Wednesday, 5 March 2014

BBC, Media Society, Adam Street: Is the BBC in Crisis?

British Broadcasting Corporation microphone
in Broadcasting House (© London Intelligence)

Crisis? What crisis?

A very English debate.
Polite yet borderline fractious.
The panel?
All 'white'.
Men 5. Women 1.
Grey suits.
Grave faces.

The Media Society chose to debate 'Is the BBC in Crisis?' (Wednesday, 5 March).
Debating the future of one of Britain's most cherished publicly funded institutions.
Deep inside a private members' club.
In a cellar.
Under the Strand.

Debated coincidentally on a day TV licence payers learn the corporation plans to cut £100 million - by relegating youth entertainment channel BBC3 from TV to online.

TV industry veteran and BBC Trustee David Liddiment tries to reassure the 60 or so cosseted cellar-dwellers. To paraphrase Liddiment: 'Don't worry, the BBC is a vital part of Britain's national culture and will revive its mission to provide programmes scorned by commercial channels.'

Commercial TV executive David Elstein politely puts his pro-market boot into the BBC's public sector backside.
To paraphrase, again.
'The Beeb.
Licence-fee bloated.
Indulgent. Enjoying an "unfair competitive advantage" over commercial rivals.
Reform the Licence Fee. Subscription would improve the BBC.'

Strangely, the debate barely mentions junctures when crisis punctured BBC journalism - Blair, Iraq, the 'dodgy dossier' and the death of Dr David Kelly.
More recently, sexual abuse and Jimmy Saville.

But is there a crisis? 
Criticisms against a publicly funded national institution abound.
Of poor governance.
Dubious performance.
Compromised regulation.
Bloated executive pay and excessive bonuses.
Insipid non-executive directors.
Hardworking 'foot-soldier' staff but poor industrial relations.
Alleged cover-ups over safety.
Persecuted whistleblowers.
Alleged deception of families of victims.

But these criticisms rail not against the BBC. 
But against the publicly funded, yet privately run, not-for-profit company that owns and manages Britain's railways.
An organisation that faces a political kicking from Members of Parliament on this coming Friday (7 March).

So I couldn't help but think - if the good cellar folk want to identify an important British public institution in crisis, perhaps they should avert their gaze away from the BBC.
And take a gander at Network Rail.
The next time they board a train.

Beneath this BBC panic.
Lie legitimate wider anxieties.
What kind of institutions - banks, schools, health service, cultural providers - do we need woven into Britain's fabric? 
Publicly funded and managed, or private and market-driven?

Is the BBC in Crisis? A Media Society debate, hosted by Adam Street Private Members Club, 5 March 2014.

Brass plaque outside on front entrance to BBC's Broadcasting House
(© London Intelligence)

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2014

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