Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tories'/Right-Wing hostility to BBC

The BBC complicates the picture of TV regulation: OfCom now oversee its compliance with 'standards and decency' regulations (cases such as Sachsgate and Chris Moyles' swearing + homophobic remarks, for example) while the BBC otherwise governs itself (in other words, self regulation) on organisational issues over budgets, technology, station policies etc.

Whilst every other channel is funded by advertising and/or subscription fees, the BBC is unique in being funded by the license fee, a form of tax. This makes it 'public owned' (effectively owned by the state); instead of being part of the 'private sector' it is part of the 'public sector'.

Right-wing dogma sees the public sector as inefficient and inferior to private enterprise, ie 'the free market'. Sky was able to develop satellite/digital subscription-TV because as a private company it is innovative. The BBC, according to this ideology, is an inefficient organisation which fails to innovate; it would be improved if it was privatised - sold off to business investors, traded on the stock market. That ignores the reality that the BBC, with Freeview, the iPlayer and its world-famous web content, not to mention its extensive programme sales to America and elsewhere across the world, channels such as BBC America, and much more besides, actually puts the BBC right at the top of any fair-minded list of broadcast innovators. The BBC also effectively acts as the main source of training for the engineers, editors, cameraman, presenters and suchlike that are then used by all the private media outfits in the UK.

So, the Conservatives, a right-wing party who believe in free market ideology, have long desired to see it sold off to become a private enterprise instead of a state-owned one. This is actually whats happened across most of Europe and America: if the state broadcaster hasn't actually been privatised, in most cases their funding has been slashed to make them a minor outfit instead of a serious rival to commercial, ad-funded broadcasters.

They have also routinely accused the BBC of having a left-wing bias: in the 1980s Tory Chairman Lord Tebbit famously called the BBC the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation (the Russian Communists were Bolsheviks), while in May 2012 Tory Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson once more accused the Beeb of being left-wing.

In 1985 Thatcher appointed Lord Peacock to report on the UK TV industry, assuming as a right-wing free-marketeer he'd suggest privatising the BBC, or at least scrapping the license fee and making it rely on advertisers for revenue. Right-wingers see state-owned companies as distorting the free market, and providing unfair competition. Private media operators naturally agree, and would love to see the BBC scrapped, privatised or shrunk in size - one of the reasons the Daily Mail constantly attacks the BBC is thought to be down to its own company's ambitions to break into TV ownership. The 1986 Peacock Report shocked Thatcher by stating very clearly that an unregulated free market would be a disaster for UK TV: it would lead to an utter dumbing down of TV content. He said he disliked the license fee, but it was better than advertiser-funding which would also ensure standards would drop as higher audiences were chased rather than higher programme standards.

In the lead-up to the 2010 general election, the Tories, especially David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, frequently stated their intention to tackle the BBC: to reduce it in size (including shutting several of its radio/TV stations), cut the license fee, ban it from bidding for many sports rights (if they did, the likes of Sky would save a fortune as there'd be less competition; fewer bidders), stop it paying for expensive American imports, reduce or even scrap its web content, force it to sell of profit-making subsidaries and some stations, and so on and so forth. Notoriously, in an act that looks all the worse given the accusations of collusion between Hunt and News Corp, Hunt and Cameron both stated their support for James Murdoch's speech (and said they would scrap OfCom, which Murdoch said should go) at the 2010 MacTaggart lecture. In office, both have continued to attack the BBC as 'bloated', oversized and inefficient, and Hunt broke with political convention by dictating, not negotiating, the BBC's budget for the next several years, including a large reduction.

Hunt has frequently indicated support for 'top-slicing': using some of the BBC's budget (from the license fee) to support other private broadcasters.

I'll add a fairly extensive set of links (over time!) below; here's a snippet from James Murdoch's 2010 speech:
James Murdoch tonight launched a scathing attack on the BBC, describing the corporation's size and ambitions as "chilling" and accusing it of mounting a "land grab" in a beleaguered media market.
News Corporation's chairman and chief executive in Europe and Asia also heavily criticised media industry regulator Ofcom, the European Union and the government, accusing the latter of "dithering" and failing to protect British companies from the threat of online piracy.
Delivering the MacTaggart lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival 20 years after his father Rupert, Murdoch described UK broadcasting as "the Addams Family of world media", comparing it unfavourably with the industries in India and France and complaining about the "astonishing" burden of regulation placed on BSkyB, the pay-TV giant he chairs. "Every year, roughly half a million words are devoted to telling broadcasters what they can and cannot say," he said.
However, his most withering comments were reserved for the BBC. "The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country," he clamed. "Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling."
MAY 2012: CAMERON'S PRESS SPOKESPERSON ACCUSES BBC OF ANTI-TORY BIAS: Just updating this post with an article which rather handily captures this point about traditional Tory suspicion of the BBC; their belief that it is not balanced but rather a leftie, biased news reporter. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/may/28/cameron-media-chief-rebukes-bbc-reporter?intcmp=239. The following vid may be taken down; it was up when I wrote this:

Hunt delays new media green paper (May 2012);

2008: CAMERON WRITES IN SUN TO ATTACK BBC: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/1884401/Bloated-BBC-out-of-tough-with-the-viewers-says-Tory-chief-David-Cameron.html;

NICK DAVIES, THE KEY GUARDIAN JOURNALIST WHO BROKE THE HACKGATE STORY ON THE HUNT/MURDOCH LINKS: http://www.nickdavies.net/2012/05/01/hacking-scandal-reaches-for-the-heart-of-government/;

A fresh item from May 28th, in which Boris Johnson's press spokesperson directly threatens the BBC with flak from the right-wing press, to be partly organised by PM Cameron:
Boris Johnson's former communications chief threatened to use his contacts in the press to confront the BBC over its coverage of the Conservative mayor of London, suggesting that "good friends in No 10" could also be deployed against them, emails leaked to the Guardian reveal.
The threat of a "huge public fight" was levelled at senior BBC figures by Guto Harri, a former BBC correspondent himself, who announced last week that he was moving to become director of communications at News International.
Harri's suggestion that Downing Street was also ready to put pressure on the public service broadcaster raises questions about the Tories' tactics against the BBC and the extent of the pressure City Hall has exerted in its attempts to influence coverage.
 Johnson says in this article:
Quipping that he had just fought an election campaign "in which I sometimes felt that my chief opponent was the local [London] BBC news", Johnson wrote: "The prevailing view of Beeb newsrooms is, with honourable exceptions, statist, corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and above all, overwhelmingly biased to the left."


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