Surprise: the government doesn’t like the BBC (shock horror!). Another surprise: the government is going to destroy the BBC – indeed, that’s what it’s doing right now – and no one is lifting a finger to oppose this. Presumably because no one knows about it.
That’s hardly surprising: As the New Statesman said:
The problem for our public service broadcaster is not that it lacks public support. On the contrary, the British people are passionately supportive of the BBC. The problem is that there are no newspapers, radio stations or television channels exposing just what is at stake. The traditional media is not on the pitch.
BBC executives have pursued a strategy of self-censorship; we can assume favouring a path of diplomacy. The popular press – notably the Murdoch papers – has most to gain from a US style broadcast market favoured by Whittingdale. We can expect little in the way of government scrutiny on their pages.
In George Osborne and Michael Gove – regarded by some as the two sharpest political operators in the Tory party – we have two of the most influential cabinet ministers in cahoots with Murdoch. Neither of whom has made any efforts to hide their admiration for him.
It’s BBC charter-renewal time again, and the Tory government wants to make sure that our “national broadcaster” doesn’t keep criticising it. And it’s not just the Tories: it seems all the political parties are into the idea of de-fanging our BBC. Even the BBC, and its media friends/competitors have had little to say about John Whittingdale has said – that “he plans to have the government directly appoint most members of a new body to run the corporation” – that “only two or three members of a 13-strong unitary board, which would replace the discredited BBC Trust model, would be BBC executives while the rest would be government appointees” – effectively taking away the the BBC’s independence. The BBC would become just another mouthpiece for the government’s spin, lies and propaganda.
But the politicos have forgotten about an important factor in this: Us. The People of Britain. The people who keep the politicians and their lick-spittle civil servants in their jobs. As The New Statesman has it:
Nearly 400,000 of us have signed the 38 Degrees petition to protect our BBC. 177,000 of us made individual submissions to the government’s consultation on the BBC’s future. We are on the pitch – albeit against an elite outfit with unfair advantages. It is a perverse setting for a fair contest which raises serious questions about the plurality of the political sphere in Britain today.
The New Statesman goes on to tell us what the stakes are in this “game”:
First, its independence to decide on its channels, its programming and its news reporting. Interviewed for a Sunday newspaper last month, Whittingdale set out plans for the new body that will oversee the BBC to have a majority-Downing Street appointed board. People would be outraged to think that the government could hold such influence over news, programmes and the future of TV and radio channels. The revelation sits behind an online paywall having failed to make the BBC news bulletins.
Second, the money available to the BBC. Independent media consultants Enders Analysis have reported on the scale of cuts that the BBC has already faced – “a fall in total public service broadcast funding of at least 20% since 2010/2011”. Let us be under no illusion that without sustained public pressure, this erosion will be set to continue for the decade-long agreement that the government will deliver by year’s end.
Basically, the government wants to tell the BBC what it can and can’t report; if the Beeb dares to disobey, it will be beaten with the stick of “no-money-for-you-bigmouth”.
But the BBC has its fans out here in the real world. According to a Yougov poll carried out for 38 Degrees, says the Guardian:
The government is not trusted by a majority of voters to protect the BBC during the forthcoming renewal of its charter, according to a poll that shows most people view the corporation as the most impartial and reliable news broadcaster in the UK.
A YouGov survey for the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees found that distrust of the government about its BBC reform plans is strongest among those aged over 60, the group most likely to be Tory supporters.
The poll, the first of its kind to look at attitudes to the BBC among older voters, found that 62% of over-60s are suspicious of government intentions, more than double the 27% who say they have faith in ministers to make the right decisions. The findings will raise increasing doubts among many Tory MPs about the political wisdom of meddling with an organisation seen by many of the party’s voters as a cherished part of British life.
Of all those questioned, 61% said the quality of the British media would deteriorate if commercial advertising were introduced on the BBC, against just 8% who think it would bring improvements.
Interesting, this reflection of over-60s. The New Statesman also says:
people over 60 – a key political target group – do not trust the government to protect the BBC during the Charter renewal, with more than twice as many saying that they do not trust the government (62%) compared to those reporting that they do (27%)
David Babbs, executive director at 38 Degrees, which is heading a campaign to protect the BBC, said: “The BBC is a national treasure. But its future is at risk. Any government that damages the BBC will be on the wrong side of the British public. John Whittingdale’s proposed reforms are going down like a lead balloon with key groups of target voters.”
So, very few people – including those whose narural political “home” is at the bosom of the Tories, don’t like the fast-and-loose game the government is playing with the BBC. Not too clever. The Tories rely on the older voter – but messing with the cherished Beeb, coupled with the complaints and confusion over when, if ever, pensions will pay out as advertised, is alienating its bedrock. I can’t say I’m dismayed at the idea of Cameron and his fellow pig-lovers losing their jobs. But I really do hope they don’t take the Beeb down with them. The BBC churns out some awful material… but it is innovative too, sometimes. That would be a real loss.