Defund the BBC? Here’s how it’s done

Defund the BBC? Here’s how it’s done

by Ewen Stewart
article from Friday 28, August, 2020

LORD HALL DEPARTS the stage of the BBC this week unapologetic and seemingly unaware that at home his organisation’s reputation for fairness and impartiality is increasingly in tatters as British viewers vote with their feet and tune off. His farewell speech sounds like a triumphant eulogy  claiming the BBC needs even more money to ‘combat fake news spread by Russia and China.’ He quotes statistics about the BBC global reach and loftily claims of the BBC that ‘no one can do more to carry Britain’s voice and values to the world.’ 

The irony is his speech ignores those who pay him, the British taxpayer. Not one mention of the BBC’s abject failure and partisan bias in the UK, only an arrogant assumption it projects British values. It does not. It projects a very narrow liberal globalist view increasingly jarring with the paying public who are tuning off. This report by the media regulator OFCOM (page 30 figure 2.1), shows just how rapidly people are tuning off.  BBC 1 market share down from 35% in 1988 to just 21% today. BBC 2 has seen an even greater proportionate decline. But it’s even worse than that for the BBC – as those figures are a share is of an increasingly small pie as people watch less TV in the digital age.  

At one level what Hall says has some truth. The BBC does have global reach, the problem is the so called British values he talks about are no such thing. They are distorted, contested and modish, largely ignoring a wider and more diverse domestic tapestry.  

The BBC’s output today offers a very narrow and highly political set of values based on groupthink perceptions of equality, wealth redistribution, alleged unfairness and globalism. United Nations good, British politician bad. Nicola Sturgeon deity, any centre right-wing politician challenged. Man from Bolton ignorant, man from Bogota noble.  And so it goes on. 

These values dominate almost all areas of their production and not just the news. Period dramas now moralise and are increasingly ahistorical sermons. Science fiction classics such as Doctor Who and Children’s TV is even worse – dictating a value set that is amoral, anti-Christian, anti-family and highly contested. As a result many parents are now choosing to not have a television in their houses or simply avoid the BBC at all costs. 

Of course there are exceptions to this general rule – some of its crime drama, which has to present the real world we know and live in to be believable, is excellent – but the BBC’s output overwhelmingly adheres to these contested values and ignores what I would describe, as the true British values of quiet patriotism and respect for others, the cause of the underdog, localism, community solidarity, quirky individuality, self-reliance, and trust. 

Hall’s BBC has veered so far from impartiality with moralising, news selection designed to distort the debate and at times outright partisan comment that shames the charter the organisation is founded on. Brexiteers were sneered at, but to the BBC’s shock, as they were the majority, it has now decided to pump up the globalist volume with its one sided versions of events. 

The BBC is awash with cash. As of 2019 it employed directly some 22,401 people with revenues of £4.889bn. Revenues one might add that are largely funded by us, like it, or not. The BBC has morphed from 4 national radio channels and 2 TV channels just 20 years ago into a leviathan with, according to its own website, 14 national TV channels and 24 national radio channels not to mention an increasingly extensive online offering and numerous local channels. Virtually the only channel, in my view that is any good, BBC 4, regularly is offered up for possible closure as elitist and irrelevant. 

The latest virtue signalling over the silence of Rule Britannia neatly encompasses BBC groupthink and shows how humourless, dogmatic and ahistorical it is. It is one thing for the Guardian to promote these values. It is a private organisation which you and I can chose whether to support or not. But it’s quite another for the BBC where non-payment of the licence fee is treated as a criminal offence.  

This Government cannot allow an overtly partisan BBC to continue to behave in the way it does. It is essential it is cut down to size and forced to go back to its core mission to inform, entertain and educate in an impartial manner. 

I suspect, however, it is un-reformable – so embedded into its culture and recruitment processes are its values. So I propose the following. Decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee which in a digital age is increasingly unjustifiable anyway. Halve the licence fee and force it, by Act of Parliament, to focus on core missions of perhaps four core BBC TV channels and four radio channels based around the model of a generation ago.  Sell off to the commercial sector its local radio and digital web offering outside the most basic public service information. This will encourage plurality and give a much needed boost to local and national private media providers, who have been crowded out by the enforced and unfair power of the BBC.   

Enable OFCOM, the regulator, to allow more diverse competition to the BBC. Let there be a Fox equivalent in the UK, privately funded and supported, if there is demand. Equally let there be a Guardianista equivalent in the private sector broadcast media.  Perhaps we should call if Channel Four? 

What is the BBC so afraid of? Is competition of ideas really that dangerous? This Government has a large majority – in part as a response to the failure of the BBC as part of the ruling establishment of the last few decades. The Prime Minister cannot allow the state broadcaster to tilt the debate in the way it has done any more. Cut the BBC down to size, de-criminalise non-payment and enable competition of ideas and channels. 

Ewen Stewart is a City Economist whose career has spanned over 30 years. His consultancy Walbrook Economics specialises in the interaction of macroeconomics, politics and capital markets and advises major pension funds, asset managers and hedge funds. He is Director of the think tank Global Britain and his work is widely published in economics and political journals.

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