.

If so, come and join me on The Street That Cut Everything – that’s the title of a programme to be shown on BBC1 next week.

The residents weren’t paid for taking part, but they were given back their council tax money for those six weeks to spend – not on themselves but on the needs of their community.

OK, but council tax only accounts for typically a quarter to a third of councils’ income. Why not given them back three times that much to make it more realistic?

You might think that life wouldn’t change that much if the council closed down…

Shift workers woke early to find their street in total darkness…

Not quite “without government the sun wouldn’t rise”, but close.

Children emerged earlier than usual. They could no longer get the bus to school

Because bus services can only be run by councils, you know.

Those who fancied a trip to the local leisure centre to get away from the rubbish and the endless meetings and the cameras found their way barred: it’s run by the council.

… and so on.

I know that some will assert that the programme’s title shows that the BBC has an anti-cuts agenda.

Not just the title, Nick, but anyway … admittedly it would be difficult to believe that the state funded BBC could produce such a programme without having, if not an anti-cuts agenda, then certainly a pro-statist one. Thus so it would seem, with it peddling the idea that such services as leisure centres could not exist without the council to run them. It is part of the wider mindset that if the state doesn’t do it, then no-one will do it. They used to think that about telephone networks once.

Naturally the experiment, from the sound of it, will bear little resemblance to what a properly organised scaling-back of government services, replaced by community-organised efforts stretching beyond a cul-de-sac could achieve (given enough of a lead time). Nor do most, even of the classical liberal tendency, seriously suggest that there should be no government, as the “you libertarians ought to try living in Somalia” commentators from the collectivist Left might like to suggest.

However, whatever the institutional bias at play, it should be an interesting examination of ordinary council taxpayers people’s ideas about (local) government and the work of politicians, council officers and staff. I will reserve my final judgement (for what it is worth!), until then.

Of course, if it’s successful they could always make a sequel; how about a street that did without the BBC …


Well, Auntie Beeb, You Know The Answer …

Cue violins…

The BBC is struggling to hire senior managers because it can no longer offer the bumper pay packets of its commercial rivals, the corporation’s director-general complained yesterday.

My loyal reader may recall me mentioning before about how the BBC pay row was proving a diversion from the fundamental issue of how the Beeb is funded. However, this latest statement from Mark Thompson actually adds to the argument for freeing the BBC from the strait-jacket of state funding.

It is quite possible that the commercial world is offering higher pay than the public sector, as much in broadcasting (even where the market is dominated by the BBC) as any other sector. Though the gap in crude pay levels may have narrowed in the last decade or so, working in the public sector has always been regarded as having additional benefits such as pensions (even if the Hutton proposals go through) and job security (which is still greater than in the private sector).

If, though, the BBC behemoth is finding it harder to fill key positions then it rather gives the lie to the idea that, as Don Foster has said, “People looking for jobs in broadcasting should know that the BBC is the greatest broadcaster in the world and worth working for”. Much as the same claim of BBC superiority of output is undermined by the apparent need to force people to pay for it.

Imagine a BBC that, while having to justify its offer to its customers rather than politicians, will also be able to pay its people what it feels right without having to answer to the same politicians. That is just one freedom that making the BBC truly independent – though genuinely and rightly answerable to the subscription-paying audience (rather than licence fee-paying serfs) – would bring.

Wrenching the BBC free from the teat of the state – viz. the compulsory TV licence fee – would prove the best move the government could make for the long term good of this national icon.

Ranting at the Radio

Two gems from the BBC yesterday on Radio 2 at lunchtime (in my defence, Mrs C had left it on when she went out).

During a discussion on Jeremy Vine’s show about the evil Tesco diversifying into new businesses such as secondhand cars, up pops someone complaining about how they’re killing all the high streets you know with their in-store coffee shops’n’things:

“Tesco don’t care what the community wants”

Riiiight. A supermarket that doesn’t care what its customers want is one of the most successful businesses in the country. Yes, that reasoning makes perfect sense.

An hour or so later we had a news bulletin covering the conviction of a double murderer (wisely not repeated for the online version):

“A carpenter who murdered two ex girlfriends …”

These carpenters, eh? Just imagine if he’d have been a Muslim as well … oh, but of course, his religion wouldn’t have been relevant would it?

The Swedes Get It On The TV Licence Fee (Sort Of)

My regular reader will be unsurprised that I read the following news item with particular interest, given my many and sometimes coherent thoughts on the subject of the TV Licence Fee (formerly known as “the unique way the BBC is funded”):

TV licence system under review
The system of TV licensing to fund British public TV and radio broadcasting could be discontinued after 2013, after a majority of members of parliament expressed support for a new model.

Yes, of course, I’ve fiddled with the text. It’s Sweden’s TV licence fee being possibly read the last rites, but one can dream.

A BBC Radio outside broadcast van

How long before the wheels come off the BBC Tax? (Too long)

Or, in this case, suffer a severe case of deja-vu:

The TV licence system does not take into account when, if or how viewers use any of the channels or services which are funded by it.

Despite the fee being paid by nine of ten Swedes, it has become controversial with some questioning why they should pay for something they don’t use.

The development of web-TV services and the changing habits of viewers has further generated discussion over how the system is designed….

Being Sweden, of course, the next option being talked up is to fund the state broadcaster from general taxation in some form, though one incarnation of this at least has been rejected before.

Some may think it is better than the “current system [whereby] anyone with a television receiver are required by law to pay a radio and TV charge. The fee, … for 2011 is 2,076 kronor ($320)”.

This would actually be a small step backward, just as proposals to top-slice the licence fee here were flawed (and especially any idea to replace our TV tax with funding direct from government).

Critics argue that a direct tax funding would undermine the independence of public service broadcasting.

Indeed, though the same argument could be levelled at any form of coercive financing that relies on the government or parliament to support it. It’s all state funding, whether it is handed directly to the recipient or the recipient relies on the state for the right to collect.

Other alternatives under consideration are reported to be a separate tax levy along the lines of the burial charge collected on annual taxes.

I have no idea what the “burial charge” is, but a tax is a tax is a tax. Whether it’s the BBC or the Swedish broadcasters, in a free country there should be no place, or need, for a broadcaster which is in hock to the State.

Murdoch and BSkyB … So what?

Much like Timmy, I too am at a loss to understand by people are getting so uptight about Murdoch taking the remaining third party interests in BskyB.

Apart from the fact that he virtually controls the company anyway, why the fuss over him being such a major player in the media? Well, I guess there is some genuine concern over one organisation having such a large portion of the media market. I’m sure that one of the chief complainers to Vince Cable – the BBC – wouldn’t want to see one single corporation being able to throw so much weight around, distorting the market. Oh ….

Anyway, back to reality. The point surely is that Murdoch has only acquired such a position by providing the paying public with what they want to read and watch. After all, if he didn’t serve his customers well they could and would stop paying their subscriptions, and his advertisers would then follow. In their crusade for fair competition in the world of broadcasting, this would surely be another point that the BBC understands well. Oh ….

Auntie and the Pobol Take a Hit #csr

So we had the expected curate’s egg from George Osborne yesterday. Somewhat like any given Budget, there’s little real consensus on whether it’s too much, too little, too regressive or not. Just like the Budget, it’ll be weeks or months before the full details and impact is known – just ask anyone in local government. However I will, for now, mount one of my hobby horses and give a qualified welcome to the announcement as regards the BBC.

Though I must start by asking why does the Welsh language life support machine otherwise known as S4C, have to be part funded by the BBC? I know it’s just rearranging the furniture, given that the BBC already feed some programming into the channel, and that I’m subsidising it anyway, but why should I subsidise it at all? Let the Welsh Assembly find the money for it – let Cardiff make the judgement of whether Pobol Y Cwm is really worth more to them than free prescriptions. Devolution, localism and all that. Granted, I probably still be paying for it for a time, but we all know the Barnett formula is broken and will, maybe, perhaps, at some time be fixed … please.

Even so, I am happy in a small way that the licence fee freeze and other measures do put the BBC under similar pressure to the rest of us …  and their competitors, who do not (as I will never tire of pointing out) have the comfort of a guaranteed extorted income from their customers. It still doesn’t address the fundamental anachronism of the licence fee, but we take any crumb in these austere times.

“In it together” and all that. Apparently.

Quangos: Err, Francis, You Missed a Bit

In fact, Francis Maude has missed a few hundred bits of the 901 quangos considered. Never mind, we’re heading in the right direction.

I’m really at a loss to work out how I ever learned to ride a bicycle without the £60m of Cycling England which Christian Woolmar said yesterday has done so much in getting children to cycle. Maybe the axe has gone too deep though: we should worry that without the Office for Civil Society Advisory Body our young ones will no longer be taught to say “please” and “thank you”.

This blog’s regular reader will not be surprised that I disagree with the conclusion of the review as regards one particular “quango”: the BBC. Apparently this body is to be retained “on grounds of performing a technical function which should remain independent from Government”.

How can the BBC – or indeed any body that relies on the State for its funding – ever be truly independent from the culture of ‘big government’ or prevent such institutional bias affecting its output? As for it performing a technical function – so what? So do Sky and ITV.Making TV and radio is not a skill set that is the monopoly of the BBC, and yet the commercial channels can’t expect to extort their revenue from people (regardless of whether they are customers or not).

Should Red Ed Consider Some Sunscreen?

So Red Ed’s people are probably pleased at The Sun’s editorial this morning, crediting him with the cancellation of the first phase of strikes at the BBC. Officially, it was down to some sort of movement on the pensions question that has brought the two sides back to the table. Says the Currant Bun:

It was quite a U-turn for Ed. Only days ago he refused to condemn the walkout and backed the right to strike. We told him to prove he is not a union puppet if he wants to win over Sun readers. Looks like he took it to heart.

Actually if Ed had any sense, he should have stayed out of it and used the time-honoured position of “it’s between the management and union and I call on the two sides to come back to the negotiating table, blah, blah, rhubarb”. By associating himself with any developments – or allowing himself to be associated – he has put himself between a large piece of solidified magma and a far-from-fluffy place.

Is there a suggestion that he has some sway over the unions rather than the other way round? If so, what happens when one of those “irresponsible” strikes kicks off’ (something that will happen fairly soon), and bear in mind that his definition of “irresponsible” is still to be tested. Will he be issuing calls to the bruvvers to refrain from strike action please … pretty please? When they ignore him, what then?

If he was trying to show that he is not a union placeman, thus apparently taking the advice of The Sun, then doesn’t any spinning of willingness by the unions to listen to him actually underline the closeness between them and the new Labour leadership?

I’d put it down to inexperience; not knowing when to be statesmanlike and rise above it all. But then again, is being statesmanlike – i.e. looking like Prime Minister material – really top of Red Ed’s ‘to do’ list right now?

BBC Bias: One Step Forward …

Billy Joel performing in Jacksonville, Florida...

Joel good, Manford bad

Yes, I know I’m a bit behind the news here, but it seems Jason Manford has been read his future by BBC management after he spoke out against poor equipment provision for the troops recently.

In fact, he exacerbated his crime by criticising the Beeb’s coverage of the Help for Heroes concert. Now while I agree with Manford on both counts, he is now a part (albeit a semi-detached one) of the BBC collective and thus needs to mind himself when it comes to overt political activism. So, maybe some brownie points are due to the Beeb for actually doing something about bias on the part of one of its presenters, even though Manford has given no hint of any bias on his work on The One Show. Sadly though I suspect that, just like Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (who lost their BBC parking privileges after attacking the licence fee), his real crime was to show his teeth to the mouth that is currently feeding him. Perhaps, then, we’ll suspend our praise.

One has to wonder, though, if the same finger wagging would have been directed at any public faces of the BBC who spoke out against, say, the Iraq War?

Whatever, the suspended brownie point awarded above must be forfeited thanks to the efforts of Simon Mayo’s efforts last Thursday (17th) during his Drivetime show on Radio 2.

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Reasons To Be Cheerful … Or Miserable?

There is a tone that newsreaders adopt when announcing, for example, that crime has risen or that a company has closed with hundreds of job losses, or the death of some obscure lefty writer that virtually no-one beyond Broadcasting House or Farringdon Road has ever heard of.

I heard this tone this morning, when the BBC’s Today programme told us that bonuses in the largest companies have risen back to the levels that they were before the credit crunch:

FTSE 100 executive bonuses close to pre-crisis levels

Executive bonuses are close to their level before the financial crisis, a survey by business advisory firm Deloitte says.

It found that the average bonuses for directors of FTSE 100 firms amounted to 100% of their basic salary, rising to 140% in the top 30 public companies.

Yet surely this is excellent news? Generally speaking, if bonuses are up then that might be a sign that we’re turning the corner, economically speaking. (The accompanying point that general executive pay is not rising particularly fast suggests that directors are also exercising some healthy and measured caution.) It’s certainly good news for the Treasury, as these bonuses will be taxed at up to 70% – a much higher rate than if they have been taxed at, say, the main corporation tax rate.

So why the glum faces everyone?

P.S. No, I haven’t got time to check out the bonus levels of, say, BBC executives and how they compare to 2007….