Friday, 23 February 2018

Future of British Broadcasting part 6

The final part of Our Proposals for the

Future of British Broadcasting 

An Alternative to the Alternative

If CUT's recommendations for new services are not adopted and a decision is made to retain a broadcasting platform on approximately the current basis with regard to broadcasting content, there is no reason why it should produce any of its content 'in house'. The dissolution of the drama, factual and light entertainment sections of the BBC, allowing for the formation of more independent companies than exist at present and the sale of movables to them, may be accomplished within a framework preserving current broadcasting structures if it is thought desirable to maintain those structures, although the purpose of doing so becomes ever less clear. If commissioning and production remain within one organisation, it will always be inclined to produce 'in house' in order to reduce costs (or apparent costs), making the quota process necessary if it is to be obliged to buy in programmes, but what is the purpose of that obligation if there is no intention to make a transition? Separation between content and delivery systems is standard across the utilities sector; why should television be different from gas or electricity in this respect? The delivery platforms may be privatised at some convenient point when H.M. Government thinks fit.


In summary, whilst abolition of the BBC would mean a substantial reconfiguration of our media landscape, nothing of any value whatever would be lost. We would instead see greater impartiality, more plurality, and increased opportunities for public engagement with the work of local and national government. Arguably, the current system might once have been useful, but it is now thoroughly outmoded, doing unnecessary work and leaving undone much that is either necessary or desirable. The sooner the process of transition begins, the sooner we will have a system fit for the twenty-first century.  If H.M. Government makes no commitment to initiate transition the Secretary of State should indicate whether she imagines that the BBC is sustainable on an indefinite basis, or whether H.M. Government accepts that it is simply delaying the inevitable. No decision should be made on this subject without taking into account the popular discontent that will result if failure to plan a transition leaves H.M. Government having to bail out the BBC when the system collapses because people refuse to carry on paying for services they do not want just to get the ones they do.

By Prayer Crusader St Philip Howard

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Future of British Broadcasting 5

Independence and impartiality

The BBC exploits the ambiguity of its position, claiming independence or public status as it pleases to its own benefit; its attitude toward the licence fee is an example of this.  Whether or not any other aspects of our reform proposals are accepted, what is necessary is a clear statement that the public sector broadcaster is an executive agency of H.M. Government whose employees should observe the standards usual across the Civil Service with particular reference to the relationship with H.M. Government and any particular administration. At present 'impartiality' is interpreted in terms of independence from H.M. Government, manifested in displays of antagonism towards the administration of the day whichever Party might be in office, but impartiality is readily understood across the Civil Service. This redefinition is necessary if the work of the public sector broadcaster is to be integrated with that of other agencies and Government Departments.

The status of the public sector broadcaster should be reflected in its governance structures. There should be a management board answerable to a board of governors who should be civil servants drawn from relevant Departments. The public sector broadcaster should be accountable to both H.M. Government and Parliament in precisely the same manner as any other public office or agency.

Terms of the next Royal Charter

The media landscape has been transformed by technological advances over the course of the last decade so there could be no possible justification for the grant of a Royal Charter that would be almost certain to leave the BBC several years behind the times when it expires.

If, at the Mid-term Review, the Secretary of State indicates an intention to replace the current service with one more appropriate to modern conditions, the present Royal Charter might be succeeded by another for a two year term, followed by others for one or two year terms as necessary. If no indication is given at the Mid-Term Review, the next Royal Charter should be for a term of no more than four years again followed by successive shorter terms. This will allow the necessary reforms to be implemented without undue delay as and when they become pressing.

An Alternative in Clear Vision

The BBC achieved incorporation by making essentially fraudulent claims, and retained its status by deceit, scaremongering and self-serving propaganda campaigns. It has now become so much an established part of national life that abolition is considered unthinkable, yet a phased abolition is clearly desirable to attain the balanced media landscape necessary in the 21st century.

We set out below a set of alternative proposals for public sector broadcasting with public purposes of broadcasting in support of public policy, and acting as an organ of accountability by making the work of Parliament and H.M. Government visible to the general public.

Our proposals are as follows: 

     A Royal Charter of no more than four years, extended by one or two years at a time should be granted to achieve a smooth transition within twelve years. Because it is dependent upon the Royal Charter, the BBC is legally incompetent to contract for goods, staff or services beyond the Charter term; but it might well have done so, and a short Charter will enable possible litigation to be avoided as any such contracts would come to light and most would be able to run their course within the transition period, redundancy payments may also be avoided.
     BBC News and Sport, with which news reporting has close connections, should be privatised as a single company. Retention of the news service within the public sector makes it difficult for audiences overseas to regard the BBC News as anything other than the opinion of H.M. Government; it also contributes to the confusion between independence and impartiality that has sometimes led the BBC to see its rôle as being to oppose whichever administration happens to be in office. The DDCMS might find it desirable to have a certain amount of sport broadcast in the public sector when the nature of the sport in question, or the level at which it is played, make the competitions at issue unattractive to commercial broadcasters.
     Responsibility for and management of the BBC Monitoring unit should pass to the FCO.
     All properties held by the BBC should be transferred to a new agency operating under the auspices of the DCLG's Local Government and Public Services Group. We would envisage most leases being allowed to lapse, or being passed to successor organisations in the private sector. It is likely that a privatised BBC News would wish to continue to occupy a large part of New Broadcasting House as a permanent tenant. Other properties owned by the BBC should be sold, leased to successor companies, or handed over for community or academic use. Movables should be sold unless desirable for display in museums. At some point, the new agency might have its work conducted by a private sector contractor, or else be privatised outright.
     There can be no justification for providing drama, light entertainment or the majority of factual and documentary programming within the public sector. It must be noted that there is no category of television programme in which the BBC has not been bested in the relevant industry awards, and even in radio where there is little competition, there is no qualitative difference between independent productions and those made in house; there would, therefore, be no loss of breadth or quality by closing these BBC departments. There might be some justification for the public sector broadcaster's commissioning programmes about the public sector; but they would have to be produced independently, and even then there would still be a significant danger of their degeneration into propaganda in support of maintaining the status quo.
     Intellectual property and income from archives should be used to provide an income stream for the Arts Council. It is likely that popular series, serials and formats would continue to be produced under licence agreements, and that existing recordings would continue to be broadcast both in the UK and abroad.
     The impartiality required of the public sector broadcaster should be that of other public bodies and of the Civil Service; it should support the broad objectives of HM Government e.g. to promote British exports and invisibles. The extent to which it should support specific policies is more contentious; we recommend that it should not promote Government policy, but should act in support of it – a distinction readily understood across the Civil Service.      
     The principal purpose of the public sector broadcaster should be to serve as an organ of accountability enabling the general public to see and hear what is done on their behalf with their taxes. If this option is taken, the service should be paid for from general taxation without additional charge. We would envisage two services: one to broadcast (over several television and radio networks) on the work subsidised by the Arts Council; the other to broadcast parliamentary proceedings, public information films and, perhaps, documentaries about public services or other publicly funded activities (as noted above, any such programmes should be commissioned from independent companies) as required by H.M. Government.
     The Arts Council should be expanded by the addition of a new section to handle the work currently performed by the BBC in identifying, developing and promoting talent in popular genres of music; it should also take on the BBC orchestras and the whole or partial sponsorship of music or literary festivals where that is desirable. On the other hand, broadcasting readily available and well publicised recordings produced by large companies amounts to free advertising and is not a suitable activity for a public sector broadcaster but should be left to commercial broadcasters. We would envisage an arts and culture broadcasting service administered by the Arts Council, with content – plays, concerts, readings etc. - from those in receipt of subsidies, but also broadcasting on items and properties 'given to the nation' in lieu of taxes, and on museum or gallery collections, archives, libraries and any other aspect of our national heritage or the creative industries in which public money is invested.
     We would envisage a World Service administered by the British Council with the advice of the Commonwealth Institute. The content would be drawn principally from the arts and culture service described above. In addition, the World Service would maintain the language services, which would continue to produce educational and edifying drama; however, as all journalists would be transferred to the privatised news service, they would translate news for broadcast rather than originating news content. The World Service would contract for the provision of an impartial news service from a British provider i.e. BBC News, ITN or Sky News, all of which are generally regarded as equivalent in quality and impartiality. Funding should come from a combination of Government grants (mainly from DfID with smaller amounts from the FCO and DBEIS) and advertising.
     There is a crisis in plurality in the radio market with particular respect to news and other non-music broadcasting. The abolition of the BBC should ensure that content providers are available for documentaries, light entertainment and drama made for broadcast if broadcasters find sufficient audiences to make these economically viable. Restrictions as to the nature of broadcasting licences should be reduced to a significant extent with particular reference to cross-media ownership and religious broadcasters. Other efforts should also be made to draw new entrants into the market. Consideration might be given to allowing news broadcasting to be accurate but not impartial with explicitly editorial material interleaved amongst journalistic reports if that would persuade newspaper publishers to be amongst those new entrants.
     A schools/homeschooling and universities service broadcasting via the internet is clearly desirable, but it is uncertain whether any public sector involvement would be necessary. It is likely that the World Service would wish to broadcast material supplied by such a service.
     It is likely that broadcasting in the indigenous minority languages will have to continue to be funded publicly, although it might well be commissioned from independent companies. We would recommend that responsibility for funding these services should be remitted to the devolved administrations with the exception of Cornish language broadcasting, decisions regarding which should be taken by the DDCMS in consultation with the DCHLG and local authorities in the Duchy. In all cases, news content should not be provided by the public sector.  We recommend that where a decision to subsidise is made, the subsidy should be payable to any broadcaster capable of providing audited listening or viewing figures, and should generally be paid on a basis proportionate to the size of that audience. We would envisage Cornish, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots programmes appearing alongside English programmes, with separate Welsh and Gaelic services as at present. All such services should strive to attract advertising (as S4C already does) both as a source of revenue and to normalise use of these languages. Abolition of the BBC would increase opportunities at the local, regional and national levels as well as on a UK-wide basis, and that should favour a growth in the availability of IML programming when required.  
     In commissioning programmes for broadcast at home or abroad the Arts Council and British Council should have a duty not simply to 'support' indigenous minority languages, as the BBC has (BBC Charter 14(5)), but to promote their use. In fulfilling this obligation they will be advised by the relevant ministers in the devolved legislatures or their nominees and those nominated by the DCLG in consultation with local authorities in the Duchy of Cornwall to ensure that adequate provision is made. The British Council-administered international service should ensure that diaspora communities are assisted in learning their ancestral languages, and receive regular, varied and interesting broadcasts in those languages to strengthen their cultural identity and forge links with their forebears' historic homes. Examples might include Welsh broadcasts to Argentina, Cornish broadcasts to Australia, and Scots, Ulster Scots and Irish broadcasts to North America. IML broadcasting on the Arts Council-administered service would be in addition to any programmes directly commissioned for broadcast elsewhere and would consist of theatre pieces, popular and classical music and readings from the publications of subsidised presses.  Cornwall clearly requires a regional Arts Council separate from that covering the South West of England if administrative matters relating to its language and culture are to be handled efficiently, knowledgeably and sensitively. 
     Under the Belfast Agreement H.M. Government is obliged to guarantee subsidised broadcasting in the Irish language, but there is no obligation to do so via a public sector broadcaster rather than through an open offer to any broadcaster for general interest programming or a tendering process for specific commissions.  Irish language broadcasting subsidised by United Kingdom taxpayers should concentrate largely on matters concerning the United Kingdom.  
Authority for media regulation should be a devolved matter in Scotland and Wales, and treated as a devolved matter in Northern Ireland although treaty obligations noted above preclude complete devolution.  When H.M. Government or one of the devolved administrations decides to sponsor or subsidise programming of a particular type or on specific subjects any broadcaster should be eligible to receive the payment. Examples might include programmes featuring the application of new legislation; or, as detailed above, programming in one of the indigenous minority languages. In each case the administration responsible should specify whether the payment is to be made irrespective of audience figures, or whether it should be related to independently audited viewing/listening figures. In the former case there must always be at least some minimum audience figure, even if it is very small indeed, rather than having a payment made absolutely irrespective of viewer or listener numbers. Where there is to be a single contract it should be subject to competitive tendering with considerations of quality as well as cost and social factors.

By Prayer Crusader St Philip Howard

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Future of British Broadcasting 4

Time to scrap the licence fee

Public purposes: Re-evaluation and reform

Several attempts have been made to define the 'public purposes' of the BBC, beginning with Lord Reith's historic formula, but what is necessary now is not a new statement of purposes or values amplifying or clarifying that formulation, but an objective re-evaluation of what should continue to be produced and broadcast by the public sector broadcaster. A brief look at the historic formula reveals how deep that re-evaluation needs to be.

To entertain:

The provision of entertainment for its own sake is a legacy of monopoly, but what kind of a country needs a quango to entertain it? The BBC Charter 6(4) states that “The BBC should bring people together for shared experiences and help contribute to the social cohesion and wellbeing of the United Kingdom.” A modern turn of phrase, perhaps, but the notion of strengthening national identity through enjoyment of publicly-provided amusements belongs entirely to the pre-War era in which the Corporation was founded.  In any case, the dignity of our country is somewhat impugned by the suggestion that our social cohesion and wellbeing are affected by the trivialities of soap opera cliffhangers and celebrity contests. National unity is the result of celebrating the local heritage of each of the various nations and regions of the United Kingdom as elements of a common patrimony.

The BBC Charter demands excellence across the range of its services and talks about breadth of provision:

6(3) To show the most creative, highest quality and distinctive output and services: the BBC should provide high-quality output in many different genres and across a range of services and platforms which sets the standard in the United Kingdom and internationally. Its services should be distinctive from those provided elsewhere and should take creative risks, even if not all succeed, in order to develop fresh approaches and innovative content.

Creativity is not the child of bureaucracy, and it does not flourish in the public sector; furthermore, variety is the fruit of plurality of provision rather than a monolithic corporation's attempts to provide a genre mix or grow new markets. It must, however, be acknowledged that, as with an annual income of some £3.7bn from the licence fee (minus somewhat less than £80m for S4C) the BBC is by far the best funded British broadcaster, it should have the highest production quality from a technical standpoint. In entertainment, and in news journalism, the BBC sets the standard by narrowing the field. Modern technology allows for the creation of a wide variety of broadcast material, and for British audiences to have access to material created overseas, but broadcasting to television sets and radios remains highly circumscribed. Expectations as to what should be broadcast, and who should be involved in the process, are often derived from BBC norms rather than the public interest, just as BBC investment steers creative economies to its own requirements rather than those of the people at large. 

Due to the breadth of provision in visual broadcasting/television there can be little justification for the public sector broadcaster's continuing to provide television drama or light entertainment. Radio, however, appears to require regulatory reform to encourage an expansion in the market before the provision of made for broadcast audio entertainment can be dropped. The option of encouraging production companies that currently supply the BBC with entertainment and non-journalistic factual programming to form a consortium or consortia to replace the existing broadcasting platform should be explored. Plurality, and with it diversity, variety and creativity, can only be enhanced by first a reduction and then a replacement of BBC services.

To inform:

The BBC Charter requires its news broadcasting to demonstrate “the highest editorial standards” of accuracy and impartiality: “To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them: the BBC should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people's understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world. It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers, using the highest calibre presenters and journalists, and championing freedom of expression, so that all audiences can engage fully with major local, regional, national, United Kingdom and global issues and participate in the democratic process, at all levels, as active and informed citizens” 6(1). This insults other news providers, and threatens to poach their staff, using the BBC's budget and pay/pension structures to lure 'the highest calibre' people away from their employers.

The quality of BBC news broadcasting is widely recognised and it is generally believed to be impartial on many issues, although those who examine it more carefully find biases towards social liberalism at home and abroad, and domestic policies favouring maintenance of large-scale public sector institutions. There is also a significant level of concern regarding cross-departmental collaborations enabling the Corporation to set an agenda for public debate and to shape social attitudes; close links between reporting, commentary and discussion do nothing to alleviate those concerns.  Its dominant position allows the BBC to determine the boundaries of public discussion; so its 'championing' of freedom of expression amounts, in effect, to its judging which forms of expression should have freedom. Where a decision is made to show impartiality it is demonstrated by inviting spokespeople to make contributions on behalf of particular positions on the subject in question, but norm-setting means that the entire context of the discussion will presuppose that one position is usual and other viewpoints are deviant. This is most noticeable with respect to life issues and traditional morality.

It is the BBC's status as a news broadcaster that is the basis of its claim to independence from H.M. Government, and enables it to avoid support for Government policy. There is, however, no reason why a public sector broadcaster that did not produce news programming should become more politicised than the current service, especially if neither drama nor factual/documentary programming were made in-house, nor what politicisation would entail in that context. In any case, it is entirely natural and normal that the policies pursued by the public sector should be those promoted by the elected Government.

We note that the FCO values the provision of an impartial news service as part of our country's engagement with other nations, but listeners and viewers abroad often regard the news provided by the BBC World Service as representing the opinions of the British Government because of the BBC's position in the public sector. Many people overseas are unfamiliar with the concept of a State broadcaster with editorial independence, and many other people both at home and abroad fail to see the point of such a broadcaster.

It is worth noting that the BBC Charter states “Its international services should put the United Kingdom in a world context, aiding understanding of the United Kingdom as a whole, including its nations and regions where appropriate” in the same subsection 6 (5) as that in which broadcasting news to international audiences is mandated. This strongly suggests that international news broadcasting as well as general or broadly educational programming should give due weight to all the home nations and their regions in a way which it does not at present. There might even be said to be an implicit call for the use of the indigenous minority languages in news and other international broadcasting at least in broadcasts to appropriate regions. It would be natural that news broadcasts in the minority languages would focus on the relevant places and on cultural issues relating to use of the language in question. The Council of Europe has commented adversely on the BBC's failure to give adequate broadcasting time to the Cornish language, which it limits to a single weekly news broadcast. There is also a recommendation from the Welsh Assembly that the Welsh language should be promoted across Britain as having been the historic tongue of large areas of England and lowland Scotland; the BBC's omission of any of the IMLs from its national digital platform does nothing to advance that. Failure to reflect the entirety of the United Kingdom even in national, let alone international, broadcasts indicates structural weaknesses within the BBC at both editorial and management levels. That half its employees are based in London suggests something of the nature and scale of those weaknesses.  Within the provisions of the current Charter it would be possible to address the problem by making more specific demands of the BBC through addenda to the Framework Agreement. In the future a similar approach can be used to ensure that geographical balance is delivered when news broadcasts are commissioned for international programming.

The BBC is not only crowding out commercial competition in an unjustifiable manner, but shapes the media landscape and culture as a whole in ways that reduce audience choice and narrow possibilities. The expansion of the BBC leads to reductions elsewhere. The most recent expansion, described as forming partnerships with regional media, amounts to acting as a press agency for local news; this will inevitably lead to staff reductions in local newspapers and the news websites related to them (a sector already facing considerable pressure).The BBC's employing reporters under the auspices of local publications and broadcasters will achieve little to improve the situation for regional media outlets; it can only compromise their independence, and provide a framework under which the BBC may take their place swiftly should they fail.  We do not have recent figures giving the balance between direct and graduate entrants into journalism in the BBC's regional offices, but local newspapers have traditionally provided opportunities for direct entry into the profession consonant with H.M. Government's policy of promoting apprenticeships. It is also inevitable that, as it proceeds, this partnership will result in a close relationship with Trinity Mirror and other regional news publishers. It is unclear how far the regional media partnership will include direct cooperation with the new local television stations; in any case they will certainly be affected by the reduced availability of news from other sources.

We recommend the privatisation of BBC News. Whether or not this recommendation is adopted, it should be entirely separated from the rest of the Corporation at the earliest opportunity and should have separate management structures. Retention of the news service within the public sector has led to inefficiency and perceptions of a lack of impartiality, it cannot be regarded as necessary in the context of today's media landscape, and it reduces the ability of the public sector in broadcasting to serve public purposes as defined by the democratic process.  

To educate:

Education in a broad sense provides justification for public sector broadcasting even under today's circumstances. There are three aspects to the educative function of public sector broadcasting, of which the BBC Charter addresses only the first: education of the audience, education of performers, and education of those involved in technical and creative aspects of programme-making.

Technical education can be provided via an academic route, or else in any production company through an apprenticeship system. The system could easily be formalised to allow for the award of accredited qualifications. We would envisage a significant growth in the number of companies if the public sector is radically reduced in scope, and that would lead to an increase in opportunities for creative experience. Academic approaches to creative education would become more meaningful with increased opportunities for students to broadcast even while their studies are still in progress. The BBC aspires to employ 'more than 400' apprentices 'by 2018' out of a total workforce of nearly 20,000 but does not specify their distribution across the Corporation.

Education and professional development of performers constitutes the most important aspect of the work currently performed by the BBC, and provides something of a justification for continuing to maintain a public sector broadcaster. This work is principally carried out in the field of audio (radio) rather than visual (TV) broadcasting, where ample opportunities exist in the commercial sector for talent shows and competitions of various kinds. The BBC provides work and some professional development for actors, but is not a significant contributor to their education as such. It provides rather more training and professional development for its journalists through its academy, but hires very many of them from other news providers or as graduates rather than as direct entrants to the profession. However, the Corporation should certainly be congratulated for its work across a wide variety of music genres, identifying and fostering new talent through several competitions and award schemes as well as through BBC Introducing; providing work and professional development for orchestral musicians; and giving élite mentoring opportunities through the New Generation Artists scheme. All of this work could continue under the auspices of the Arts Council.

Education of audiences may be divided between the general education of broadcasting documentary and factual programmes, and the specific education of programmes for schools and the Open University. There is no reason to suppose that fewer factual or documentary programmes would be made if they were not made by the BBC. Commercial broadcasters and websites make, commision and transmit more factual programmes, drama and light entertainment than the BBC. It is clearly necessary that programmes are made in support of specific academic curricula, but the value of the programmes depends upon their being tailor-made to the requirements of the course; they should, therefore, be commissioned by the examining bodies and educational institutions involved. If they are to appear on television or radio it is likely that a public sector broadcaster would need to carry them.

There is, however, no reason why such programmes should appear in those media rather than exclusively on the internet, nor is there any reason why they should not be commissioned by course providers or examining boards and made available on a commercial basis. It must be noted that the Massive On-line Open Course (MOOC) model has proven popular in adult education and can easily be adapted for tutoring children.

Although the BBC Charter talks about 'partnerships with educational, sporting and cultural institutions', 'commercial and non-commercial organisations', it must be noted that the structure of the BBC prevents the integration of its work with that of Government Departments and impedes collaboration with other public bodies. It is generally true to say that any partnerships that take place do so on the BBC's terms unless the partners are large, wealthy overseas broadcasters or film-makers. Partner organisations from outside the media might very well form partnerships more advantageous to themselves and more educational to the audience in the absence of the BBC. There is certainly no reason to imagine that the removal of the BBC would result in the loss of anything of value in terms of audience education.

By Prayer Crusader St Philip Howard

Note: 3.5 Million Brits have ditched the licence fee in favour of streaming sides like Netflix and Amazon Prime