Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What's the BBC for?

David Graham's recent paper for the Adam Smith Institute is useful reading. Essentially, it proposes that BBC content is split into two, a free-to-air 'public service' broadcast component defined by government and the rest a subscription service.

Graham rightly demolishes both the BBC's fatuous reliance on a 'market failure' rationale to justify non-commercial output and what he terms 'regulation by platitude'. When the Edsel didn't sell, it wasn't market failure - just that Ford had built a turkey. The suggestion that the American taxpayer should have subsidised the Edsel because it's lack of popularity was 'market failure' is as risible as the BBC's application of the same reasoning to some of its output.

Likewise the deeply patronising set of 'public purposes' by which the BBC Trust defines its mission;

1. Sustaining citizenship and civil society
2. Promoting education and learning
3. Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
4. Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
5. Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
6. In promoting other Purposes, (helping) to deliver to the public the
benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and
(taking) a leading role in the switchover to digital television

But what Graham would put in place as the core free-to-air 'public service' component is actually little better. Having defined News, Sport, Serious Factual and Current Affairs as key social priorities, he then drifts off into confused human capital theory to justify something that sounds like Nanny in a new dress;
  • News and Current Affairs
  • Public Health and Welfare
  • Children and Education
  • Heritage
  • Promoting the UK Overseas
  • Market Failure
You see, no broadcaster seems able to resist the opportunity of the medium for social engineering - whether it's Graham's agenda or the BBC Trust's. I remember the Canadians nearly killing off animation as a serious broadcast art form there by subsidising the most awful, truly dreadful politically correct cartoonists on the grounds of 'Market Failure' - i.e. that they were so crap nobody else was interested. The words 'Now here's a short animation from the Canadian National Film Board ..' used to sound like an invitation to ritually disembowel yourself rather than endure seven minutes of wobbly feminist stick figures interacting with fish. Not on my taxes, thanks; take it to some arts centre in Neasden, or Hull.

Let's stick with free-to-air News, Sports, Serious Factual and Current Affairs and this part of the BBC will continue to lead the world - given it's independence of government, and a governing body free of the drive to impose a normative agenda on the nation.


SimonF said...

The BBC really is good value for money and desired by everyone. The programme quality is second to none and meets everyone's needs. Furthermore, the license fee is so cheap it isn't resented except by selfish right wingers. And anyway, if you don't like it you don't have to watch or listen.

How do I know this? There was a discussion on the ASI report on Sunday morning Radio 5 Live and the presenter and her guests all agreed that the BBC is GOOD thing. All the texts and emails, except from those very few from selfish right wingers, praised the BBC and all agreed that my money was well spent.

So, there you have it, end of debate.

Anonymous said...

Utter fantasy.

No government can keep it hands off the BBC no matter what shape it is. It is fascinating to watch the BBC wriggle to stay in existence (iPlayer, Canvas etc) whilst technology takes it far far from its Reithian broadcasting origins.

It is a monstrous dinosaur in the room and should be made extinct as soon as possible.

What next BBCTwit?

johnse18 said...

SimonF: If the license fee is such good value for money and the BBC is "desired by everyone" then clearly there is no need to make the purchase of a license compulsory on pain of getting a criminal record.

With the BBC being so universally loved people will be voluntarily queueing up to give it money.

Tufty said...

The problem is that the BBC is an institution and like all institutions, it doesn't have anything interesting or informative to say. It doesn't attract interesting people, it attracts those who wish to spend their working lives in an institution. Get rid of it.

SimonF said...


Quite agree. Unfortunately this point is lost on the BBC and its cheerleaders.