Saturday 16 May 2015

What's to be done with the BBC?

Toby Young's latest Spectator piece, curiously unplugged by the Speccie's website - and, thus, unnoticed by most online Spectator readers - is well worth a read.

(If the Spectator had promoted it Toby's piece would doubtless have garnered hundreds of comments rather than the two it has now). 

I like Toby. He's never alienated me. He's always replied to my emails and has, twice, linked to my pieces. His latest piece, however, bears a title that initially made me stop up short:
Why I still have a deep attachment to the BBC
He recounts his experiences of feeling very relieved to hear BBC broadcasts whilst living on a kibbutz in Israel. As Palestinian terrorists rained missiles on the kibbutz (in the early '80s) Toby tuned to the BBC and found the sounds of the BBC World Service "deeply reassuring". (Jeremy Bowen obviously wasn't around back then). 

He goes on: 
Ever since then I have always felt an emotional attachment to the BBC. I am not one of those Tories who believes there is something inherently left-of-centre about a public broadcast organisation and the only solution is to abolish the licence fee. Rather, I think of the BBC as a precious piece of our heritage that has been captured by the enemy. The task facing the present Conservative government is how to prise it from their grasp without destroying it at the same time.
He goes on even further:
It would be an exaggeration to call the people who now run the organisation as ‘Marxists’, obediently following Gramsci’s advice to complete the long march through the institutions. Rather, they are, for the most part, metropolitan liberals who think of their left-of-centre views on issues like Europe and immigration as politically uncontroversial. They don’t regard themselves as biased because they never encounter anyone in their day-to-day lives who doesn’t hold the same opinions. As far as they’re concerned, they’re just expressing the commonsense wisdom that everybody shares, whether left or right.
He gives some of the "countless examples" he finds of this, before giving his prescription:
So what can John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, do to restore the BBC’s reputation for political impartiality? Everyone agrees that the BBC has grown too big and in many respects is just mimicking a commercial organisation. So separate off the drama and light entertainment, the music and the sport, and invite all those inessential bits to become self-funding entities. That would leave only the news and current affairs division to be financed by the licence fee, which could be much reduced. I would then make the BBC Trust responsible for appointing all the members of the executive board, not just the director-general, and, crucially, I would remove the power to appoint members of the trust from the Prime Minister and transfer it to a politically neutral body, such as the Privy Council or some other institution created for the task.
His final pro-BBC paragraph runs as follows:
That should do it. And for the sake of all those beleaguered souls out there, cowering in the dark, it must be done or it will surely perish.
That is a beautiful idea, the idea of a BBC giving hope to the beleaguered, freedom-loving folk of the world, and to Britons in peril. It's what I want the BBC to do, and I wish I could believe that the BBC still does it. 

On a more mundane level, however, I have to say that I too would hate to 'cower in the dark' if the best of the BBC was lost forever.

However much I complain about the BBC, I'm not one of those people who says that the BBC produces nothing of value. The BBC produces a hell of a lot that's valuable - quite a lot of which is absolutely priceless.

And to lose all of that would, to me, be an absolute horror. 

So I'm with Toby in hoping that a public service BBC can still be saved from itself, shorn of its commercially-successful light entertainment aspects (which would easily survive) and its bias, and regain its position as a beacon of glorious British broadcasting... which I mean, as an example, some of the truly magnificent, world-beating programmes I've heard on BBC Radio 4 this week. 

But, that said, why should a 'poll tax' be imposed on the vast majority of people who don't want to listen to In Our Time or Radio 3? Why should we who like More or Less and Private Passions be subsidised by people (most people in the UK) who prefer Eastenders, Strictly and BBC One dramas - programmes which, under our plans, would be completely cast adrift from the licence fee?

That's a point Toby appears to be missing.


  1. Toby Young is an idiot. I've never had much time for him, ever since his cringeworthy drivel in his "Status Anxiety" column at the Spectator. Here he is guilty of what many defenders of the indefensible accuse us of doing whenever we talk of shrinking the BBC. He just wants to keep the part he likes. Although in his case, it's more self-serving than that. Young just wants to keep the part which pays him to appear on air.

    Not a single thing he says addresses the problem he presents at the beginning: that the personnel at the BBC are the problem.

    1. Agree.

      I find these pieces so distracting, along with those who figure having Fox here would 'offset' the BBC and produce 'balance' somehow.

      I can see how the desire for compromise sees the bargaining mentality of the seasoned negotiator get all fired up, but at best it is like going into a Marrakesh market wearing a Hawaiian shirt, 'kiss me quick' beanie and socks under sandals whilst toting a wallet bulging with dollars and a 'gifts for home' list in the top pocket.

      If the culture is rotten from the crown to roots, and across every branch, that cherry tree's fruit is tainted no matter where you lop and what you hope will make the sweetest pie.

      Of course there are good people and nice bits, but sometimes drastic surgery isn't going to save a zombie.

      (A few metaphors may have got mixed there).

  2. As if on cue, the female Beeboid newsreader doing the news segment at the beginning of Marr's show just said, "the so-called Islamic State...."

    That's what they call themselves! It's not only bias to qualify it, but an outright lie. Tinkering with the Trust and selling off Strictly and East Enders won't fix this.

    1. I was of the same mind, thinking that the BBC was doing its usual "It's nothing to do with Islam" thing, until Deegee commented and rather approved of the BBC's use of such qualifications, so as not to give them any credibility as a state.

      As you say though, it is what they call themselves, and the Irish Republican Army were never called "the so-called Irish Republican Army" by the BBC.

    2. The so-called British Broadcasting Corporation....

    3. I have never heard anyone yet explain what aspects of Islamic State policy are at variance with Islamic Sharia law as understood over the last 14 centuries.

  3. OT again (apologies), but Marr just admitted that his closing segment last week was effectively Mandelson and Umunna launching the latter's campaign for Labour leader. I'm sure he's blissfully unaware of the implication of what he said, and would choke over his anger if challenged on it.


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