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Dr. Madsen Pirie: How The BBC Went Astray

The BBC’s reputation as an impartial public service broadcaster has been undermined by what seems to many outsiders to be an internal culture of personnel who think their views are the only “reasonable” ones. No-one could suppose, by viewing or listening to an average week’s output, that the taxpayer-funded BBC was giving due representation to the people who elected an 80-seat majority Conservative government. This is because woke people and Guardian journalists do not tend to elect Conservative governments.

The BBC diverged from its public service agenda when it made the decision to pursue high ratings figures in order to justify its receipt of public money. High viewing and listening figures could only be achieved by dumbing down to the broadcasting of popular shows such as are already provided by commercial stations supported by advertising rather than public funds. A typical viewer might not see all that much difference between BBC1 and ITV, or between Radio One and its commercial rivals. It would be difficult to sustain a ‘public service’ justification for such channels. If popularity and mass audiences were a justification for the receipt of public money, then commercial channels would certainly qualify as well.

A less obvious departure from what the BBC’s role ought to be was made when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than as a reporter. The BBC clearly regards itself as the opposition to government, as the tone of its presentations and interviews make obvious. It sees its job as one of calling the government to account, nominally on behalf of the public, rather than reporting what it does. It engages in “investigative journalism,” never giving thought to the bias necessarily involved in what it chooses to investigate.

The BBC’s coverage of the pandemic has been little more than a daily criticism of what it alleges are the failings of the government. Every development has it seeking out individuals who can come on air to attack the government’s handling of the crisis. It rarely reveals that some of these have a history of political activism with axes to grind, or that some of the spokespersons it puts on air are not representative of their profession. The BBC would claim that its behaviour is in the public interest, but that is not what it is there for.

It might justify public funds if it were there to provide programmes that were in the public interest and would not otherwise be provided. The fact that the BBC does not see that is the main reason it will become a subscription service, one that people who do not watch or listen to it do not have to pay for.

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jgh
jgh
3 months ago

It’s not funded by tax-payers, it’s funded by licence-payers.
I was too poor to pay tax last year, but I still paid for TV licence.

KJP
KJP
3 months ago
Reply to  jgh

But the TV licence is a tax. It is not a payment for the service as you have to pay it even if you don’t watch the BBC.

decnine
decnine
3 months ago

“The BBC’s coverage of the pandemic has been little more than a daily criticism of what it alleges are the failings of the government. Every development has it seeking out individuals who can come on air to attack the government’s handling of the crisis.” Except. The basic premise of the government’s approach to the epidemic (that the government is capable of defeating it) never gets questioned by the BBC. It seems to me that the government has been yanking ever harder on a lever that does not seem to be connected to anything. Lockdowns come and go and the epidemic… Read more »

Spike
Spike
3 months ago
Reply to  decnine

You’re right about the missed fallacies, but the new mutations will certainly not get gov’t to renounce the attempt to “manage the virus” but to double down. The “second wave” justifying the imprisonment of Britain is fed by hairtrigger testing of people who aren’t even sick and, in the US, bonuses paid to hospitals for reporting that a patient was treated for Covid. In fact, deaths are way down and hospitalizations are driven by healthy patients seeking employer-paid “cure.” This gov’t is not incompetent; it is willfully dishonest. It cannot be the job of gov’t to suspend our lives until… Read more »

Spike
Spike
3 months ago

Indeed: There is no reason for gov’t to provide something on the basis that there is no market for it!

The BBC’s “public service” was justified on the outlandish assumption that the alternative would be nothingness, that no one could provide television news, a fallacy clung to ever tighter once several organizations did.

In the US, Yamiche Alcindor’s trolling of Donald Trump for “public broadcasting” exactly parallels that of Jim Acosta for CNN. The latter is being reassigned, as CNN has gotten a President more to its liking, who will not be trolled at all.

Peter
Peter
3 months ago

Well, it seems Johnson, and hence the govt. by default is bottling out on any real reform of the BBC, pace the new chairman, who by any definition is an insider or establishment figure and won’t confront the beast. So more years, still. What should be worrying the BBC is the increasing polls which point to either dislike, or affirm that the BBC is biased. That at some point, this translates into real–and probably quite sudden–action seems to escape those in charge there. Far from being “invetigative” it is more red top journalism with its selective soundbite interviews and lack… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 months ago

Michael Portillo was pointing out last night (on Times Radio) that, much as he loves it (it does transmit his train programmes, after all), the Beeb needs to get to grips with the fact that the licence fee is dying, irrespective of what it, or any future government, might desire. There’s a generation and a half already who can see no point in paying a licence fee – and that proportion can only increase. The Beeb can choose (or be told) to be funded from general taxation; or they can go subscription – but in 10 years, maybe 20 at… Read more »

Bongo
Bongo
3 months ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

I beg to differ. There is another option which is that the Beeb is made accountable to the people that currently pay for it.
That will never play as it takes away State control of the top appointments, alas.

Peter
Peter
3 months ago

The BBC licence fee is a vicious regressive tax on the poor. For many £152 is a serious amount and it is forced from these poorest to fund the wealthy BBC employees. Any feudalist would be proud.

Remove criminal enforcement at the very least..

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
3 months ago

I suspect putting this clown in to “reform” the BBC might be a shrewd move. The one thing that won’t happen is reform. So viewing figures will keep sliding & fewer people will pay the TV License. By the time it runs out of money a switch to a different form of funding will be unsalable. There won’t be enough people interested in saving it. It’s a safer strategy than trying to slay the monster while it still has teeth to bite back.

Pat
Pat
3 months ago

The nearest you can get to impartiality is a high court judge, the result of decades of training and experience. Asking a.broadcaster to be impartial is a.big ask.
Perhaps a reasonable bet back in the day when it looked like only one national broadcaster was possible, but now we would be better off with multiple broadcasters all with different axes to grind and all paid for by their users- and not by their non users. As the newspaper market works.

Reed
Reed
3 months ago
Reply to  Pat

Pat, out of all the professional groups, the legal profession is doing most harm to our society. Even more than journalists, academics, economists and media personalities.
To those groups, in the light of the pandemic, I have recently added the medical profession, especially those in the medical trade unions (BMA especially) who seem to think that they are especially privileged to pronounce on the best way out of the panic.
To hijack a quote from Richard Feynman, outside of medicine, medical professionals are just as dumb as the next person.

Spike
Spike
3 months ago
Reply to  Reed

Our host Tim often mentions the fallacy of assuming that an “expert” in one field is expert at anything else. Indeed, America’s Covid-19 experts Fauci & Birx have a laser focus at producing good Covid-19 statistics but have lost sight of everything else, even overall public health.

And we continue to select products based on testimonials by movie stars and athletes.

Spike
Spike
3 months ago
Reply to  Pat

Pat, people have different worldviews (which is neither new nor tearing the nation apart) and prefer news from a source that shares their worldview. This was the key to the instant rise of Fox News, its news claiming only to be “fair & balanced” but its opinion shows very conservative.

And, as new proof, Murdoch delegated control to his future heirs, the motto was retired, the heirs changed focus from the customer to their own axes to grind, and Fox did a ratings first-to-worst. Several niche news sources are now surging by claiming to be what Fox used to be.

John Galt
3 months ago
Reply to  Spike

You notice that Murdoch minor is now out and that Murdoch senior is returning to the US now he’s had his NHS supplied COVID-19 jab, presumably to try and fix what his son and/or sons have broken.

Spike
Spike
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

Yes, that’s true, and is the clearest indication of a grave problem. Fortunately, this asset has an OWNER anxious to maximize the asset’s value, so we won’t need to wait for a change of national government. (Assuming the electorate agreed there was a problem and it was at the top of the national list, that the winning candidate agreed and proposed a relevant solution, that he won, and that he delivered on his promise.)

Spike
Spike
3 months ago
Reply to  John Galt

PS – Yes, Rupert would have had to pay from $15 to $150 to get the vaccine – or wait one week, as one of our new national emphases will be free health care for foreigners.

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