BBC Charter Review Consultation

I thought I’d give the Country the benefit of my opinion on the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation. You might do too.

It’s a bit disjointed and I could have done with some time to map it out but here it is in all its glory.

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

Quite well with Radio being the highlight. With Britain’s declining international status our public owned media continues to punch above its weight in giving us some influence in the World.

Which elements of universality are most important for the BBC?

Though I prefer more serious programming the risk of reducing the BBC to what other countries refer to as Public Service Broadcasting would in all likelihood mean that large sections of the population would not get the chance to be exposed to it. Sports and entertainment based formats for a better balance attract people to the channel and many of the latter are the programs that sell well abroad.

Commercial television has never shown any inclination to fill holes left by reductions in the BBC and some are only possible in a more secure environment that tax funded media allows. Amongst famous examples are Only Fools and Horses and One Foot In The Grave which would not have survived long enough to become the success they ultimately were and many of the great Natural History Series have only been possible by the stability of Corporation backing.

The relatively recent fuss over Radio 5 was a good example of an attempt to cut a service for which there was no commercial alternative. It was the equivalent of trying to shut Radio 3 because Classic FM exists.

And BBC children’s television allows the young space away from pressure of advertising as well as giving parents respite from the demands that can create.

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

It is generally of high quality though of course there will always be examples of programs that do not match someone’s particular taste.

The most distinctive element is its independence from the influence of owners of other broadcasters who can dictate policy and introduce bias. Opinions and views of individual program makers will always be a factor but in general freedom to innovate with some buffer from commercial pressure has resulted in more adventurous programming that other broadcasters then attempt to emulate.

Pleasing your advertisers generally leads to conservative television where the temptation is to stick to successful formulas rather than risking revenue. It is no coincidence that the Channel Four with its Public Ownership and element of funding has also been at the forefront of diverse and ground breaking programming.

Improvements could be made to some news and documentary programs where sensation and argument have become prevalent over detailed investigation and attempting to understand a subject. But it is still the primary source of news in the UK that the public consistently rates as a more trustworthy than alternatives who reflect the views of their owners.

I think the World Service, which should be expanded, speaks for itself and it is often in radio that the benefits of the BBC remit can be best seen. Local coverage of news, sports and events that would never be possible under market forces and national exposure for interesting or important subjects which cannot be found elsewhere. (Plus some small respite from the centrally dictated computer generated playlists of commercial music stations – though this could still be better.)

This is also applicable to the BBC website which despite retraction still is a great advert for the country and a counter to much of the reduction of respect around the world of the United Kingdom has suffered in recent years.

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

As mentioned in previous answers the greater freedom to create with less outside interference than commercial broadcasters leads to innovative and unique programming.
The success of BBC programs not only motivates other broadcasters to up their game both here and abroad but commercial and critical success in other markets opens the way for British talent and companies.

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?

At a time when commercial competition is becoming increasingly Americanised the BBC is the last refuge of a distinctly British outlook and if expansion is required to retain that then it is justified. The proliferation of Channels doesn’t suggest a lack of competition and it appears to be the more monopolistic broadcasters who wish to reduce the scope of the BBC so choice would not be increased by scaling back the Corporation.

Services have had to grow to carry the BBC Charter into the Internet age and we can already see the the results of encouraging commercial competition to that in the Beeching like cuts to the educational elements of the BBC website at the behest of those who have failed to replace them in a way accessible to those of all incomes.

Choice doesn’t naturally occur in the commercial world as it is hard to profit from a lot of it. The BBC forces the commercial companies to compete rather than dictate what it suits them to produce.

Lack of advertising is also important as for all ages in our unremittingly commercialised world it is not just a welcome relief but creates space to learn and develop opinions without a continual barrage of demands between (and sometimes during) programs which occurs on all alternatives.

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

The welcome moves to reduce management and their salaries as well as that of the more expensive stars is certainly in the right direction. The trend of relocating outside London is also a good one both for saving money as well as reducing the excessive concentration on, and influence of, the Capital. Hopefully the Government might consider doing the same.

But there comes a point when cuts reduce the quality of the service and savings will not be achieved by reducing the amount spent on headline shows that actually make money worldwide nor cutting the relative cheap daytime entertainment and Radio is relatively small change. So should the question be, ‘Do you want the BBC to reduce the quality of its output?’.

Though there has been much talk of cuts so is there evidence that the BBC is much less efficient that other broadcasters when comparing like with like?

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

The BBC should continue to be funded by a universal licence fee to maintain quality and diversity as well as a sense of belonging to the Nation, but changes in how programs are watched, particularly online, will need to be taken into account.

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?

The influence of politicians should be minimal as it undermines trust in the Corporation. Studies show that the BBC already tends to favour the Party in power and the Establishment in general so if anything greater safeguards are required to keep it independent. Accountability should be to a non
Governmental body and I’m not yet convinced removing the current Trust is the way forward.

Proper auditing is of course important, as is financial transparency. But spending levels should take into account the benefits to this country of an organisation respected throughout the world which still advertises the good things about Britain even when our politicians appear to be hell bent on doing the opposite.

The legacy of our sometimes inglorious history means Britain still has an influence in the world. So at a time when that influence is diminishing why would we cut off its voice?