RDN on BBC Scotland: “Scrap the BBC!”

I had quite an interesting outing on BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye phone-in show on the BBC’s charter review which begins in earnest today. I argued as usual for the “nuclear option” of getting rid of this antiquated institution.

I have written a good deal on this theme, not least in my book, “Scrap the BBC!”.  Now, I only really want to add thoughts which arise from more current events.

So far as I can see from the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s announcement in the House of Commons, the Government’s promise  to look at the BBC’s future seems just about sufficiently open-minded. Chris Bryant, for Labour, came out all guns blazing in favour of the status quo, which might be thought odd granted that his party doesn’t have a leader – nor perhaps much claim to a policy platform – at the moment.

I believe the BBC should be allowed to disappear altogether (with its name perhaps being reserved only for its World Service offering). I don’t hate it, or think it utterly leftist. Rather, I think it represents the cosmopolitan, urban, liberal elite (that is, the soft-left, green, PC, liberal orthodoxy which dominates the creative and academic worlds), and that it does so because the state ordains that broadcasters be impartial. Robbed of real diversity of opinion (as the rest of the journalistic world positively encourages) the BBC’s bosses and presenters remain comfortable within their comfort zone of mild dissidence, apparent anti-elitism, and an air of largely phony populism.

My bigger beef is that the BBC is an anachronism which was designed to be both cosseted and corseted by the state. We can live without it and should, and do so on the principle that an affluent, free society should not have the state interfere except where absolutely necessary.

My main interlocutor on the show was Steve Hewlett who seemed to be a defender of the status quo, though quite reasonably he also seemed to want to be thought, perhaps because he really is, merely a disinterested, impartial commentator.

Anyway, Mr Hewlett deployed the “BBC as central to the ecology of the creative industry and life of the nation” argument. I said that I simply don’t believe this line. The creatives we need could probably rely on the market and where there is market failure I propose that there might be some sort of National Trust of the Media. (I think this approach may solve the problem, if it is one, of funding journalism.)

And I also argued that people now want to be able to buy programmes, and aren’t interested in channels. So even the new subscription model probably won’t work for long. (Similarly, I guess that paywall newspapers won’t for much longer get readers to subscribe to their “channel” or organ, and will have switch to a brand-neutral micro-payment system.)

Mr Hewlett said that most people still watch programmes as broadcasts on TV, as though that was a telling riposte to my view. My point is that new payment systems will emerge which will make it possible to pay for individual programmes irrespective of the channel they happen to be on, or the means by which they are viewed. The BBC, Sky, Netflix and all the rest will – I submit – find their business models will have to adjust to that technology-driven new reality.



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Publication date

16 July 2015