47 Comments

Summary:

There have been calls for a restructuring of the British public broadcaster in the wake of scandals involving sexual-abuse charges against prominent British citizens. But does the BBC just need to be shaken up, or does its entire mandate for public journalism need to be reviewed?

The BBC is embroiled in what its own government overseer has called — with typical British reserve — a “ghastly mess” as a result of two sex-related scandals: one involving a long-time presenter who has been accused of child abuse, and the other sparked by a news story that accused a former British MP politician of similar offences and turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Everyone from the chairman of the BBC Trust to independent media-industry observers are calling for the broadcaster to be re-organized or somehow reformed, but no one (so far) is attacking the larger question: Is there a purpose for state-funded news outlets like the BBC any more, and if so what is it — and is the BBC capable of fulfilling that purpose?

To put things in perspective, the British Broadcasting Corp. isn’t just a government-financed news outlet. It also happens to be one of the largest broadcasters and news agencies in the world, with almost 25,000 employees, and an annual budget — financed primarily by the “TV tax” that the British government levies on every television set owning household in the country — of more than $5 billion. Do we really need that kind of state-financed news entity in an age when journalism is everywhere? Couldn’t that amount of money be used in better ways, either to fund independent news entities or for some other purpose?

Does the BBC need to be restructured or dismantled?

The first bombshell to hit what Brits call “The Beeb” came when Jimmy Savile, host of a long-running entertainment show, was accused of having engaged in sexual abuse of children over a span of several decades. The state broadcaster’s show Newsnight had a piece prepared that detailed these allegations, but someone at the organization spiked the story. The director-general of the agency, Mark Thompson — who just became the new CEO of the New York Times Co. — has said he had no knowledge of the incident, but the decision has sparked a loss of confidence in the BBC’s ability to monitor itself.

Just weeks after this crisis, the broadcaster aired a Newsnight documentary about a separate case of sexual-abuse allegations, and identified a prominent MP Conservative, Lord McAlpine, as the perpetrator. Unfortunately for the BBC and everyone involved in the program, the victim later said that his attacker was not Lord McAlpine — and it turned out that the broadcaster had not actually confirmed that McAlpine was involved, nor had it approached the MP about the allegations. The BBC’s new director-general has stepped down after just 2 months in the job, and the agency’s director of news and the deputy director for news have also stepped aside. (Update: As a number of readers have pointed out, the program didn’t name Lord McAlpine but referred to a senior Conservative from the Thatcher era. At least one of the journalists who worked on the documentary identified the subject as McAlpine, however, and that information then spread through Twitter).

Much of the response to these events has focused on how the BBC needs to be restructured in some way: how the head of the news or editorial division should be separate from the head of the business side or the director-general’s office, etc. Former Guardian digital editor Emily Bell, now at Columbia University running the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, does a good job of retracing the steps that may have led to the BBC’s recent journalistic failures. And almost everyone notes that the Beeb is still trusted and in some cases even revered by the British people — but there are those who suggest otherwise:

Do we need a single state-funded source of journalism?

But while the BBC’s decisions in both of these cases deserve all the investigation they are getting both from within the agency and from outside it, it’s worth asking whether the British government — and by extension the British populace — need to be financing a $5-billion organization to produce journalism. And if they do, what should that entity’s purpose be? A similar question could be asked in Australia and Canada, both of which have their own national versions of the BBC (the U.S. also helps subsidize National Public Radio and other public entities, although the majority of their revenue comes from donations).

As even a former chairman of the British broadcaster has pointed out, one of the biggest criticisms that can be made of a state-funded news outlet like the BBC is that it is being paid to compete with private broadcasters and news companies, many of which can barely afford to continue doing business at all, let alone match the vast revenue and resources of the Beeb. Along with its counterparts in Australia and Canada, the BBC has become a powerful force in online news, ranking just below outlets like the New York Times and CNN when it comes to overall audience.

Supporters argue that there is a place for an (allegedly) impartial source of journalism, one that will undertake the kinds of investigative projects that other outlets do not — and that would be a great rationale for the existence of a state-funded news entity, if that’s all the BBC and its counterparts did. But the reality is that they also produce a vast quantity of regular news and entertainment as well. Is that really something that residents of Britain need to subsidize with their taxes?

If governments want to fund the creation of news and journalism, maybe they would be better off finding some way to do that by financing independent entities, the way the Knight Foundation and other non-profit trusts do, instead of propping up anachronistic players like the BBC.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users zawtowers and R/DV/RS

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  1. To keep the media landscape balanced, we will always need entities that have a mandate other than profitability. PBS in the U.S. is a great example. No private broadcaster would create a series like Nova, or Sesame Street. Not when the lure of reality TV beckons with its dirt-cheap production costs and sky-high ad spots. Restructure the Beeb, but don’t kill it. That would be too high a price for these unfortunate events.

    1. How do we know a private broadcaster or some other entity wouldn’t create something like Nova or Sesame Street? They haven’t because a publicly-funded entity already did it, but that’s not to say someone wouldn’t have if that entity didn’t exist.

      1. Hmm, not really buying that line of reasoning. By that argument, Samsung and other should never have created their own iPhone competitors because Apple got there first. Which of course, is silly. Competition happens when organizations perceive opportunity. I can only assume that the reason no private broadcaster hasn’t created their own Nova is that they don’t see a compelling reason to. Because it’s not a big enough prize to chase. Which is not to say that the privates do nothing in this space – Discovery channel has some great stuff in this vein. But generally speaking, they go after the big audiences. As they should. That’s why we need both.

      2. Yes, it’s possible that some private broadcaster might have created Sesame Street, but that’s like saying some private company could have put us on the moon in 1969. The fact remains that market forces don’t naturally support either, so a government role may be justified in broadcasting to support educational and cultural programming that benefits society as a whole. I would have agreed with you more if Discovery, the History Channel, A&E, etc., were still producing the quality of shows they did 10 or more years ago, but not now, with the unadulterated reality junk these “educational” channels now major in.

    2. I guess you don’t remember the Jacques Cousteau specials back in the 60s or the National Geographic Specials that aired on network television back in the 70s in the US. Those shows were created for and aired on commercial television.

      I grant you US television is mostly a “vast wasteland” but there are exceptions and there is no reason to believe for-profit TV can’t create shows every bit as good as Sesame Street or Nova.

  2. Agree completely with the first photo of a tweet you’ve posted. I’ve watched American television and it’s bloody awful.

    The BBC does A LOT more than just journalism and it does it to a very high standard. That, in turn, forces independent broadcasters to be better. It really is the gold standard of broadcasting, and you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

  3. I agree with the middle tweet – it has more to do with the state of entitled bureaucracy than quality journalism.

    I am a big fan of Canada’s CBC… yes it is expensive, but isnt it wonderful what sort of quality programming can be created when an organization is not afraid to raise the bar instead of catering to the lowest common denominator?

    1. Thanks, Buzz — but part of the point is that the CBC and BBC are competing with private media companies on an unfair playing field, particularly in the case of the BBC. Does that seem fair?

      1. Then who would you have produce media which is not profitable? Media that caters to small audiences that would not be catered to if not for a national broadcaster? As far as the news is concerned, embedding journalists in foreign countries for long periods is not a profitable venture, yet it allows the BBC to provide insight far beyond what could be achieved by jetting someone in when a major story breaks. An organisation like the BBC can do these things through a combination of selling quality programming abroad and through the licence fee. Do you honestly believe that private media could or would step up to these challenges? Would CNN lay on community radio stations which cater to small ethnic minorities? Would Fox pay a journalist to live in Syria for years at a time to provide an emic/etic mix of reporting on the occasion that something happens?

        Before you consider what is fair to the other media producers, consider what is fair to the consumer – you know, the way we all do when it seems that private enterprise is being favored over citizens by government regulation .

      2. You haven’t made any argument about why “fair” matters. Your post asks if we “need” the BBC. Your response suggests that you believe that is unfair and distorts the market, even though that isn’t the argument that you made in the post.

        Is that the crux of your argument: that the BBC distorts market competition, and hence should not exist, or is it something else?

      3. That is part of the argument that I made in the post — that it distorts the market unfairly because of its size and funding. And I am not arguing that it needs to be abolished, just that it might not need to be quite so massive.

      4. It’s only “unfair” when they pull ad revenue out of the equation AND take subsidies – at least that’s what the private broadcasters would have you believe.

        I value the CBC/BBC as an entity that does what private broadcasters are unwilling to do: put efforts in to creating quality programming to attract the widest audience. When you don’t have to “worry” about the bottom line, it’s amazing what you can create.

  4. As an American, I am glad the BBC exists. The quality of BBC shows is much higher than the crap we see on US Cable TV.

  5. To view the BBC as producing nothing but news and entertainment is to underestimate it drastically. It provides education, can offset the costs of minority and niche broadcasting (where there would otherwise be none,or none of sufficient quality to be worth ,mentioning) by producing and selling abroad popular content (Top Gear,Sherlock) etc. It is worth keeping for journalism alone, and despite recent issues there is still no outlet I trust more,but it goes far beyond that.

    1. Yes, that selling popular content abroad is part of the problem — since it is taxpayer-subsidized. Only the BBC has the wherewithal to do that.

  6. fabianschonholz Monday, November 12, 2012

    Because of negligence you call to shut down state sponsored media outlets? You are an idiot sir!! The only thing that needs to be restructure is their HR and hiring practices so they don’t hire negligent and untalented moron.

  7. Daniel Bentley Monday, November 12, 2012

    TLC was founded by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA. It was privatized in 1980 and now shows Honey Boo Boo.

    Case closed :)

  8. It isn’t a case of “do we need?” it’s a matter of “can we cope with losing?”.

    Shifting the balance of media in the UK in such a drastic manner as abolishing the BBC would have long reaching effects that journalism in the UK would struggle to recover from. There are too many agendas pulling in different directions for the sort of idealism eluded to by Martin Hughes-games to flourish independently. Lets be honest with ourselves, if that pure idealism was still present and capable of doing the job it would be regardless of the BBC’s existence. Everyone’s Gutenberg now remember.

    In the numbers game of journalism there are simply too few who have the strongest attachment to universal truth as an ideology. The way to get noticed and have an audience delivered to you in the UK has become about cause journalism. Pick a lens to see the world through that speaks to predilections of a readership, an audience. To many idealistic journalists see things in terms of their truth rather than the truth. The market rewards that unfortunate fact of life.

    I would also add that the quoted Martin Highes-Games may have found the BBC became that labyrinth when the word no became more prevalent. The envy filled so called scrutiny from other media organisations ceded quickly to the budget and license fee as a proxy.

    Anachronistic! Only if truth and reporting it as intellectually honestly as possible is now also an anachronism. I speak only to journalism and news here but you must remember the BBC is far more than a news organisation. How quick it is forgotten that the BBC have played a leading role in defining the way media organisations do the web. iPlayer was an answer to one of the BBC’s charter obligations. Perhaps it’s funding is anachronistic but it is a very progressive organisation… And who’s to say the modern model of funding is the best one, maybe… just maybe an anachronistic and unique way of funding is a good one.

    I am in no way connected with the BBC or any other media organisation. My views are as a license fee payer. Someone who thinks the 45p ($0.72) per day that the entire output of the BBC costs is a price well worth paying.

    In closing I would like to point to the media machinations that have brought the BBC to everyone’s attention. Savile, a story that has been sitting on news editors’ desks for decades like a live hand grenade. Keep it on the desk too long and it may go stale or may go off all by itself. Or, as in this case, it has been tossed to make a big noisy mess “over there” to distract attention from yet another news paper group being sued for criminal behaviour.

    There is huge pressure on Lord Leveson, ironically some from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, to push him to come to commercially helpful conclusions in his report. Print media is scared they may be properly regulated for once. TBIJ asked for a levy, a tax to fund their activity with the license fee very much in their sights.

    So be sure the BBC while far from perfect and evidently dogged by the problems of large organisations is generally a sound institution and it’s funding source is sensible and very effective. Equally this furore has more to do with the manoeuvring and political influence of other media interests than any fundamental flaws in the BBC.

  9. Of course we need BBC, PBS, CBC, etc. Because not everything should be about money-money-money-ratings all the time.

  10. Matthew,

    One factor here is a “path dependence” for lack of a better term. IMO, there are plenty of existence proofs that we don’t “need” government sponsored TV. PBS actually seems like sort of a bad example. Leaving aside the widespread misunderstanding about how PBS funding works, I strongly suspect that the PBS examples everyone likes to hold up (such as Sesame Street) would have little trouble finding distribution if PBS were to disappear overnight.

    The issue with the BBC specifically is that we have a system that has grown up around a publicly-funded BBC. And to yank that, especially in the current journalistic environment, would take something that’s mostly good away with no real mechanism for anything to replace it.

    1. That’s a fair point, Gordon — and I am not necessarily arguing that the BBC needs to be obliterated, just wondering whether we need everything that it does as much as we used to.

      1. Mathew, generously assuming that you’re not just trolling, let’s try to answer your specific question about journalism – do we need the BBC when everyone’s a journalist? I’d say the top-tory-twitter firestorm rather neatly proves the point that actual professional journalism is sometimes better than the great unwashed rumor-mongering. The regrettable lapse at the BBC on this occasion is what we’re complaining about, after all. If we’re criticizing its absence we must, by implication value its presence.

        With regard to your flailing comment “the CBC and BBC are competing with private media companies on an unfair playing field” maybe it would help to see the BBC as a mutual society. Yes, membership is compulsory but license payers all still bear the benefits. Apart from the framing bias in your use of “unfair”, please explain how this is a bad thing.

  11. As a “TV tax” or as we prefer to call it “License Fee” payer (it’s more than a semantic difference), I think there is a debate to be had here, alas the author doesn’t make much of a case and factual errors in the article take away credibility.

    Two points of pedantry to start with (read on, there’s a reason)…
    – Lord McAlpine is not, nor has ever been an MP (Member of Parliament), a simple Wikipedia search would confirm this

    – The license fee is not paid per set, it is paid per household where broadcast TV is watched, irrespective of how

    We are told that the BBC is an anachronism, that the future is internet journalism, but where is high quality investigative journalism on the internet if it doesn’t come from major media organisations? Few and far between from what I have seen, though some impressive efforts do spring to mind.

    The BBC has a long history of high quality investigative journalism and it has seriously let itself down, but it doesn’t follow that we should get rid of the BBC, it is not an anachronism. Too much on the internet in the guise of news and journalism is poor quality rehashing of press releases, suck up pieces to friends of journalists or puff pieces from bloggers who believe posting in volume is better than little and often in high quality. At its best (and it wont take much to get it back there) the BBC would not be posting article containing the basic factual errors above.

    You appear to suggest the BBC is not independent from government, again, some basic fact checking and a read-up on BBC history will correct this. The BBC is run by the BBC Trust. While the government votes regularly to renew its charter and decide on the level of the license fee it has no direct control over the organisation. Control s from the BBC Trust and the government is unable to remove the Chairman of the Trust on its own without the help of the Privy Council (start boning up on your constitutional monarchy).

    Any research on the BBC will quite quickly reveal that not a year goes by without the government of the day (whatever party they’re from) bemoaning the BBC and criticising it for being biased against the government. See the Andrew Gilligan affair for confirmation. There is no question that the BBC is independent from government.

    On the other hand, organisations like Fox news are demonstrably towing a party line set from the top. In a similar situation where a flagship news program had fouled up so badly, would the head of any major American network resign? Would their leading current affairs programme do be allowed to broadcast a critical investigation into the failings of another news programme on the same network? Would the media be full of employess, ex-employees and the organisations own website reporting on the incident? No, I think not.

    What is the advantage of a publicly funded broadcaster? In the UK our two broadcasters who receive public funds are bound to provide a certain amount of minority interest programming that would not get made by commercial broadcasters, allowing greater inclusion for minority groups. The funding allows BBC News to station correspondents in places commercial media organisations would not consider profitable.

    Minority programming and the fact that the BBC is not bound to chase rating also has an impact on the non-news production. As is noted, BBC also produces entertainment and there are many examples of programmes now considered classics that would not have been made or allowed to continue if the BBC pursued simply commercial outcomes. As well as entertainment this also extends to the arts and science and nature programming. British culture is all the richer for these programmes that would not have been made.

    The BBC is not just one of the worlds finest news organisations, it is also demonstrably one of its finest TV producers. Does the UK need to fund this with a “TV tax”? No, it doesn’t have to, but a vast majority of Brits would agree that it would be a poorer country without it. We love your HBO, but if it was a choice, we’d keep our BBC.

    It is claimed that having a publicly funded broadcaster distorts competition with private broadcasters. It may not be a pure market, but other channels seem to do well against the BBC, Sky especially, it almost has a monopoly on sports coverage and its news coverage is generally on par with BBC and occasionally better. There is no competition problem.

    The future is the internet and the anachronistic BBC is embracing it (what you yanks wouldn’t give to have the free iPlayer), but if the future of journalism is articles like the one above, I’ll keep paying my “TV tax” and be better informed for it.

    1. Thanks for the correction on the TV tax licensing structure — the part about McAlpine being an MP has already been corrected. And I am not suggesting that the internet can provide everything the BBC does, but surely it can provide some of it? Thanks for the comment.

  12. Reblogged this on Nicole Bernier- Journalism Futures and commented:
    This blog was posted a couple hours ago and I feel it is really relevent to this project. With questions about whether we need a public service broadcasting provider anymore because journalism is ‘everywhere’ this could help me to develop more ideas with the research question “Are Journalists still necessary for news production?”

  13. Your report contains a serious error. Its states that Newsnight identified Lord McAlpine. This is not the case. Given this error, would it be fair to ask whether we really need ad-funded news entities like GigaOm anymore? Or would that be a massive over-reaction?

    1. Yes, I should probably have said “implicated” instead of identified — but everyone in British media circles knew who the program was about, especially after a former staffer specifically said McAlpine was the subject.

  14. Why do you single Canada and Australia alongside the UK? The public broadcasters of most other Western democracies are typically larger. France, Germany, and the Netherlands would surely be better comparators.

  15. Hey there Mathew,

    Solid post. I sense that you’re playing the Devil’s Advocate a bit here, but — what the heck — I’ll bite. I buy some of the arguments, but I don’t believe the solution(s) your proposing are as fleshed out as the argument itself.

    Specifically, I believe that there might be better opportunities and avenues to explore than simply following in the footsteps of something along the same lines of the Knight Foundation’s programs (which are excellent, but experimental).

    In many cases, those types of foundation investments are not paying off, or creating catalytic changes in the field. Fine for an endowed foundation, but probably not for a public trust or publicly-financed investments.

    Perhaps there’s an opportunity to use more innovative funding approaches, like the obvious venture capital model, or something along the lines of Code for America that injects change agents into the equation. But I’m doubtful that national governments are capable of that kind of radical re-thinking of how to invest the public’s money for journalism.

    More importantly — in the short term anyway — is figuring out how to address what will be obvious market failures if we shift away from state-funded media operations. In Canada, for example, what for-profit news operation will cover the northern territories, or issues that impact underserved parts of the population? Those stories don’t make for “news that sells,” but they’re critical for many people who don’t live in urban centres.

    Lots to think about, anyway. Thanks for this.

    Phillip.

    1. Thanks, Phillip — some good points. And I agree that we may need government funding of some kind to cover places like the far north or areas and topics that other outlets don’t choose to cover. But I think that requires something a lot smaller than a $5-billion colossus like the BBC.

  16. postprintsachav Monday, November 12, 2012

    I don’t agree that the scandals negate the BBC’s essential purpose or royal charter, but they should provoke severe introspection and an internal shake-up that is already taking place.

    I’d be disturbed if the BBC or the Australian version, the ABC, disappeared. Public broadcaster content here in Australia is defined by a government charter that sets out to maintain diversity, fairness, accuracy, and balance in reporting and storytelling with a lack of commercial interest – there are no advertisements on the ABC. Amongst other things, I’m grateful for the omission of ear worm ad jingles.

    I agree to an extent with you Mathew that the internet enables us to access niche, specialised, multicultural or diverse content from around the world, but I don’t think that makes broadcasters like the BBC or the ABC obsolete. They are significant and to their local audiences and cater vital, meaningful and important content to them.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article!

  17. Thanks for the piece Mathew – but there are some fundamental cultural issues I think you have overlooked.

    The people picking you up on your factual errors are not just nerds. If the BBC had included such errors in a news story or blog post (as has been the case in recent weeks) heads would roll – as they have, rightly. Worth pondering that before you next post about how we can live without the BBC. The challenge of being accurate in a world that wants news and opinion ever more quickly is a big one but I’d say the BBC generally has been much better at adapting to this than US journalism.

    I’d also suggest that you have a North American perspective on publically-funded institutions. Without opening up a whole can of worms here, the US view that Europeans have an irrational fetish for expensive tax-funded solutions is not applicable to the BBC. (We’d counter by saying that US healthcare costs 3 times as much as typical EU healthcare provision, and provides a much worse service, according to UN rankings). The market has a vital role – and Sky is an example of a company doing very nicely, thank you – but so does a license-fee supported model. The market can’t sustain the quality and breadth of coverage that BBC provides. We want this hybrid model to continue, please.

    That said, the BBC needs to improve, and to regain the trust of those who pay for it. Like you I question whether it should be as big, although it;s worth remembering that despite the wrath of some commenters online there is no public clamour for dismantling the BBC in the UK, as numerous polls have confirmed. The UK audience’s relationship with the BBC is being tested right now – but a long-term split is frankly inconceivable.

    1. Thanks, Nick — I am not arguing that the BBC needs to vanish, just asking the question about whether we need something so huge and far-reaching now. Thanks for the comment.

  18. You did a great job making this appear to be impartial, fact-based reportage, until you let ‘anachronistic’ slip in the last sentence. That’s a judgement that your article doesn’t support (it may be true, but you didn’t establish it). So it becomes an opinion piece disguised as reportage.

    My view is that profit-independent journalism is a vital service in a democracy; which isn’t the same as saying the BBC is that or is even set up to be that. That view is based on observing what happens to profit-based journalism, more often than not. And concluding that there will always be a pressure on profit-based journalism to populism and/or partisanship. And it is no more immune to misjudgement and mistakes.

    I leave the debate about creative programming and the effect that has on the market to others, but if public funding raises the bar on fact-based journalism, i’ll pay my bit towards that.

    Of course, the Newsnight debacle puts a spotlight on that. The gist of the post is that this proves the BBC should be dismantled. The tone of respondents below the line appears to suggest it means the BBC needs to fix some significant organizational and operational problems, which it is worth the effort of fixing.

    1. Thanks, but it wasn’t intended to be simply “impartial, fact-based reportage” — my opinion is a central part of the post. Perhaps I should have made it even more obvious. In any case, thanks for the comment.

  19. I guess your opinion piece makes me wonder about the grossly outsized, vertically integrated, media companies in the USA and their impact on both news and entertainment. When content production and distribution are married together (as they are with the BBC and others like Aljazeera) are they more prone to serving their own self-interests than a larger purpose?

    If the BBC was only engaged in promoting and reporting on British Culture and British politics and British Economics then one might question the proper use of their public funding. But others will argue that the notion of “accountability” figures deeply into this calculation of what is fair (or by inference what is competitive) because private broadcasting is only accountable to its financial supporters in the same way. So, by that measure, audiences choose the higher quality programming of a publicly funded media organization because it is “better” at it than the privately funded alternatives. I say better in the true sense of having higher quality content and production values than most other “competitive” sources of entertainment and news.

    But I return to the question of “Anglo-centric” content because I think it is important to be aware how the BBC is able to report and produce from so many world locations in such a comprehensive way because they are the most frugal about where the money is spent. The return on investment in having a stringer in Bangalore may not look like much when see from the front end of the investment, but only patient money (like in Qatar) can bring you the truth or the “reality” of a situation by having captured it before it was the centre of everyone’s attention. The BBC are watched by a very large audience outside oftheUK primarily because they can show people things their own government-controlled media will not. And I distinguish between government controlled and publicly funded deliberately. If not for the CBC there would not be other networks operating n Canada because the cost of doing so was too high I the 50s, 60s and 70s. But once the cable companies provided the penetration, then is was profitable for the rest to become national networks. CTV did not operate a national network in those early years, but was a collection of affiliated locals.

    The license fee collected in the UK is not unlike the derivative fees charged by Comcast to carry other channels to consumers who did not ask for them. This bundling of channels is not open, fair, or competitive. But the fee collection is about the same as a TV license is for Brits.

    When publishers, broadcasters, and digital service providers are all owned by the same parent company, how is that a fair marketplace for innovation or new program content development? I believe it stifles opportunity. But in a publicly funded broadcast environment people’s ideas are judged on their merits and not on their base appeal.

    Cheers, from Canada

  20. Mathew, I love your reporting – it is without a doubt some of the most intelligent coverage anywhere. However, I do think you have an unjustifiable love affair with the private sector. Look at American news outlets — MSNBC, CNN and Fox – they present as much real news coverage as Bravo. BBC, ABCau and CBC are global treasures in their smart coverage of serious issues. Look back to the health care debate in the US – the US media outlets coverage was very pro-industry and by many accounts distorted (as reported by FAIR, Media Matters and others) as compared to more in depth and balanced coverage given this issue by the publicly financed news services.

    1. Thanks, Fred — that’s very kind of you to say. And I agree that the BBC and others do an excellent job with the news. My point is just that they may be doing too much at this point, when there are so many other sources. Do they really need to be that large?

  21. maria moura-pons Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Hands off the BBC in its present form…Soap operas and sport sure make a lot of money and also the ingnorance and “stupidifying” (Oh I have just invented a new English word???) or in German “Volksverdumung” or cretinização (in Portuguese) of the people…BBC is an institution respected the world over as a broadcaster of reference! Even we outside the UK need it sometimes to find out what is really happening in our own countries…CNN is irrelevant as a not trustworthy media pushing certain vested interests…

  22. There has been a lot of discussion over the years about how the BBC should be restructured. The sadness is that hardly any of it has come from the BBC itself – instead, the arguments have been pretty much those of the independent TV companies (ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BSkyB) and politicians.

    The independent TV companies have argued for some of the TV Licence Fee money should be redirected to allow them to compete to produce public-service programming – over the last few decades, the output and quality of educational and documentary programming (with a few notable exceptions, notably on Channel 4) has plummeted on independent television. Critics, however, would point out that this is because such programming doesn’t give as good a return as reality TV, quiz shows, chat shows or dramas, so we would end up subsidising the independent TV companies rather than the BBC.

    Politicians have their own axes to grind regarding the BBC. Ironically, both major political parties (Conservative and Labour) have accused the BBC of being biased against them at various times – proof, some might say, of the BBC’s (until recent events) impartiality. In fact, part of the BBC’s growth in bureaucracy stems from the reaction to a previous political confrontation in 2003-4, over the claims that the government of the time had ‘sexed up’ the dossier of evidence used to argue the case of invading Iraq in order to topple Saddam Hussein. The government-appointed Hutton Report found against the BBC, forcing the departure of the then-Director-General, Greg Dyke, and a much more introspective and cautious BBC – hence the watchers to watch the watchers, in the form of more layers of management.

    Unfortunately for the politicians, the recent revelations regarding the conduct of the press and close relationships between the press, the police and politicians – resulting in the Leveson Inquiry (soon to be published) and several ongoing police investigations – had put a dampener on moves by politicians to try and meddle with the BBC, until recent events put the BBC on the defensive. In particular, the revelations of just how close members of the current and previous governments had been to News International (owners of the Times / Sunday Times, The Sun and formerly The News Of The World, and part-owners of BSkyB) resulted in a public outcry against the bid by NI to obtain full ownership of BSkyB. In the end, NI had to withdraw the bid, and James Murdoch resigned from his role as CEO of News Internation and from his position on the board of BSkyB. Needless to say, there is little love between the Murdochs and BBC, particularly as the BBC was in the vanguard of criticism of the proposed BSkyB takeover.

    The danger right now is that politicians will now use the BBC’s many mea culpas as an mandate to impose changes that not only strip away its bureaucracy, but also its ability to function in any kind of independent manner. The BBC needs to get its own house in order – and fast – in order to prevent what some will see as the Murdoch’s revenge, as there is some doubt that the politicians have mended their ways in light of the evidence presented to Lord Leveson.

    1. An excellent analysis and overview of where the BBC is at. The only observation I’d add, which has struck me as bizarrely like a turkey voting for Christmas in recent days, is the BBC itself – in full self-flagellation mode – running endless pieces entitled ‘BBC in crisis’ / ‘Public confidence collapsing': says who? My confidence is fine thanks – a few editorial mishaps do not negate 90 years of journalistic innovation and excellence. And it is only in crisis because a lot of people and organisations with a vested interest are telling us it’s in crisis.

  23. We definitely need these public entities to act as an anchor point that keeps the commercial sector honest, both from a news integrity perspective and the entertainment quality perspective.

    It’s wrong to pose this as an “either/or” situation, driven by ideological litmus test. You get the best outcome by balancing both types – its a proven model that works.

  24. BBC is busted,28 names says it all, best science advice, on how to spread global warming propaganda at all levels of the network. CBC is the canadian parrot of BBC and has presented the BBC material as factual and unbiased.

  25. Yes – more than ever. For those banging on about level playing fields – it’s a public service, not a profit-making enterprise. And a large note to the writer of the article and the subs – you may want to amend your headline, which instantly skews the parameters of this debate and ironically highlights the importance of balanced independent journalism: the BBC is not state-funded, it is licence-fee funded. It does not receive one penny from the government. The independence this guarantees in a world of bias and misinformation is priceless. Yes it has made some serious errors of late, but don’t be duped by the right-wing press and Murdoch, who have a massive vested commercial interest in slamming the BBC. Thanks!

  26. We do not need the BBC in its present form.

    Abolish the license system. Put the BBC on the market. Offer a management buy out to existing management for £1 billion.

    If they are not interested, Auction off the BBC to the highest bidders and use the money for the redundant employees and the redundant license collectors.

    Use what is left from the Auction to pay Micro Business owners £100 a week for 12 months to employ a currently unemployed 16 to 24 year old as an apprentice, with no tax or National insurance to pay for 12 months by th employer or apprentice.

    Be BOLD and get the economy moving

  27. The BBC has recently enjoyed its ninetieth anniversary, during which it has performed quite well. It appears (to me) to have outperformed its commercial counterparts. However, recent “regrettable lapses” afford an opportunity to assess whether it can remedy deficiencies, or will fail to maintain its integrity. I am uncertain of the outcome, particularly when indications of general decline of journalistic quality and integrity abound. Were the prospect to indicate decline, it would be reasonable to consider its dissolution or reformation. Such reformation would best come from within, and that source may unfortunately prove inadequate to the task.

  28. This is all an idiotic diversion. The truly incredible job that BBC News achieves daily is indisputable. The real story is why the ENTIRE British news media avoided airing the Savile story for an entire year after he died. EVERYONE in the media knew the allegations and not one outlet did the apparently simple work required to expose him. Doesn’t that strike anyone as strange?? The rest of this is a bandwagon of distraction to leave the really big question unanswered. This is not just about the BBC. There is something very very rotten in the state of Denmark, and it doesn’t take much digging to realise what and where.

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