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Reforming the BBC

April 1, 2014

People will believe what the media tells them they believe” George Orwell

I was brought up to trust the BBC. As well as commissioning and broadcasting high quality entertainment, cultural and scientific programmes etc, it was to be totally trusted to keep us informed on current affairs. The World Service has had an excellent reputation abroad, but I cannot help thinking that since it has been freely available to a British audience on digital radio during the day, it has been somewhat dumbed down.

As for news coverage designed for a domestic audience, it has always been pro-establishment, and never challenges the dysfunctional version of capitalism we now have, nor neo-classical economics ideology that supports it.

The BBC is supposed to be ‘operationally independent’ of government, but what is the reality? Appointments to the BBC Trust are made by Queen in Council, on the recommendation of UK government ministers. The Director General and non executive members of the Executive Board are appointed by the Trust. The government sets the level of the licence fee. This is not independence as I see it.

An alternative model is the US PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). The local stations are funded by voluntary subscriptions. However the central organisation which makes or commissions much of the programming is partly funded by federal government and Congress has recently significantly cut this. The operating expenditure of the BBC was £4.896 billion in 2012/13, which I suspect is vastly more per head than the average American contributes.

I propose a new model:

  • Members of BBC trust to be selected randomly like a jury. They would have the same powers as existing trust.

  • Every two years the public would vote on the level of the licence fee, subject to the fact that there would be a maximum allowable percentage decrease in one go, so that declining revenues could be managed.

  • Everyone with a TV would be bound to pay the licence fee so decided as now. Certain exemptions such as the over 75s would apply as now. Any change in these would be voted on by the public.

  • The above provisions could only be altered by primary legislation, not by statutory instruments or orders in council.

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