Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What's wrong with a slimmer BBC?

Before crying that "they want to destroy the BBC" just think about it: are channels like BBC Prime and BBC Kids Canada really a public obligation?

I'm in danger of pissing off many leftist readers of this blog, but Mark Thompson is bang on in stressing the need for a slimmer BBC ('The BBC can't do everything. We need to know our limits').

Calls in favour of reducing the cost of running the BBC by 25% haven't gone down well. Facebook campaigns are being set up and accusations are being flung that the cuts are "politically motivated" to butter up the Tories. According to the National Union of Journalists, "[T]hese plans smack of an attempt to appease commercial and political interests".

In short, the sceptics argue that weakening the BBC will be a gift to its private competitors and a blow to public services on both radio and television.

And yet let's just stop and take a breath. I am totally in favour of the BBC. I think a competitive state-owned TV is sacrosanct and whoever thinks the BBC should be dismantled and/or privatised is purely driven by rampant ideology.

However, the current cost of a TV licence is £142.50. In 2000, it was just £104. In ten years, an increase of around 36% - without anyone asking licence payers if they agreed with the way the corporation was going to balloon in size.

Think about it. Through the last decade, not even Tesco expanded at the same rate.

Aside from areas where everyone agrees the BBC was "largin' it" (i.e. Jonathan Ross's salary), why does the corporation have to cover so much stuff: from news in 32 languages through TV channels abroad all the way to Radio Times?

Are we sure it is the duty of a UK taxpayer-funded public service to include, say, BBC Canada? Then why not BBC Denmark or BBC Spain?

Is BBC Prime really that essential? Are we certain dismantling it would be "allowing the corporate media barons to have (it) their way"? And how about BBC Lifestyle for Singapore and Hong Kong?

Does the BBC need so many radio stations (in succession: One, 1Extra, Two, Three, Four, Five Live, Sports Extra, 6 Music, Seven, Asian Network)? Wasn't five enough already? Ten years ago, that was already way more than any competitor could even dream of. Why not BBC Hiking then? Or maybe a tailor-made one for people in their mid-thirties called BBC35?

And, yes, it's a shame if 6 Music went. But it's not as if music was dying before its creation. Quite the opposite. In fact there was much more music on the BBC 'proper' before.

Does the website need to be so gigantic? If it was a tenth its current size, it'd be already one of the biggest and most effective online resources available. What's the need for comprehensive gardening or travel sections? Again, are we sure that's a public body's obligation? No other state-owned TV in the Western world has expanded to the point of covering more stuff than daylight.

Who and when decided that, like Don Foster of the Liberal Democrats noted, the corporation's duty is that of "roaming wherever it fancie[s]"?

There's nothing wrong with being ambitious. Unfortunately though, it doesn't come for free. Many would rather have a slightly smaller BBC and a slightly reduced scope but an improvement in quality and service. Many others would rather the TV licence didn't go up faster than inflation.

14 comments:

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I do agree with the basic idea that the BBC cannot do everything and that they need to know their limits and as long as this is not an excuse for pay freezes, excessive job losses and the removing of all fringe content that I am all for it.

James D said...

But there are better ways of saving the BBC money. For instance, they should stop spending anywhere near as much on sports rights: this just drives up the prices for commercial broadcasters -- if this were cut, these sports would still be broadcast on other channels, so there is no public interest justification for retaining this expenditure. Attacking something as genuinely distinctive as 6 Music instead is nothing more than cowardice. If they are looking for a radio saving, perhaps they should transition Radio 3 to DAB only (after all classical music fans are usually obsessive about sound quality, or so went the argument when they turned it off on the Medium Wave) and sell its FM frequency.

claude said...

I wouldn't cut BBC 6. Other stations are definitely less precious in my opinion.
But do you agree, James, that there were more music programmes altogether on the BBC before?

Ceri said...

Get rid of the News channel- it was set up in awe of CNN, before the potential of the internet was realised, it simply isn't needed. Watching them waiting for a tsunami to Hawaii and New Zealand the other night was hilarious, pathetic and disturbing, all at once.

Helen Highwater said...

For all that their website it enormous, it's bloody hard to navigate - presumably because it so enormous.

I've never really understood why they broadcast overseas, unless it's a lost-leader in selling British culture, although I do wonder if it's a hangover from colonialism. There is BBC USA which I don't think our license pays for and it even shows things from other British channels, like Shameless off Channel 4.

I think cutting 6 Music would be a bad idea. This morning some old trout was socking it to that woman from Catatonia, and she was saying "Oh but we'll move all the alternative stuff from 6 onto Radio 1!" Bollocks they will. I do however remember in the mid-90s when you had things like The Evening Session and alternative stuff on Radio 1, then they created 6 and ghettoise everything. If you didn't have a DAB radio or satellite, you suddenly couldn't hear anything alternative.

I wonder what the feeling is about them wanting to axe the Asian channel? Is it because there's so many independent Asian channels about that the BBC one seems superfluous or did some knuckle-dragger go "If the Asians have that, I demand a BBC England!"

claude said...

"I do however remember in the mid-90s when you had things like The Evening Session and alternative stuff on Radio 1, then they created 6 and ghettoise everything".

Exactly my feelings, Helen.
The hope is that, by axing BBC 6, they will HAVE TO re-introduce music-related stuff on other channels.

As for all the international channels, again, I agree. You were spot-on. A "hangover from colonialism".

Charlie said...

'The hope is that, by axing BBC 6, they will HAVE TO re-introduce music-related stuff on other channels.'

I wish I had your optimism. I just see the likes od Radio 1 getting increasingly terrible.

the patriot said...

If there ever is a real conservative party and that party by some miracles wins, privatizing the BBC should be the first item on the agenda.

Anyway. You're going to say that I'm a racist, but you would anyway. The question is:
Why is there an Asian Network at all? On what basis?

Larry Teabag said...

Surely the point of the BBC is to fill exactly those niches which are not catered for by the open market?

Well, that's 6 music that is.

If they want to cut back and step off the toes of their commercial comptitors, why not axe radio 1 instead? Since that plays exactly the same records as every commerical station in the country it seems pretty redundant. I bet the DJs are paid a lot more too.

Hell, they could bin BBC 3 TV too - it's not as if the Ant & Dec demographic is poorly served by the market.

The dispute is not just bigger or smaller, but it's focussing on the right areas. Cutting back from high quality, niche areas in order to fund production of the fifteenth series of '2 pints of lager and a packet of crisps' shows exactly the wrong priorities.

Helen Highwater said...

Claude:
I hope they would too, but I have a horrible feeling they won't. :-/ Although there's such a huge outcry at the thought of them closing 6, I wonder if it'll make them realise that there is a place on 'mainstream' channels for what's been sliced off into an 'alternative' channel. That there is an audience for this.

What would be awesome is if they had Asian programming on Radio 1. Bollywood specials and that kind of thing - because you don't have to be Asian to enjoy it! (plus it would annoy certain people....)

socialist sam said...

Pure right wing claptrap again from this blog.

This "article" could have sprung right out of a hardcore Tory blog.

You're ticking all the right boxes to become the perfect neo-liberal blogger, I hope that makes you proud at least.

claude said...

sam,
you really are tiresome. You're like a broken record. I dont know why you've suddenly decided that I'm allegedly a Tory or "right wing". It's actually quite sweet and ridiculous at the same time!

My humble advice is: take off that tinfoil hat and just debate things for what they are. Knock it on the head with "oh my god this is soooo right wing" and explain your point of view. You're more than welcome to do so here if you want.

Phil Tomlinson said...

Agreed. It's hardly right-wing to suggest that a corporation that essentially decides how much we pay for TV in all its forms, both public-funded and privately-owned or even over the internet (still need a TV license for that), should trim its spending when it has over-reached itself in the material it is trying to cover. The BBC has a duty to be as fair and impartial as possible, not to be fair and impartial to everything under the sun.

RodneyD said...

I understand the importance of ensuring that the BBC should have limits on its overall output, but stations like 6 Music provide a service which I don't believe the commercial sector can or wants to provide.

Too many people use the BBC as an easy excuse when looking for a reason for the problems faced by commercial media. This simply isn't the case.

Some areas could be scaled back, but in general I think the BBC provides an excellent service and is well worth the licence fee.