Friday, 17 July 2015

#whoseBBC?

Jackie Bird talks over Mhairi Black -
the straw that broke the camel's back.
This is the whole of my response to the government's consultation on BBC charter renewal. You can find the consultation, and make your own response, here.


Q1: How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve? 

The BBC is intended to be a public broadcaster and not a state broadcaster, but the actions of successive governments have reversed this and we now have the worst of all worlds: a state propaganda arm paid for by the public.

If anything of the BBC is to be salvaged the link with government must be entirely severed. The BBC should become a co-operative owned and governed by its audience. This means that the license fee can no longer be a universal impost but must become a voluntary subscription, which probably means in turn that content should be broadcast encrypted and that the subscription should include a  decrypter. I know no-one wants this, but so long as the license fee is an impost the BBC cannot be brought under democratic control and will remain a state broadcaster.

I have to say I'm a relatively recent convert to this view; as recently as a year ago I would have been a staunch defender of the BBC. But its naked and unapologetic bias throughout last year's referendum campaign tested my loyalty beyond endurance. Last week's incident of the reporting of Mhairi Black's maiden speech re-emphasised this, and deepened my conviction that the BBC in its present state is not fit for purpose.

Q2:  Which elements of universality are most important for the BBC?

The BBC has no universality; it never has had, having been essentially an elite London-centric institution serving primarily an elite London-centric audience since its inception. It did try to break out of that mould in the eighties and nineties of the last century, but that quest for independence and broad popularity was peremptorily ended in 2004 by the Blair Government, and since then the BBC has been in craven retreat.

It is no longer - if it ever was - the people's broadcaster, and the public are no longer forelock tugging and deferential. The BBC cannot expect the public to defend it.

Q3: Should Charter Review formally establish a set of values for the BBC?

No. No body appointed by government should have any part in establishing values (or anything else) for the BBC. That is for its audience, and for its audience alone, to do.

Q4: Is the expansion of the BBC’s services justified in the context of increased choice for audiences? Is the BBC crowding out commercial competition and, if so, is this justified?

The 'commercial competition', in this context, is a very narrow set of mostly foreign, mostly right-wing and mostly very corrupt media oligarchs. If the BBC has any residual merit it is precisely in crowding them out.

The BBC should provide those services that its audience want and are prepared to pay for. The Government should have no role whatever in deciding what the BBC may, or may not, do.

Q5: Where does the evidence suggest the BBC has a positive or negative wider impact on the market?

It prevents its domination by the media oligarchy. Since the Government is unable or unwilling to tackle Murdoch, Lebedev, Harmsworth, Desmond or the Barclay brothers, it should not interfere with the BBC.

Q6: What role should the BBC have in preparing for the future technological landscape including in future radio switchover?

Radio switchover is a largely failed project. Over much of the British Isles, digital radio offers a substantially poorer service than VHF; only in the cities is it competitive in quality. In any case the DAB standard used in Britain is obsolete and not widely adopted elsewhere, and Internet technologies will have made it wholly irrelevant before it has been completely rolled out.

Q7: How well is the BBC serving its national and international audiences?

The BBC currently serves the Government, not its audience.

Q8: Does the BBC have the right genre mix across its services?

No. The BBC now has very little content I would either trust or choose to consume, and I think in this that I'm representative of a substantial minority of the population.

Q9: Is the BBC’s content sufficiently high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters? What reforms could improve it?

Why should it be distinctive? If the BBC is providing the service its audience wishes to pay for, then inevitably other broadcasters will want to supply similar content. If other broadcasters do not want to supply similar content, then it must be because there is no audience for it. In any case this is a matter for discussion between the BBC and its audience, in which no-one else's views are relevant.

Q10: How should the system of content production be improved through reform of quotas or more radical options?

The Government should get right out and stop interfering. The matter for the right system of content production is a matter for a discussion between the BBC and its audience (if it wants to keep one). The Government should have no role whatever in this.

Q11: How should we pay for the BBC and how should the licence fee be modernised?

Those people who wish to consume the BBC's content should pay a subscription fee. The whole of the subscription fee should go to the BBC to use as the BBC sees fit, with no part of it being diverted to other services; at the same time, the BBC should expect and receive no subsidy from the Government.

There might be a scale of subscription fees, with different subscriptions buying access to different mixes of services (for example, those who don't want to watch wall-to-wall football should not be obliged to pay for it). But the setting of fees should be a commercial matter for the BBC, in which the Government should have no role.

I would personally prefer that the BBC remain subscription and not advertising funded, but that too is a matter between the BBC and its audience.

Q12: Should the level of funding for certain services or programmes be protected? Should some funding be made available to other providers to deliver public service content?

That's a matter between the BBC and its audience. Other providers are perfectly able to set up their own subscription funded services - and, indeed, are doing so. The Government has no role and should not interfere.

Q13: Has the BBC been doing enough to deliver value for money? How could it go further?

That's a matter between the BBC and its audience. The Government has no role and should not interfere.

Q14: How should the BBC’s commercial operations, including BBC Worldwide, be reformed?

The BBC should be able to offer subscription charges in any markets it cares to. It's notable that the Guardian and the Daily Mail, for example, now have very large audiences outside the United Kingdom. A large non-UK income base, and possibly overseas centres of operations, would help the BBC better resist interference from Government.

Q15: How should the current model of governance and regulation for the BBC be reformed?

The BBC should become a co-operative, wholly owned by its audience. The governors should be elected by and from the audience, and should determine the management structures. Governors should be elected on four or five year terms and serve a maximum of three terms.

No other body should have any role in this whatever.

Q16: How should Public Value Tests and Service Licences be reformed and who should have the responsibility for making these decisions?

They should be done away with altogether. Only the audience has any role in determining what the BBC does; and if the audience don't like the BBC's output, they should be able to vote with their feet and withdraw their subscriptions.

Q17: How could the BBC improve engagement with licence fee payers and the industry through research, transparency and complaints handling?

Through the ownership structure and democratic process outlined in my responses above.

Q18: How should the relationship between Parliament, Government, Ofcom, the National Audit Office and the BBC work? What accountability structures and expectations, including financial transparency and spending controls should apply?

Parliament, the Government, Ofcom and the National Audit Office have no role or standing whatever in this. Their input has been universally and wholly destructive. They should all butt right out.

Q19: Should the existing approach of a 10-year Royal Charter and Framework Agreement continue? 

No.

Q15: How should the current model of governance and regulation for the BBC be reformed?

The BBC should become a co-operative, wholly owned by its audience. The governors should be elected by and from the audience, and should determine the management structures. Governors should be elected on four or five year terms and serve a maximum of three terms.

No other body should have any role in this whatever.

Q16: How should Public Value Tests and Service Licences be reformed and who should have the responsibility for making these decisions?

They should be done away with altogether. Only the audience has any role in determining what the BBC does; and if the audience don't like the BBC's output, they should be able to vote with their feet and withdraw their subscriptions.

Q17: How could the BBC improve engagement with licence fee payers and the industry through research, transparency and complaints handling?

Through the ownership structure and democratic process outlined in my responses above.

Q18: How should the relationship between Parliament, Government, Ofcom, the National Audit Office and the BBC work? What accountability structures and expectations, including financial transparency and spending controls should apply?

Parliament, the Government and the National Audit Office have no role or standing whatever in this. Their input has been universally and wholly destructive. They should all butt right out.

Ofcom has standing only in so far as it leases radio spectrum. The BBC should bid commercially for radio spectrum just like Vodafone or BT. What the BBC does with the spectrum it leases should be a matter between the BBC and its subscribers in which Ofcom should have no role.

Q19: Should the existing approach of a 10-year Royal Charter and Framework Agreement continue? 

No.

The BBC should have no special privileges and should not be dependent on any special deals from Government.

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