Exam date

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

Monday, 6 July 2015

BBC Independence 'myth' in tatters?

There have been so many, wholly predictable (I did just that before the election!), big news stories about the free market/small state Tory attack on the publicly funded BBC that I've been waiting for something concrete before blogging on this again.

In the space of a week we have the story that the PM threatened to shut down the BBC, angered at what he saw as liberal/leftie bias, and Chancellor George Osbourne very bluntly questioning the future of the BBC in its current guise and scope.

Today comes action which ties together all the speculation over what Tory hostility might mean in practice. With a Culture Secretary outspoken on his attacks on the BBC before the election it comes as little shock that the Beeb has just meekly accepted an extraordinary funding cut just days after confirming the closure of BBC3 and announcing many 1000s more job cuts were planned.

Providing free licences for the over 75s is an instant cut of 20% of the budget. TWENTY percent!

Providing the free TV licences currently costs the taxpayer £631m. This cost is expected to rise to £700m by 2018, or almost one-fifth of the BBC’s income, because the number of older people is increasing.
What kind of rump service they can now provide is questionable. ANY sports bid will now be controversial. Will they be allowed, this 'independent' from government control institution (as enshrined in Royal Charter no less!) to provide ANY music radio, when 'the market' already does so? (Perhaps Radio 3, as 'high culture' attracts huge government subsidy - you may never have attended an opera, but you will have paid some tax to subsidise tickets or help pay for the £100s of millions cost of renovating and running opera houses that 'the market' couldn't support)
Ben Bradshaw, a former culture secretary, was one of several Labour MPs to criticise the deal. “You have succeeded in making the BBC a branch office for the Department for Work and Pensions. This is a significant assault on BBC independence,” he said.
The outraged cries of the Opposition are ... curious. The Labour government of the noughties made a mockery of the Beeb's independence with the full fury of the state's flak over the Kelly Report and the infamous 'sexed-up dossier' reportage seeing both the top men at this officially, legally independent institution forced to resign.

The history of PSBs across the Western world has followed this pattern, but, since Thatcher's failed bid (the 1985 Peacock Report), the Beeb has seemed to have avoided the vicious circle fate of falling funding and thus audiences leading eventually to privatisation.

Perhaps we won't get as degraded as Italian democracy, where Silvio Berlusconi is able to own a majority of print and broadcast media, but who now would bet against the BBC being owned in 2025 by the DGMT (Daily Mail) or Murdoch? Even if not, an emasculated, radically downsized BBC is precisely what James Murdoch called for in his infamous Edinburgh lecture not so many years back.

Today, he's got it. Shares in BSkyB look a lot rosier.

As the BBC's revenue declines, and the license fee gets undermined, imagine the outcry across the right-wing press the next time the Beeb bids for a major sporting event. A hamstrung BBC is fantastic news for Sky - with C4 and ITV no longer serious players in the sports rights market, they have limited competitors to inflate the cost of bids for sports rights, with BT now emerging as their most serious rival, and legislation quite likely to emerge at some point trimming or scrapping the 'protected list' of sporting events that must by law be screened on terrestrial TV.

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