The Telegraph (one of those beacons of balanced reporting that illuminate Britain’s fourth estate) thinks the new Tory government has “gone to war” with the BBC by appointing long-serving chairman of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport committee John Whittingdale as the new culture secretary, whose responsibilities include the Beeb.
Whittingdale (left), hardly a fire-breather, is reported to have called the Beeb names during his long stint as committee chairman (he could hardly have done otherwise at some point). He’ll oversee a review of the BBC’s royal charter next year that might introduce some market forces into the lumbering monolith.
But the Tories, as Whittingdale surely knows, should be careful what they wish for. One beef they have, apparently, is with the Beeb’s election coverage which some backwoodsmen viewed as pro-Labour. Maybe I was watching and listening to a different BBC. Introducing market forces – subscription, advertising maybe – is not, in itself, going to make the Beeb pro-Tory. These Hon Members also fear a pro-Europe BBC bias when David Cameron’s In/Out referendum on EU membership finally happens.
While the £145.50 BBC licence fee is hardly popular, one suspects that most people in the UK would rather pay it (or, preferably, a reduced amount) than be charged for various packages a la Sky or Virgin as, somehow or other, these tend to reach dizzying amounts. The bureaucracy of such a system change would probably eat up any ‘savings.’
Could any of the BBC be funded by advertising? Not so long ago leading advertisers regularly banged on about access to the BBC and its huge audiences. But audiences aren’t so huge today and advertisers have numerous other options which they eagerly pursue – sometimes against all the evidence. Ads on BBC TV would certainly knock the stuffing out of ITV and Channels 4 and 5. More importantly, from a politician’s perspective, they would be deeply unpopular with most viewers – and therefore a surefire vote loser.
There are plenty of ways of improving the Beeb without frightening the horses. It’s still awash with overpaid managers who are not very different from the twerps in the Beeb’s own ‘W1A’ series. It grapples ineffectually with IT, just like the Government. It’s bad at buildings. And when it does think about cutting back it looks in the wrong areas, as it did when it tried to get rid of two jewels in its crown, BBC 4 and Radio Six.
Whittingdale surely knows this. He may well help to produce a more sensible BBC, one that actually recognises its limits and works within them. But he knows enough about the BBC and the media world in which it operates not to ‘go to war’ against it.