Thursday, 23 July 2015
Thoughts on the BBC
I agree with John Whittingdale and some of my liberal friends that the licence fee is in effect a regressive tax. Very few people want to see it replaced by direct funding from the Treasury, however, with the threat of future swingeing cuts and the implication of government control. The solution proposed by many Tories, that of a subscription service, also has its drawbacks. This would not have the range of the current BBC. The other model from the States, National Public Radio, is perpetually scrabbling for money as I understand it.
The method in France and Germany of levying a per-household fee to fund public broadcasting seems to offer a way out. It would spread the cost so that though more individuals paid, the cost to each would be much lower than at present. There could be a progressive element in that the charge could be related to council tax bands (so long as we have council tax rather than a local income tax) or levied as a proportion of council tax paid. There is a precedent in the levy for police services in England and Wales.
It seems to me that putting content on the World Wide Web is a natural extension of the BBC's original remit. The content is broad, informative, readable and rather less tendentious politically than its radio and TV coverage. It is unique in my experience, especially in its objectivity. I have not checked, but I have the impression that the URIs which I quote in my postings are dominated by bbc.co.uk and wikipedia, with the Independent, Guardian, Telegraph and Mail some way behind. It is true public service broadcasting and it would be a tragedy if it were curtailed or sold off.
The bureaucracy of the corporation is a standing joke even within the BBC. Successive directors-general have each promised to cut staffing costs and each time the pay bill has gone up, even while broadcast provision has gone down - witness the cutting of a red button service, which one misses during big sporting events, especially Wimbledon, and the imminent taking down of BBC3. Janet Street-Porter, a former BBC producer, has hinted at corruption in the form of senior people creating non-jobs for their chums. There needs to be a statutory body which audits the organisation and has the authority to remove unnecessary posts, rather like the old Treasury Organisation and Methods branch which was feared across ministries. Obviously, it would have to be independent of both government and the BBC hierarchy.
If the broadcast side has to bear its share of cuts, I would cut the "me too" TV programmes. It is one thing to innovate entertainment programmes - it is not my cup of tea, but I would praise the success of "Strictly Come Dancing" for as long as it has a natural life - but quite another to copy a format from commercial TV simply in order to boost ratings.
I would also axe all the political programmes and staff, apart from those which gave unfiltered coverage of Westminster and the devolved parliaments. They cause more trouble than they are worth, compromising the BBC reputation for objectivity. It seems to that they only proliferate because politicians from all parties demand the personal publicity they afford.