The Times put some flesh on its bones on Saturday (sorry, we are a bit slow on the uptake here in the countryside) and it seems that the concern of the Tories is not so much the institutional leftism of the BBC but the potential effect that a spreading of the commercial jam will have on other mainstream broadcasters as yet more channels arrive and become available, whether through a set top box or an aerial dish. This may translate into an effective monopoly over the ability of those other than the BBC to commission more ambitious dramas, documentaries and news programmes.
ConservativeHome jibs at the idea of a large proportion of the Tax being taken away from the BBC:
The Tories wouldn’t be politically sensible to recommend that a large proportion of the licence fee is taken away from the BBC but the Corporation would find it much harder to argue that a small proportion (say 2%) shouldn’t be allocated to new public service programming – either on other channels or, ConservativeHome’s preference, to fund a new public service broadcaster that is based on a different approach to news impartiality.
I confess to being less than convinced that voters would be resistant to radical change in the BBC’s dominant position. After all the BBC’s position as a repository of public trust is at an all time low as a result of a string of scandals over phone-ins and fakery and its own acknowledgement of a degree of institutional leftism. A radical change now would be more than consonant with the public’s perception of the BBC, especially if the change was tied to that perception.
There has been no better moment than the present to take advantage of the BBC’s weakness. What better way than to establish a second public service broadcaster funded in part by a generous chunk of the Broadcasting Tax, 25% at least, but up to 40% plus advertising revenue), probably based on Channel 4 (which might then feel able, indeed constrained, to dispense with the truly awful and unpleasant ‘Big Brother which would make the exercise worthwhile for that reason alone). Its charter could be framed in a much more tightly drawn way so as to enforce a straight-jacket of impartiality upon it.
Its funding should also enable it to sustain a presence in radio broadcasting, with a particular remit to run a radio-4 style station under a duty to produce programmes to compete with ‘Today’, ‘PM’, ‘The World at One/This Weekend’ and so on, an exercise which could also be enforced on the news/political content of its TV entities.
Only thus is there any chance that the BBC will have its habits of bias broken. More importantly its ability to set the agenda will also be broken. That is a blow which could see it forced to address more realistically its inherent bias.
Giving someone 2% of the £3.5 billion Broadcaasting Tax, as ConservativeHome suggests, that is now the BBC’s take is never going to allow a competitor to do anything terribly much other than operate as a mosquito trying to pierce a rhinoceros’ skin. Having a publicly funded player in the game with a big chunk of the pot at its disposal is a good alternative to the preferred fate that most of us who loath the BBC might care to see: being turned loose into the big bad world of true competition or dismemberment.
I for one should enjoy hearing the reaction of the first lefty BBC editor of ‘Today’ who rings up the preferred choice of the day for the 8.10 slot only to find he has been snaffled by Channel 4 (or whoever) for their competing programme.
Only then will they realise that they have to compete in the open market for listeners and that a major part of that audience has voted with its ears, so to speak. The BBC then might find itself the Broadcasting equivalent of the Guardian: listened to only by Polly Toynbee and her kind.
Still, for once every listener would agree with the BBC which should make it Onanistically happy.