Monday, July 6, 2015

Know your enemies

Three newspapers have responded to George Osborne's concern about the "imperial" ambitions of the BBC.  Here are their editorials from this morning, with some introductory information.

An annual subscription to the print version of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday will cost you £224.64.  The Executive Chairman of the DMGT is Jonathan Harmsworth, the 4th Viscount Rothermere. The Sunday Times estimated his personal wealth at £1bn this year. He has non-dom tax status, though born in Hammersmith. Shares in the DMGT are controlled by Rothermere Continuation Ltd, incorporated in Bermuda.

Nearly 200 local newspapers have closed across Britain in the last decade – causing incalculable damage to local democracy and snuffing out the most effective source people have of finding out what goes on in their community. 

It means local politicians, police and health services in those areas are far less likely to be held to account and corruption and malpractice more likely to flourish. 

Several factors have contributed to this sad decline – the migration of advertising to the internet, ever-rising costs of newsprint and distribution, and failure of some papers to adapt to the digital age. 

But there’s no doubt many were tipped over the edge by the relentless expansion of the BBC website. With its vast resources this behemoth is simply steamrollering papers out of business. 

National newspaper websites too, suffer from what Chancellor George Osborne yesterday rightly called the ‘imperial ambitions’ of the Corporation. 

The BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster but it is acting more like a rapacious commercial giant, trying to corner the market in news delivery. 

Why on earth should the taxpayer have to fund this naked empire-building? 

Mr Osborne hinted at plans to curb its website but he needs to be bolder. With four TV channels, a sprawling radio network and international business arm, the BBC is simply too bloated. 

It must be forced to slim down, cut its costs, sell off non-essential functions and concentrate on what it does best – make brilliant programmes. Everything else should be left to the market.

A subscription to the Telegraph ("newspaper+digital+rewards") costs £468 a year.  It is owned by Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay, whose joint wealth is estimated at £6bn by the Sunday Times. They have non-dom tax status, with homes in the Channel Islands and Monaco.

The BBC is part of the public realm. It is owned by the nation and funded by the nation. That nation has made, and continues to make, financial sacrifices so that the British state lives within its means. So George Osborne, the Chancellor, is quite right to suggest that the BBC should play its part in balancing Britain’s books.

Both Britain’s central state and local government are becoming leaner and smarter. Thrift has brought innovative thinking about the form, function and purpose of public bodies. Some services are now delivered entirely online. Back-office functions have been merged and cut. Other tasks have been handed over to charities and employee-owned co-operatives. Savings do not have to mean worse services; quite the contrary. Police budgets have fallen, but so has crime.

It is time for the BBC to follow these examples by rethinking and reducing its operations in order to discharge its core responsibility – public service broadcasting – while spending much less of the public’s money. The scope for savings in the BBC’s £3.5 billion budget is considerable. The suggestion that the corporation should help fund free TV licences for the over-75s should be considered, as part of a wholesale reform of the licence.

Mr Osborne is also right to highlight its “imperial” website. If ever there was an example of how the BBC has drifted from its core function, it is the website, which consumes vast sums of public money, with the apparent intention of competing with a British newspaper industry that already provides world‑class online journalism. The BBC of late has forgotten why it exists and who pays for it. It must remember both, soon.

A subscription to Sun+ (Apps, Goals and Perks) is £95.89 a year. Buying the Sun, and the Saturday and Sunday editions for a year would cost you £192. The paper is part of News UK, wholly owned by News Corp/21st Century Fox, executive co-Chairman Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox also owns a controlling 40% stake in Sky. Sky's cheapest package is currently £192 a year, plus £10 set-up.

There's an arrogance among the senior management of the BBC who think the corporation has a divine right to rule the roost in any area it fancies. 

When George Osborne talks about its "imperial ambition", he's spot on. 

Whether it's the BBC's local news sites putting local newspapers out of business, or its main website acting as if it should be a monopoly provider of news, the BBC uses the cushion of the licence free to protect itself from competition that exists in the real world - and to distort the market for everyone else.

It's time there was a level playing field - and the BBC was brought back to reality. 

1 comment:

  1. Well, so soon after I posted a comment saying I would hate to lose your blog, I'm afraid your blog has lost me.
    What is it about current and past members of the BBC meme that means they cannot understand the word "compulsion", or even worse, "compulsory under criminal law". None of the foolish examples that you quote above are in any way comparable to the BBC TV Tax.
    As Jeremy Paxton once said, "It's like the makers of Persil receiving a compulsory fee every time someone in the UK buys a washing machine". If you cannot comprehend that simple fact without quoting spurious costs of newspaper subscriptions, well, it's "so long, it's been good to know you."


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