BBC Reforms: 5 Reasons to Fight for the UK’s Most Reactionary Institution
by Thomas Barlow
2 October 2015
The BBC is a reactionary, statist institution. It is empirically proven to be pro big business, eurosceptic and nationalistic (both culturally and politically). It is also elitist and regressively funded by a flat rate tax. For these reasons, the Conservatives ought to be fighting to keep the Beeb exactly the way it is.
Given all these proven truths about the nature of the BBC – long an enemy of progressive and radical politics – why should the left fight for the BBC?
What are the proposed changes?
- The licence fee freeze may continue. This would effectively mean a 20% cut in revenue, having already lost 20% since 2010.
- ‘Top slicing’ may continue. This is where the licence fee gets used for other purposes, such as rolling out broadband coverage, saving money for the over-75s, or providing the world service.
- Regional newspapers will get a boost of revenue as some of the fee will be taken out of the BBC and given to regional newspapers. It is worth noting that 70% of the local press is owned by five press barons. In essence this is a direct subsidy paid to these monopolists from the public purse.
- Other potential changes include: decriminalising the licence fee (costing at least £200m a year), Channel 4 potentially being fully privatised, and a corporate board replacing the trust.
What’s the motivation?
Arch-Thatcherite John Whittingdale (fan of the poll tax and close friend to both Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch) has been given the task of renegotiating the licence fee and more.
The official cover story for this attack is that the Conservatives feel the BBC was biased against them during the election. This is demonstrably false, and clearly wrong to even the most uninformed bystander – Ed Miliband and the Labour party got a rougher ride than even Neil Kinnock.
In actual fact it seems Murdoch is getting a quid pro quo for turning his guns full force on Labour during the campaign and helping the Tories win a close election.
1. Defending the BBC beats going backwards.
The neoliberal hollowing out of Britain’s universal services has not gone well for us. Whilst we may not all be up for state control of our institutions, we only have to look at the introduction of markets into the NHS, the break-up of Royal Mail, or any privatisation of national services (rail, energy, water, etc.) to see why we clearly don’t want even more of the same.
Because of the semi-independence of the BBC, it is one of the last on the list. Nonetheless its time has come, and it behoves us to mount a better defence of this institution than we did for the previous services.
2. We should defend the rights of media workers.
Media workers are expected to churn out an ever-increasing amount of content, for less money with less time. This article from a former Mail Online worker gives you some idea. Instantaneous reaction is prized over considered and contextual reporting and this culture is gaining more and more traction in a profit-driven marketplace.
Greater than the bad journalism these changes will produce is the negative effect on all media workers. Film, TV, radio and website production workers – from technical staff to jobbing actors – will all be affected by the cuts.
There has already been a vast increase in zero-hours contracts, insecure employment and exploitative working practices across the sector. The coming changes will accelerate and deepen these practices which are directly against workers’ interests. We need to stand up for BBC media workers.
3. We need to fight the power of the press barons.
80% of the national press and 70% of the local press is owned by five billionaires. If BBC funds are used to subsidise local journalism, this will be yet another public subsidy to private organisations.
Importantly, with the exception of Lord Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail Group), these are organisations which are seeing their profits go down year on year. If we can stop this subsidy we could hasten the demise of the press barons and their stranglehold over British public discourse.
4. No one likes adverts.
Adverts are irritating and clearly affect the quality of media content. Some of the more pernicious elements of the proposed changes suggest that there may be increased markets for advertisers in news and media creation.
Canada’s CBC carries advertising, and the same happens in New Zealand, contributing to the global war on public service broadcasting.
Adverts will increase the leverage of businesses over news content – whether through the increased size of competitors or directly through the BBC.
5. We can fight for a better Beeb now.
The ‘Love it or Lose it – Save the BBC’ NUJ campaign is a worthy effort, organised by campaigners pointing out the 40p-a-day cost for programmes we all love, but there are more possibilities for change than that.
openDemocracy’s OurBeeb platform has launched a campaign ‘100 Ideas for the BBC’ – where we can put forward our ideas and vote on some of the best. There are some astonishing ideas being put forward, and there’s space for plenty more. The campaign is only open until 8 October, but it’s worth supporting the endeavour to re-imagine the BBC and try to create a peoples’ media. It is more likely to happen at the BBC than at Sky or ITV!
Thomas Barlow edits Real Media and is a local branch officer of the NUJ.
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