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Is the BBC a monolith?

One of the right wing UK gutter press editors, Paul Dacre, is getting desperate to increase his readership figures by getting some cheap publicity from attacking the BBC. He says “it’s too big, its journalism starts from the premise of leftwing ideology, and its a monolith distorting Britain’s media market…”

What’s really happening though is that the internet is pulling advertisers away from the old fashioned media of the traditional Fleet Street press while UK commercial TV is being crucified by Satellite TV. Communications media are evolving, and Mr Dacre doesn’t like it.

Like many right wingers, in defence he attacks. He can’t attack the internet as too many people love it to bits. He can’t attack commercial TV because they’re having a hard time too. And he can’t attack the Murdoch family owned Sky Satellite TV because as a newspaper journalist he may one day need to get a job somewhere in their empire – which might be his intent all along. So he picks an easy target: the BBC.

Why attack the BBC? Well, for right wingers like Mr Dacre it’s far too intelligent. How can he get away with the stories his newspaper has spouted as truth for years when the BBC website is calmly giving readers a balanced view of world affairs with in depth analysis that allows them to make up their own minds?


While Mr Dacre’s readers are slowly and steadily dying of old age, the BBC is attracting more and more young readers (as well as increasing numbers of more mature people) via its website which is so successful that it pulls in a massive 52% of the total British online audience. Mr Dacre must be jealous as hell!

But that doesn’t explain why the BBC can easily be attacked. That would be the licence fee. Because the BBC gets no advertising revenue at home, it receives its income from a fee paid by every household which has a TV. And licence fees have just gone up.

The licence fee raises a massive £4 billion per year and causes many politicians apoplexy (nice word that, it sounds so much like I imagine the condition it causes sounds like, but I digress). Why? Because of the BBC’s independence. It doesn’t have to cater to the whims of shareholders, advertisers, or government ministers. They don’t like that. Neither the politicians, nor the right wing newspapers. They hate not being in control, being able to shape and censor what other people think.

It all stems from the incorporation of the BBC back in 1927 as a government owned but independent corporation. The stated mission of the BBC is “to inform, educate and entertain”, and its motto is “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”. Those were lofty times when lofty thinking ruled, and the world was trying to forget the scars of the First World War by indulgences characterised by books such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” that dreamed of a future with no war or poverty.

Unlike a shareholder corporation, the BBC cannot really change it’s raison d’etre and so is bound to follow its charter just like any Foundation. So, it informs by making sure it’s journalism and journalists are world class, it educates through deep analysis of many important issues that other news media skim over, and it entertains in a wide range of ways, including hrough parody and irony involving politicians. Again, the right wing politicians don’t like that at all – so they call it left wing biased.

With its motto of “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation” it isn’t surprising that it is sometimes labelled as left wing, although it carries a lot of pro-right wing stuff too. It does try always to give a balanced view, although of course you can always point at a specific program in which the “lean” (I won’t call it bias as that indicate some degree of malintent which I don’t believe is there at all) was slightly one way more than another. I could mention here some individual BBC journalists who are clearly biased, but I’ll leave that for another day: the organisation itself though is not.

But back to Mr Dacre’s problem. A generation after the formation of the BBC, commercial TV was given the go-ahead in 1952 to broadcast in Britain. It was set up with a range of regional franchises that had a monopoly in their own areas. Each region competed with the others for advertisers. For years commercial TV was dominant. It had the highest ratings, all the top 10 shows, the biggest and longest running soaps and so on.

Then along came Satellite TV, but it was pretty much ignored for a long time despite picking up the exclusive contracts to broadcast many major sporting events. Instead of getting together, the small regional commercial stations were prevented from doing so for years, during which time Satellite TV became the dominant commercial TV broadcaster in Britain. Not surprisingly really when you consider the extent to which the terrestrial commercial stations suffered through poor decision making and lousy management on their own and on their regulator’s part. For too long they were prevented from taking each other over, so the weak survived and the strong never reached the critical mass they would have needed to compete effectively with Sky TV.

Another impediment to the growth of the small commercials was the rule that prevented joint TV and newspaper ownership. Except for at Sky of course, owned as it was by the Australian Murdoch family’s newsprint empire which funnelled huge amounts of cash into the satellite service which was for years a loss making exercise, albeit it a steadily growing one.

The Murdoch empire now extends well outside the UK, with ownership of TV stations and newspapers across many continents, including the much reviled or much applauded (depending on your point of view) right wing Fox News in the US.

So, is there a monolith? Maybe, but if it’s the BBC it’s a good one the world would be all the poorer for if it did not exist. We’d all be tied in to the trickle of news the right wing press and advertiser driven TV channels would allow to get out, we’d never know when bad things happened, and stuff like Iraq and so on would have pretty much propaganda coverage only. Like you get on Fox News.

Oh yes, and on Mr Dacre’s paper.

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One comment on “Is the BBC a monolith?

  1. In light of recent reports about a tie up between the BBC and a large commercial computer firm I am not sure the BBC is as altruistic as it once was. It could just be incredibly naive though.

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