Posted by: Paul | August 30, 2010

Battle of the Beeb

A year ago at the Edinburgh Television Festival – part of the wider media circus decamping north every August – James Murdoch, son of Rupert and head honcho of BSkyB, launched a stinging attack on the BBC, calling it ‘chilling’. Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC responded in this year’s McTaggart lecture in the same vein, directing his own comments at Sky and likely to start a tit-for-tat war played out in newspaper headlines with the Murdoch press leading the charge. Look for an actual medieval-style siege outside TV Centre in 12 months time, catapults and all.

These are indeed worrying times for the BBC. With the charter / license fee review due to take place next year, and a Tory Government in place which in rhetoric at least seems hell bent on dismantling the corporation, Thompson is on the back foot and trying desperately to head the opposition off at the pass. Job cuts, salary reductions, service reviews and closures, all in the effort to look from the outside that the BBC is becoming more focussed and ending the culture of waste which, it’s plain to see, has gathered pace in the last 20 years.

But is it too late? The right-wing press is doing everything it can to whip up resentment at the continuation of the license fee, and with Mr Murdoch it’s clearly a case of the green-eyed monsters about this protected, unassailable source of income and funding for the corporation. Under such slings and arrows, is it the beginning of the end for public service television?

Lets hope not. Imagine the alternative. Without the BBC, you’d be forced to pay a Sky subscription if you wanted to watch TV. And what’s the difference between that and a license fee?

The central conceit of Thompson’s riposte was that Sky does nothing to invest in the British TV industry. They spend less on programme production than even Channel 5, despite having 15 times their income, preferring instead to concentrate on rights acquisition for sporting events and big-name US imports. OK, they can prove a draw in themselves, but you’re then charged a massive premium for the privilege – far beyond the meagre ¬£150 for the TV license. That will buy you just 3 months of a full channel HD package with Sky.

There are certain things about the BBC that wind me up to an enormous extent, but I’d never want to be without it, and neither will I ever give any money to the Murdochs. I just think the Beeb aren’t helping their public image an awful lot at the moment – for every speech Thompson gives attacking the opposition and shoring up the corporation, there’s another executive refusing to move to their new base in Salford, depsite asking many hundreds of more junior staff to make exactly that sacrifice (as to the fallacy of that move in the first place – more in a future post). Who can blame people for treating the license fee with a degree of cynicism when this sort of behaviour is prevalent?



  1. The BBC is a unique and wonderful institution and the pride of Britain – that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

    • That’s exactly my point. I’m a huge supporter of the BBC, and would pay double the license fee if it meant my favourite shows continued to be commissioned and they continued to unearth and champion new talent in the way they have always done – being able to see Arcade Fire’s entire Reading set justified this year alone for me, and I firmly believe you wouldn’t get something like that on any other channel. But what I’m saying is some of the poor decision making is staggering – I’ve yet to meet anyone who is convinced that moving so many departments to Salford is a good idea – especially in the case of BBC Sport, who will just have to decamp back to London for the Olympics a few months later as OB units at great expense! This, after all, is our money, and I’m not convinced it’s always spent in the right way.

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