In these times when so many items of news stretch credibility to breaking-point, it is quite difficult to believe that the Prime Minister is considering Charles Moore for the chairmanship of the BBC, and Paul Dacre as the new chairman of Offcom.
Putting the fox in charge of the hen-coop just doesn’t seem a strong enough metaphor to describe this astonishing turn of events.
Dacre is the man who put the ‘hate’ into the Daily ‘Hate’ Mail, feeding his readers with anti-EU, anti-immigrant, and anti-BBC stories day after day. Offcom deals with complaints against the BBC among other things. One can imagine the sort of team he would assemble for such a purpose.
Moore has also been drip-feeding xenophobic, anti-European, and anti-BBC propaganda into the readership of the Daily Telegraph. Anyone who doubts that, only has to read the letters’ page. I’ll not criticise him for his biography of Thatcher; by all accounts he did a good job. But not that long ago on Any Questions, he told us that the NHS was the worst health service in the world … I question his political—even mental—balance.
It is clear to many people that the BBC needs a shake-up. They have built up a huge bureaucracy, and their wage structure is an embarrassing disaster. The recent decision to reverse licence-exemption for the over 75s was an own-goal of Biblical proportions, albeit it was essentially forced upon them by Cameron’s government.
The BBC can’t win, of course. Currently, they’re being accused of left-wing bias; I suspect that what they are guilty of, if indeed that is the word to use, is anti-establishment bias. People have such short memories. It wasn’t Thatcher who attacked the BBC and forced the resignation of the chairman and director-general for attacking the government. It was Blair, a Labour prime minister, assisted by his attack-dog Alistair Campbell. That was over BBC reporting on the ‘Dodgy dossier’ on the Iraq 'weapons of mass destruction'. I still recall Campbell ram-raiding Channel 4 news, demanding to ‘set the record straight’ on an alternative national broadcast channel.
The licence fee is the issue. Certainly, defaulting on a licence should be de-criminalised. Critics say the BBC should go for subscription; use the Netflix model. This ignores the fate of many BBC national and local radio channels, which are paid for by the licence fee, but for which a licence is not needed to access. How are these to be funded in future?
Then there is the broader question of culture. Much of the BBC output is current affairs, news, entertainment and sport, as well as general culture. The latter includes drama, music, art, literature etc. Much of this would be lost, as a subscription service would inevitably result in an substantial drop in revenue. Sport in particular, would just go to the highest bidder.
‘Culture’, is a broad church. It includes education and research. Following the subscription model to its logical conclusion, Britain’s contribution to CERN in Geneva, or to space missions, or large telescopes, or the British Antarctic Survey could be made subject to subscription. How many people, in a cash-strapped society, would be willing to contribute to those projects if they had the choice to withdraw?
Thatcher detested the BBC, but had the good sense and judgement to leave it alone, recognising the dangers of meddling. Even Churchill during WWII, did not get his way when Reith, the original director-general, refused to broadcast propaganda he deemed ‘unbalanced’.
I suspect that our main public-service broadcaster needs to be funded from general taxation. Of course, it will then be a hostage to the current government, but then it is already.
What the BBC needs is a tough leader with a clear vision for the future; someone who recognises that younger people are turning away from the licence fee, but understands the dangers of dumping the model. What it does not need is a narrow-minded right-wing zealot, whom, I suspect, seeks to wreak revenge on the organization for speaking uncomfortable truths—of which he heartily disapproves—to power.
Note added 4 October; Excellent news that the appalling Charles Moore has declined the chairmanship of the BBC. Surprising that a person so critical of the Beeb should turn down the opportunity to put his bigoted opinions into practice.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs