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Would the BBC work better as a company, charity, instead of a new Royal charter?

The BBC exists because, every ten years, the monarch has granted another Charter. Given the changes in the media landscape in the last decades, should the BBC move to another status?

Time for some BBC blue-sky thinking?   Photograph: Brian Butterworth
Time for some BBC blue-sky thinking? Photograph: Brian Butterworth
published on UK Free TV

BBC, plc 2017

In a set of articles earlier in the year, I investigated the BBC as a public company, sometimes run by subscription and other times by adverts and by subscription.

British Broadcasting Charity

One option that must be on the table is the change in the BBC from having a Royal Charter to being a charity.

The claims for the BBC's Royal Charter seem to be rather bust these days.   Aside from the democratic implications in the 21st century of the head of state being able to make law by proclamation, the claimed benefits are long since gone.

The last three Prime Ministers have done away with once-treasured the BBC News independence.

Tony Blair used the strategy of a judge-lead whitewash (using the logic "the Prime Minister cannot lie because he is the Prime Minister") to weaken the independent broadcaster.

Gordon Brown, by providing "free" TV Licences to pensioners allowed the state to co-opt a sizable part of the funds supposedly hypothecated from the TV Fee.    He could have provided pensioners with a £150 uplift in their pensions.

This pensioner allocation was used by Prime Minister David Cameron to strong arm DG Thompson into cutting back the BBC in an egregious funding settlement. 

It is clear that the BBC is no longer independent of government, the Royal Charter special guarantee no longer respected by Ministers "of the Crown".  

So, perhaps it would be sensible to do away with the 10-year cycle of renegotiation and move the Broadcaster to the status of the British Broadcasting Charity, and hope that the Charity Commission can provide a better protection for our national broadcaster than elderly monarch does. 

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Sunday, 23 November 2014
Sandra Blickem
6:35 PM

I am constantly disappointed with the BBC
The news is sparse in content and appears very biased
The scheduling is terrible putting one programme type on two or three channels at the same time, ie sport
Instead of putting sport specials on the "secondary" channels 3 or 4 they remove other popular regulars altogether, very annoying
Their presenters are becoming less and less able, amicable, too serious, biased and non-entertaining!
They ignore complaints and criticism and simply carry on as before
Their sound is often compromised ie Jamaica Inn and I've noticed several others that are too loud, too quiet, too mumbled!
I seriously wonder what is going on with them as a previously non-biased, friendly, intelligent people's" channel!

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Sandra Blickem's 1 post GB flag
Martin Baines
6:44 PM

It seems to me, no-one really wants to ask the hard question: what is the BBC for?

It seems to me that the only rational justification for a compulsory tax given to just one broadcaster is to do the things the market does not do but are somehow considered a universal good.

If we deconstruct this, it used to be argued the BBC was the only way quality drama got made, not nasty populist stuff. Yet today, while the BBC still makes good programmes, it cannot claim a monopoly of good output - in fact I think one could argue it has been left behind by US subscription and internet makers like HBO, Showtime, ANC and NETFLIX.

Similarly in sport - once the BBC was felt necessary to ensure "national" sporting events got coverage, yet again that is clearly no longer the case. Yes the BBC still does a good job but its fund are such that it often is behind its commercial rivals. Perhaps sport would actually be better served by not having the BBC do it at all and regulating for free to air access for those supposed "national" events?

Similar arguments can be made on things like the arts, yet again we now have whole channels devoted to them that do as good (if not better) jobs of covering niche material.

So that finally leave The News. It is often argued the BBC is the gold standard of unbiased coverage with unrivalled worldwide news gathering. Yet the "unbiased" is clearly not true: in the name of spurious "balance" it veers between bland no reporting and biased coverage to plate whoever last called foul against them. Just look at the current controversy around UKIP - the BBC went from treating them as fringe party worthy of little but a joke to now being accused of ever coverage by virtually all other parties. And can we really say the BBC on screen news does a better job than ITV News, Channel 4 News, Sky News or Al Jazeera?

Now none of that says the BBC is bad. In fact I think it is (generally) very good at what it does, but I cannot honestly see how we can justify the compulsion element any longer. My own view is that it would have better future as some sort of independent organisation or even split up. I am pretty sure the Drama output would survive in its own right (just look at how well BBC Worldwide does). Similarly news gathering is first class, and may, if freed from its government shackles, do even better providing either its own channels globally or perhaps as a source provider like Reuters. Perhaps keep The World Service as a state global propaganda arm funded by the Foreign Office as it was until the last charter settlement.

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Martin Baines's 14 posts GB flag

7:47 PM

Sandra Blickem: Do you have actual data to support any of those very vague accusations? Biased? To who?

I hate sport, but at the weekend, there is a lot of sport, and they only have two channels to show it (BBC3 & 4 share with CBBC & Cbeebies) - in reality they dont show sport on all channels all day.

And if someone is covering a terrible disaster or questioning a politician, why would I want them to be other than 'too serious'. And the sound not being perfect on Jamica Inn is no more than a storm in a teacup. Sound is generally worse on all TV's these day - try listening to the other channels - the BBC is no better or worse.

Martin Baines: Think of what would happen if there was no BBC. No Proms, no real kids TV (trust me, Cbeebies and CBBC are fantastic), but lots of reality shows, soaps and 'dramas'. I dont always like the BBC either, but when I look at other countries output, I'm not always impressed either. I think Roy Greenslade made an excellent argument as to why the BBC should contine in its current form: Why the public must rally to support the BBC licence fee | Media |

I'm sick of the 'American TV is best/we have Netflix's' arguement. Firstly, we get the cream of the crop of US shows. Much of its is dross. In fact most shows dont make it past the pilot, never mind the first series. And while there is a lot of fantastic drama from the US, its a media market at least five times larger than our own. I'd expect more great drama.

HBO, Showtime, ANC, etc are all cable channels where you subscribe, and where the programme makers are often allowed to take risks without fear of advertisers, language, content, etc. Have a look at the main US broadcast channels. Do you really think Hawaii 50 is better than Line of Duty?

Netflix's? Netflix is a distributor of content, although like most other distributors, from the time of the 2 reelers, its moved into production as well. Its first big production? An adapation of a set of books made famous on TV by an TV adaption from the BBC...

Netflix is great if you have fast broadband, and you want to watch a lot of different stuff (although relative poor compared with what the US site has to offer). Yet the huge majority of TV watched in the UK is live - its not even recorded.

Sport? I hate sport generally, but if the alternative is paying money to Rupert Murdoch, then the BBC should be allowed to cover sports.

Drama? There are fantastic drama's on the BBC. Its been a really good year. Yes, some want more risk-taking, but overall, its been great. There should be no need to say US is better than UK - both have great stuff, but do things in slightly different ways, as this article pointed out: American vs British drama: why do we have to pick a side? | Television & radio |

Arts? The BBC produces a huge amounts of stuff on the arts - and although Sky has two channels devoted to it, you have to pay more than your licence fee to watch them, and I suspect that they (and Sky Atlantic) are loss leaders to encourage people people like me to make the leap to Sky. If there was no BBC, then I suspect they would go in an instant.

News? Not always great - and I complain when its isn't. But overall, its has a huge range and can be brilliant. I have no desire to get my news in the same way as the US - which is perhaps why NPR uses the World Service so much. Are there really shackles on its news gathering? The joy of the World Serive is that it is seen as not just government propaganda. It might be the cheapest 'soft power' weapon the UK has, and its would better if the Foriegn Office coughed up for its upkeep, but thats not the BBC's fault.

You yourself admit that the BBC is very good at what it does, and I'm in total agreement. But you then say it should be broken up because the market can do it better, and that its a compulsory tax. I'm not sure the market can do it better, and if doesn't, then it will impossible to put the BBC back together again.

The tax thing is a bit like the whinging you get from libertarian types - 'its because of 'fredum' and 'rights'. Its rational, but only within a very particular worldview, and totally misses the point. Your 'made' to pay for lots of stuff you might never use via taxation, but why pick on something that you do use?

Since 99.9% of people in the UK use the BBC on a weekly basis, and 98% use BBC1, we have made our choice, and its seems to work. We get relatively high quality stuff to watch and to listen to, with no adverts, on an 'all you can eat' basis. For 40p per household, per day. Can the market come up with a better offer - I doubt it. If we did slice and dice, for what are purely ideological reasons, I suspect, as the song says, we dont know what we've got til its gone.

The BBC gives us a mix of great TV, has a huge cultural reach, and keeps the rest honest.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag

8:12 PM

I think the best drama now comes from ITV

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage
8:57 PM

The licence fee equates to about 40 (forty) pence per day---less than a daily newspaper. For that we all receive ADVERT FREE Television AND Radio channels around the clock Listen to some of the programmes on BBC Radio 4----no commercial station would even consider covering this diverse range---why not? Because they have to keep THE ADVERTISERS HAPPY by delivering as a big an audience as possible.
Currently I am absolutely fed up with the Christmas adverts (Tesco one says "It's Christma)) but I thought Christmas was on 25th December !!
A friend, who spent some time in USA, on his return said he missed the BBC's full output across tv and radio---so there you have it..

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PETER HUGHES's 13 posts GB flag
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Monday, 24 November 2014
Lorna Smith
10:12 AM

We only have Freeview and happily pay the 40p or so that allows us to watch the BBC and any other available channels. As pensioners, who still pay for our licence, we would not like to be forced to pay more ... and if the BBC lost the licence, we would certainly have to pay far more and probably be able to access fewer channels.
People over the channel can pick up the BBC and watch in preference to the own stations ... Think that suggests familiarity breeds contempt. The BBC is really an asset we cannot afford to lose.

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Lorna Smith's 11 posts GB flag
Fred Perkins
1:58 PM

I think most would agree that the BBC is good value for the licence fee.

But as Martin Baines has put very well, We (and even more, the BBC), has forgotten its purpose. It has become selectively very 'commercial', and being the recipient of a huge amount of what is in effect a 'tax', is going far beyond its original remit.

The BBC is now competing heavily with commercial broadcasters which can and do achieve much of what the BBC chooses to dip its toes into, and without the constraints or disciplines of a commercial company, but able to distort the commercial market in ways which don't necessarily benefit the viewer. Almost by definition, the BBC's success in achieving its remit should NOT result in a quest for audience ratings - but it does so, because it can afford to do so. It is also stifling innovation in the creative industries, by virtue of its scale. It benefits from legally-enforced additional licence 'fees', index linked, and further supported by it providing 'free' licences to pensioners - which government 'pays' for, even though it doesn't cost the BBC a penny to provide the service to them. Smoke and mirrors!!

The BBC has substantially abandoned the part of its remit that is about 'educating' the public. It appears to be leading the 'dumbing down' of TV, rather than focusing on higher ideals.

Most countries have a 'state broadcaster' - and nowadays that is mainly about producing news, which is expensive to do properly, and difficult for commercial broadcasters anyway.

Incredibly, Ofcom doesn't even regulate the BBC as to whether it's biased - the BBC is its own judge and jury. That too, surely needs to be changed - all other broadcasters who broadcast news have to abide by Ofcom rules.

Arguably, the BBC could achieve its remit with a budget a fraction (10%??) of the licence fee revenue - giving government something else on which to 'spend' the surplus.

Let's just accept that the BBC must be provided with state funding for its core remit, but must be prevented from interfering in areas beyond that, either by cross-subsidy or excessive cash in its coffers to 'play' in other areas.

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Fred Perkins's 13 posts GB flag
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6:09 PM

Fred Perkins: You've allowed youself to be seduced by an ideological viewpoint, rather than a practical one, even though you admit that the BBC is good value for money.

Is the BBC actually 'crowding out' the commercial sector, and has it strayed from its original remit? If we take its original remit to be the Reithian "inform, educate and entertain", then the answer is no. Entertain means just that, and there is nothing wrong with the BBC producing programmes that we might actually want to watch and listen to. I'm sure there must have been people tutting that the BBC played light music and had comedy back in the 1930's, but we all seem to have survived. Think of all those classic BBC comedy programmes over the years - did that mean there were no decent comedies anywhere else on TV? Or drama?

As for crowding out, this is one of those free market bits of nonsense which pops up a lot, especially in the US. Thomas Frank basically has a whole chapter in 'The Wtecking Crew' devoted to shooting this meme down - pointing out that if you think 'guvment' is the problem, then anything it does well is bad, because government is bad. If the BBC is crowding out the private sector, then by that logic, so is the NHS, police, HM Revenue and the Army - all of which could be done by the private sector.
In reality, governemnt tends to help the private sector a great deal, as the book 'The Entreprenerial State' explains.

The BBC trains huge numbers of technicians, actors and directors. Think just how much drama the BBC makes each year - they are the single largest producer of drama on the planet - and then think what would happen if the BBC wasn't there. Brianist pointed out the results of such a report a while back - the conclusions were not good for the UK economy. And a huge amount of talent got their first break on the BBC. Anthony Mingella didn't start writing Oscar winners immediately - he started writing scripts for Grange Hill.

If the BBC was to produce only non commercial programmes, what would it look like?

We would perhaps have a 38 part series on the atonal composers from 1948-1982, documentaries on cheese making (just like National Lampoon's European Vacation), endless round table discussions on coastal erosion in Namibia and perhaps programmes on Mongolian throat singing. Possibly a film or two from the Swedish national film collection, showing the early works of a particularly gloomy director, obscure Scottish poets, and redubbed vintage Eastern Bloc animation (and a documentary on said animation). Cheap and very worthy children's prgrammes (here's bran, kids!), a series about the abandoned footwear found on Hadrian's Wall (actually, I would happily watch this), and an adaption of a famous 1923 Slovak play all about peasants, in the orginal Slovak. And dont forget the OU!

Of course as soon as you put on this deeply high-brow stuff, the free-marketeers would immediately say that nobody watches this, and if they do, they should pay for it. Head they win, tails you lose.

In fact Sky was cheeky enough to try this argument some years ago about Eastenders - its popular, therefore commecial. In which case, it should be on Sky, which, although commercial, has produced remarkably few popular programmes.

The BBC has to supply a mixture, so as to inform, educate and entertain. Thats fine. I dont always want serious stuff. But, for those who think the BBC is dumbing down, this is the serious stuff from Radio 4 today. Thinking Allowed, Tweet of the Day, Start the Week (really good today), A Book of the Week about living in different houses, a drama about Syria, a documentary about horses on a housing estate. A History of Ideas, a series about the history of Mossad, an afternoon drama, a music quiz (with a lot of classical music), The Food Programme, a series about Scottish poets, Beyond Belief, a programme about the word Mongol(!), Crossing Continents, Shared Planet (about mangroves), The Book at Bedtime, and a programme about 'The Queen of African Music'. And of course Today, The World at One, PM, The World Tonight, and all the hourly news.

As for TV - have you seen BBC4? And there are some really good stuff on BBC3 - their Afghan programme is incrediably powerful.

'Arguably, the BBC could achieve its remit with a budget a fraction (10%??) of the licence fee revenue - giving government something else on which to 'spend' the surplus. ' - Thats saloon bar handwaving. C5 has currently a £200m budget. Its makes bascially no content itself, buys its news in, and of course has no radio operation of any sort. And most of it is rubbish. You get what you pay for. BBC radio currently costs £650m - so almost double the £350m you suggest would cover everything. Your entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Lets see the data behind your thinking.

I think that the BBC makes a good case here - BBC - Blogs - About the BBC - Why the licence fee is the best way to fund the BBC

What I find is that those who argue against the licence fee is that they have no workable alternative, and seem largely to have an ideological problem with it, rather than anything fundermentally practical.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Fred Perkins
11:13 AM

@MikeB: I don't want to get into a slanging match throwing insults at each other.

I said that I respect the BBC. I'm a broadcaster myself, and have been for 11 years. I know what broadcasting costs, and haven't been 'seduced by an ideological viewpoint'.

My point is simply that much has changed since the Public Service Broadcasting remit of the BBC (and our other PSBs) was originally set up.

Any single organisation handed close to £4 Billion a year by the state cannot fail to have an impact on its sector. We in the UK have one of the finest broadcasting regimes in the world, and the creative industries collectively contribute around 8% of our GDP.

Briant Butterworth opened this thread with some valid reasoning for change. The last few years have seen immense disruption and change in 'television' in its many forms.

The BBC has no monopoly of truth nor of wisdom. Nor indeed do politicians. It must surely therefore be time for a re-examination of the BBC's role in what is a much wider canvas than could ever have been envisaged when it was set up. In most industries, the Competition Authorities worry about dominance of any single organisation over the sector.

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Fred Perkins's 13 posts GB flag
Fred's: mapF's Freeview map terrainF's terrain plot wavesF's frequency data F's Freeview Detailed Coverage
Geordie lad

8:39 PM

Lorna Smith: Would that what you say about "Advert Free" was true; far from it! Program start and stop times are now disrupted by the Beeb's adverts for its own programs. As a retired broadcasting engineer, it was drummed into me at an early age that program schedule times MUST be adhered to, even if it meant using a stop watch and time signals.

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Geordie lad's 43 posts GB flag
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