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Author Topic:  Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015  (Read 2404 times)

darcysarto

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Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015
« on: May 06, 2015, 07:21:38 PM »
This piece by Professor Steven Barnett of the University of Westminster, taken from his LSE Blog originally published on his blog at the Huffington Post

Within hours of the election result, we should have a clearer picture of whether the BBC will survive in its current form. With the current BBC Charter due to expire at the end of next year, the next government will barely have 18 months to consult on the terms of its renewal. It is perfectly possible, if results are only slightly worse for Labour and the Lib Dems than polls suggest, that an unholy alliance of Conservatives, Ulster Unionists from the DUP and a handful of UKIP MPs will see the BBC savaged to a point beyond repair. Its funding, remit, governance and possibly its very existence could be up for grabs.

Elections have always provided ample scope for warring parties to complain about institutional bias and make dire threats about the BBC's future. Some of us still remember the then Conservative Party chairman Chris Patten rallying his troops in advance of the 1992 election, instructing them to jam the BBC's switchboards with complaints of left-wing bias. Patten, of course, subsequently became the second chairman of the BBC Trust and a staunch defender of its independence.

So why should we worry about the BBC this time? Things are different for two reasons. First, it is over 35 years since an election at which a BBC Charter has not been effectively tied down for the foreseeable future. The last time was 1979 when - ironically - the greater threat came from a re-elected Labour government than Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives. It was Thatcher's deputy Willie Whitelaw who secured a 15 year charter in 1981 which effectively closed off her anti-BBC options. This time, there are few influential voices at the top of the Conservative Party who would rush to the rescue of a BBC threatened by a Tory/DUP/UKIP alliance.

Second, we have already heard a number of threatening noises coming from a variety of sources on the right. Commenting on one debate on the BBC's Today programme, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid told the Daily Mail last week that 'they were all anti-Tory. It came across as very, very anti-Tory.' He wants BBC bias to be part of the Charter renewal process. A year ago, asked about the future of the licence fee, he replied that 145.50 a year was 'a large amount for many families up and down the country [and] needs to be looked at when we have the Charter review process.'

In an interview with the Radio Times, just as the Conservative manifesto was published, Chancellor George Osborne echoed a common Tory refrain about the dangers of a 'monopoly' BBC being too dominant and 'not suffocating local news' - which will delight the powerful local newspaper lobby, despite lack of any evidence of the BBC's adverse impact on local journalism.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Nigel Dodds - furious at being excluded from televised leadership debates - explicitly linked BBC editorial decision-making to the Charter Review process when he said that the DUP would 'ensure the BBC does not exert such a distorting influence on British politics in this way again.' He expects the BBC's future to be on the table in any negotiations following a hung Parliament. And Nigel Farage has been even more outspoken, announcing that BBC funding would be cut by two thirds if Ukip were in power: 'I think in the modern world the BBC having this vast budget and this huge power over broadcasting is frankly an anachronism.'

Both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos have pledged their support to the BBC's future with the Lib Dems committed to inflation-proofing of the licence fee and Labour to maintaining its 'vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life'. The Conservatives, by contrast, promise a 'comprehensive review of the Royal Charter' and are committed to continuing the top-slicing of BBC revenue to pay for rural broadband.

If the Conservatives finish with around 310 seats - not implausible with a small shift in the last 48 hours - there will be some frantic deal-making with the DUP (expected to win around 9-10 seats) and UKIP (possibly with three or four). With effectively 12 months to seal a new BBC Charter, and national attention distracted by other more urgent issues, the BBC could easily become the victim of a cursory consultation followed by a major licence fee reduction and severely restrictive Charter. It would, effectively, be the end of the BBC as a powerful cultural, democratic and economic force in Britain.

There would certainly be resistance from a more sympathetic House of Lords, but the parliamentary mood music will be hostile. In the post-election deal-making of 2010, it was only a determined intervention by the Lib Dems which ensured the BBC didn't take a much greater financial hit. With a Conservative Party dominated by the special pleading of the right rather than tempered by the centre left, BBC supporters would be facing their toughest fight in a generation.


Given it's recent history no one should pretend the BBC is perfect but it's still one of the best things we have.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2015, 07:32:33 PM by darcysarto »

darcysarto

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Re: Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2015, 11:57:02 AM »
Well after Thursday night I can only echo the words of Bill Rogers

A smaller, poorer BBC is almost inevitable after the 2015 election result.

BBC executives have, historically, tried to guess long-term government changes, and pick up bright political advisers who will give them insight into the direction either Labour or Conservatives are heading with public service broadcasting, so that emerging strategies at Auntie are smiled on, embraced and funded.

In the late eighties, the BBC wrangled with the Peacock Committee, set up by Margaret Thatcher with a view to scrapping the licence fee. Entertainingly, the long-term outcome was deepjoy - the 1988 licence fee of 58 was index-linked, by Douglas Hurd, and that, combined with steady growth in number of licence fees, produced the "jacuzzi of spare public cash" that the ever-helpful and strategic Mark Thompson noted when employed briefly by Channel 4.

Patricia Hodgson, a Tory inside the the BBC from 1970 to 2000, hedged against the arrival of a Labour Government, by hiring two Labour policy wonks, James Purnell and Ed Richard, to map out an expanded BBC future in the mid-90s. ( Lord Hall may have partially been gambling on a Labour win in 2015 when he re-hired James Purnell, now with Cabinet experience under his belt.)

In 2000, Labour's Chris Smith topped up the jacuzzi with a licence deal of inflation plus 1.5% for digital initiatives, to run for six years.

The jacuzzi started emptying in 2007, when the link with inflation was broken at the behest of Gordon Brown. The BBC had been concentrating on woo-ing Tessa Jowell, not Gordon. They thought they'd squared Gordon - with moves out of London - like Salford - which were a fit with the Labour re-distribution of big Government offices. And with the use of PFI-type deals to fund them. Thommo was aghast, and talked of a 2bn funding gap - but the BBC survived, as did Thommo's salary increases.

The 2010 deal-in-a-weekend, done by Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt, was financial, not strategic. Thompson had to take over funding of World Service, BBC Monitoring and S4C, as an alternative to more top slicing of the licence fee to pay for Tory initiatives. The Foreign Office and Welsh Office were able to meet Osborne targets.

Now the Tories will say they have a mandate to go further - and, as they hunt for further billions of public service cuts, will seek to ameliorate them in other directions.

Tories who have made the BBC's life difficult over the last Parliament are back with more votes. Andrew Bridgen, MP for Leicestershire North West, added 4,000 to his 2010 tally, despite what he claims was "false reporting" by Auntie locally.  Richard Bacon, one of the Public Account Committee's attack dogs, doubled his majority in South Norfolk - his first post-election promise is sort out rural broadband, so you can imagine where he thinks that money might come from.

The last Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, accused the BBC, of being "anti-Tory" with a week to go to polling day.  This complaint, against a discussion on the Today programme, was made to the Daily Mail. Nonetheless, against such unfair pressure, Sajid picked up 5,500 additional votes in Bromsgrove.  Will he stay with the brief ?

Rita

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Re: Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2015, 01:16:38 PM »
Article which appeared in a national newspaper today:-

"Culture role for BBC critic"

"David Cameron turned his guns on the BBC yesterday after naming a hard-line critic of the corporation to oversee the broadcaster the year before its charter is renewed.
Tory MP John Whittingdale, who has produced a string of damning reports on the BBC and called the licence fee "worse than the poll tax", will take on the role of Culture Secretary in the most surprising  appointment in the Prime Minister's Cabinet reshuffle.
It sparked fury at the BBC, with the press office retweeting, and then deleting, a message slamming his voting record on gay rights, the hunting ban and a host of other issues unrelated to his new brief".

Hope to goodness this doesn't signal any further cuts to local radio!

darcysarto

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Re: Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2015, 04:34:15 PM »
Article which appeared in a national newspaper today:-

"Culture role for BBC critic"

"David Cameron turned his guns on the BBC yesterday after naming a hard-line critic of the corporation to oversee the broadcaster the year before its charter is renewed.
Tory MP John Whittingdale, who has produced a string of damning reports on the BBC and called the licence fee "worse than the poll tax", will take on the role of Culture Secretary in the most surprising  appointment in the Prime Minister's Cabinet reshuffle.
It sparked fury at the BBC, with the press office retweeting, and then deleting, a message slamming his voting record on gay rights, the hunting ban and a host of other issues unrelated to his new brief".

Hope to goodness this doesn't signal any further cuts to local radio!


It's difficult to tell Rita, it may even prove very good for local radio as I suspect Whittingdale would see it as something the BBC should be doing.  May not be so great for Radio 2 though!  We shall have wait and see. 

Rita

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Re: Why the BBC's Future Hangs on This Election #GE2015
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2015, 03:09:02 PM »
Another article seen in a national newspaper on Sunday :-

BBC is on its way out in digital age warns Osborne.

"Chancellor George Osborne says the BBC licence fee is "outdated" and "on its way out".  He voiced his "impatience" with the BBC during a private chat with a Tory backbencher, saying the fee "has to be rethought in a digital age".  The news comes just days after David Cameron appointed an arch-critic of the corporation as the new Culture Secretary.  John  Whittingdale, who produced a string of damning reports on the BBC while chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, once described the licence fee as "worse than the poll tax".
The Sunday Express can also reveal that he is a member of the Freedom Association, a right-wing think tank actively campaigning to scrap the licence and replace it with a subscription-based model.  Last night a source close to the association told us "John is likely to be accused of a conflict of interest.  He is an honourable man, and I imagine he will no longer attend meetings when the campaign is raised , or will perhaps resign".  Mr. Whittingdale's appointment was the biggest surprise of the Prime Minister's Cabinet reshuffle after last week's election triumph and will spark concern at the BBC.  Ministers are furious with the BBC's election coverage.  A Tory source claimed the corporation ran a string of uncritical  reports about Labour policy announcements, whilst running wall-to-wall reports on Michael Fallon's controversial claim that Ed Miliband would "stab the country in the back". The Conservatives were also reportedly unhappy about a Radio 1 Newsbeat interview with Mr. Cameron, while Andrew Marr was criticised for interrupting the Prime Minister on his show.  Ukip leader Nigel Farage also accused the BBC of bias and even threatened legal action. 
Negotiations are set to start shortly over the renewal of the BBC charter - setting out how the corporation will be funded- which expires in December 2016.  Insiders say senior Tories have come up with a "shopping list" of items that would cost the BBC almost 1 billion in revenue.  This includes decriminalising not buying a licence, which would cost around 200 million.  Former Channel 5 boss  David Elstein said "Whittingdale will insist on decriminalisation.  It is illogical to continue prosecuting 250,000 people for an offence  Parliament has decreed will not be an offence in future.  That will squeeze BBC revenue, as will the trend of giving up TV sets to watch on laptops, tablets and mobiles.  Subscription is the logical outcome - those who watch, pay; those who prefer not to pay, can't watch".
Last week Chris Bryant, Labour's new shadow culture secretary said "If this is meant to be some kind of declaration of war on the BBC, I think it is ill-conceived".


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