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BBC charter review - consultation responses

OK, I'm getting stuck into the BBC Charter Review this evening. (Here's why.)

Here are some of my answers...

  • Q1: How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve?

    The charter period is ten years, which is too long a period to carve into stone what the BBC "should" achieve. The media landscape will have changed dramatically in two years, never mind ten. No-one I know has ever said the BBC needs to pin down its aims better.

  • Q4: Is the expansion of the BBC’s services justified in the context of increased choice for audiences? Is the BBC crowding out commercial competition and, if so, is this justified?

    The increased number of radio and TV channels obviously makes heavy use of lots of BBC archive and repeat material - that's clear to anyone who watches/listens. The increased number of channels isn't a sign of the BBC getting too big - it's just a sign of digital TV and radio having room for more channels than in the past. If we chopped off some of the less-used channels, it wouldn't save much money.

  • Q5: Where does the evidence suggest the BBC has a positive or negative wider impact on the market?

    The BBC played a massive role in promoting digital radio and TV through the simple act of jumping in and providing new channels because it could. This didn't crowd people out of the market - it stimulated the market.

  • Q8: Does the BBC have the right genre mix across its services?

    It could benefit from putting more critical and investigative journalism - something that many commercial providers don't want to dedicate budget towards. BBC journalism has been a little un-critical in recent years. Twenty-four hour news is not as important as deep thorough journalism.

  • Q11: How should we pay for the BBC and how should the licence fee be modernised?

    The "universal household levy" discussed in the consultation document would be good - it would be just, progressive, and would maintain the pooled British nature of the BBC. (It's not very different from being a hypothecated general tax - and therefore good - see below.)

    I have no no objections to the licence fee, but it might be better simply funded from general taxation. The subscription model that people have been talking about is very unhelpful, because (a) it leeches away the pooled "by Britain, for Britain" feel of the BBC, and (b) it puts it on much shakier financial foundations because subscriptions could collapse at any point (e.g. due to competition from global rivals like Sky deliberately undercutting it).

    The consultation document says general taxation "is not appropriate because it would risk lessening the BBC’s independence from Government" but this is a false argument, as the Government has recently delivered financial shocks to the BBC (in relation to the World Service, and the cost of licence fees for older people) of exactly the kind that would be risked under general taxation. A mechanism for stable hypothecation could easily allay those concerns.

  • Q12: Should the level of funding for certain services or programmes be protected? Should some funding be made available to other providers to deliver public service content?

    No need to make some of the BBC's funding "contestable" by others. The document mentions BBC having a "near monopoly" on children's broadcasting but that's because it's expensive to produce and commercial operators have chosen to focus on lower-cost genres.

  • Q13: Has the BBC been doing enough to deliver value for money? How could it go further?

    Yes it has been doing enough. Recent government moves such as making the BBC pay for World Service and then for old peoples' TV licences have added financial shocks to the system, not helping with delivering true value for money.

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