Friday, January 26, 2007


Aunty Knows Best?

Paul Dacre, the editor of The Daily Mail, has claimed that the BBC is 'culturally Marxist'. No-one seems to be quite sure what he means - least of all, I'm tempted to suggest, himself - however, reading between the lines, he seems to be levelling a charge of collective left-liberal groupthink at the organisation. There is a fairly clear argument that this, at least, is not a wholly unfair charge. One need only look here for those disgruntled at the Beeb for this bias, and that blog features fairly prominently an article by Andrew Marr in which he admits that this is his impression too.

None of which should matter. I don't personally care what the opinions of BBC newsreaders are, and I reckon most people are intelligent enough to work out for themselves whatever their opinion on a story is, without having to be spoon-fed it. The trouble is, we are forced to care by the way the BBC is funded, through a mandatory, non-means-tested licence fee.

The licence fee system of funding has just been renewed for another ten years, but it gets increasingly hard to justify this. Matt C reveals, while making another point, that '[only] 2.6% of the national audience . . . are in the icy grip of BBCs 3, 4, News 24, Parliament and CBeebies.' All BBC channels put together only make up just over a quarter of television viewing. What's more, The Economist showed that:

'Poorer, less educated viewers seem to be turning away, too. Serious material suffers most when people move to multi-channel television, says Ofcom, and particularly in poorer households. The BBC's “Correspondent”, “Newsnight” and “Horizon”, all current-events programmes, are watched by only half as many multichannel homes as by terrestrial-only homes. ITV's “Pop Idol” is watched by only 16% fewer. The drop in “Newsnight” viewing was 17 percentage points greater among poorer viewers than among richer ones. Soap operas, light entertainment, daytime TV, sport and lottery programmes attract a much higher proportion of poorer viewers, the corporation notes.'

'The result, says a BBC executive, is that “we are over-serving white middle-class 55-year-olds.” The BBC is trying to do something to widen its audience. In 2002, for example, realising that it was hardly reaching young black people, it launched a digital radio station called 1Xtra, modelled on pirate radio.'

Even if it weren't the case that the licence fee was deeply unfair on sheer economic terms, it certainly is unfair in a multichannel world. Unable to attract younger and poorer viewers - despite what I suspect many would argue is trying too hard - the corporation is failing in its public service remit. The licence fee is a tax levied by those who can most afford it and get most out of it on those who can least afford it and get least out of it. It should be ditched as soon as possible - those ten years can't go quickly enough.

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