The BCC as a new network

In followup discussions and interviews about the BBC’s bold plans to reinvent itself, the one question I keep getting asked that I didn’t address in my post is:

What is the proper role for the BBC as a tax-supported public trust? Should it compete with commercial ventures online? That is what Rupert Murdoch has been asking (read: complaining about). I have two answers:

First, I think it would be foolhardy for the industry to try to throttle development and innovation at the BBC. Because of its position and generous tax funding, it’s true that the BBC can afford to do what other companies cannot. But that is also a reason to let them, to see what they develop and to copy the successes and avoid the failures. It is open-source product development for media — and media need it. I’d say that’s one way to put tax dollars pounds stirling to work for you. And trying to kill the BBC by stopping it from experimenting and growing is a horrid waste of those tax monies.

Second, I think the BBC should have a different relationship with the media outlets formerly known as its competitors: The BBC should be linking to and promoting the best not just from the BCC and now from citizens’ media but also from other media. Why shouldn’t the BBC, as a public trust, point to and thus send traffic to and help support and encourage the best from Sky or the Guardian or Washington Post? That, I believe, will be the role of the new network. More on that later.

: BTW, I should add that I don’t support the notion of tax-supported and thus government-certified news. I think it’s quite dangerous. But given the BBC’s position, I’d say if it really wants to reinvent itself, it should reinvent its role in media and its notion of the network.

  • ZF

    I believe you’re being a little naive here about what the BBC actually is and how it is likely to behave.

    It’s a bureaucracy with a self-interested and deeply entrenched political bias (ancient enough that it bothered George Orwell) and truly massive public funding behind it. No politician, not even Margaret Thatcher, has been able to restrain it in any meaningful way for over 50 years even as its audiences (for anything it does which is not a clone of commercial offerings) have continually fallen.

    Allowing it to expand beyond its current activities would be a long-term disaster.

  • Yes, but if they really want to reinvent themselves for this new world…..

  • I agree with both of you – some good will come of the BBC’s attempt to reinvent itself, but at the same time the ultimate goal should be the abolishment of all government owned and taxpayer financed media. In the long run it is in conflict with, and a threat to, a free society.

  • When the BBC was the only game in town then people had a valid point about its (alleged) bias. There are plenty of alternatives now on radio, TV and the web.

    So the only complaint that people can have is those of Libertarians like Jeff who don’t think government can do anything right. BBC is financed by a tax, but is run by its own board of governors. Contrast this with Fox news which is owned by private interests but (apparently) run by the Republican party, as the latest staff changes makes plain. Funny how Murdoch is the biggest complainer about the BBC and also the owner of Fox…

  • ZF

    The real missing element here (and the BBC is very careful to arrange that it continues to be missing) is any opportunity for the public to vote on whether the organization should be permitted to expand its activities.

    If the public wanted to vote for such a thing then fine, but to the BBC any prospect of being exposed to democracy in this way is terrifying in the extreme. From their point of view the issue is: if the public were ever to vote down an extension of their powers, what’s to stop any subsequent proposal to hold a vote on the BBC system as it operates today (which includes the compulsory billing of all television owners, detector vans driving around snooping on UK households electronically and the jailing of people who refuse to pay the license fee).

    If that vote went against them (as it well might) their whole house of cards would collapse overnight.

  • Lidia S. Peña

    I do not like the BBC. They are so slanted to the left, it hurts!! I refuse to give them a dime!!

  • If the BBC threw all their content open to any and all to use as they wish, then, Jeff, they’d be “open source” media, but that is never gonna happen. They may invite many and all to enter their new-fangled playground, but they will remain the parkie; setting the rules on which games people may play with the park’s gear.

    Remove the tax UK residents are forced to pay the BBC just for owning a TV–whether or not they ever tune into any of the Beeb’s offerings–and see if they can stand on their own via charging subscription fees and attracting advertising, like everyone else on the dial. When the were the only broadcast outlet available to the Brits, that subsidy made sense, but that time is over and done. They can take this gamble precisely because they KNOW their ratings have scant to do with their revenue. And that amount to an unfair advantage they hold against their competitors.

    And Mr. Feinman, respectfully, shove your anti-Murdoch/FOX folderol where the sun don’t shine. If you really think the pikers at the wheels of the RNC could make Murdoch do anything, you are a fool. He can pretty much ignore the American media/political machinations at this point (he’s already beaten all his cable competition into submission, and those ratings won’t change if the Dems took over both houses of Congess… hell, they’d probably go up!), and concentrate on China the rest of Asia and the Internet to consolidate News Corp’s growing media domination

    And as for the Tony Snow selection: Where, say you, was the White House supposed to look for a new Press Secretary? Some nobody plucked from the bowels of a speech writing staff? Or from the few familiar media faces that have not laid their cards on the line that they believe the current Administration is swine?

    I mean, as you seem to believe, “FOX=RNC.” so following that logic, with Stephanopolis hostin their Sunday chatter, ABC=DNC.

    Might not be fair, but at least there’s a semblance of balance somehwre buried in there.

  • Jeff, the point is that the BBC doesn’t want to ‘reinvent’ the very worst element of itself: the funding via shakedown of Joe Public. We’re not talking about a situation where a small percentage of the income tax or sales tax a person pays over a year is diverted to the BBC. One cannot own a radio or television without paying a ‘protection fee’ – Mafia-style – to the BBC. Don’t pay? You get a huge fine, and if you don’t or can’t pay it, you are thrown in prison.

    The BBC is not going to ‘reinvent’ the threat of violence under which they operate. It’s not even a remote possibility. Ask some of your contacts there what the odds are, and I assure you they’ll laugh in your face.

    The facts are inconvenient and chilling, but they are facts. Isn’t that what journalism is supposed to be about?

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  • You might want to change the title to read “The BBC As A New Network”. It now has BCC, which is probably confusing the search engines and readers.

    That said, I give them credit for reinventing their Web site and working to make that a self-funding and successful enterprise. It does offer the possibility that it might someday stop collecting TV taxes should it the online content drive enough revenue. Think of it as them trying to work for a living instead of living on the taxpayer dole. More power to them.

  • TC:
    Ignorance is never a good defense for one’s positions. Ignorance coupled with personal attacks just further emphasizes the pointlessness of such a person’s opinions.

    Do a bit of research on the economic favors Murchoch has gotten for his support of the present administration.

    Here is a typical example (From an Oct 2003 interview):

    MOYERS: Sure. Rupert Murdoch is in a category by himself — overtly political. He makes no bones about it. Sure, he wants NewsCorp to turn big profit, as it does. But he’ll take losses on the New York Post and subsidize The Weekly Standard to advance his political agenda, which, of course, is ultimately aimed at the kind of government favoritism that boosts his corporate earning. I’m sure you know he’s lobbying hard right now for FCC approval of his purchase of DirectTV, which will give him a network of satellite systems spanning Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He’s starting all-news networks in Italy and India, and he’s so desperate to please the Chinese that he dropped the BBC from his satellite operation in China just to please the communist leaders there who didn’t like the coverage.

    Studies have shown that the more people watch Fox the less informed they are about the real facts on the issues.

  • Robby Fein:

    Ignorance is never a good defense for one’s positions. Ignorance coupled with personal attacks just further emphasizes the pointlessness of such a person’s opinions.(emphasis mine)

    Umm… Robby? Where was this “personal” attack I committed that you speak of?

    I did nothing to denigrate you, merely hurled ridicule at your position, and suggested a place to park it. I went out of my way in my opening sentence addressed toward your comment to keep the conversation about the conversation at hand, and never impugned you, personally, in any way, shape or form. Sure, the subtext said “I think you’re an idiot,” if you were inclined to PoMo deconstruction of every damn thing you ever read….

    Ask Jeff about when I knock the ‘circumspect’ governor off my engine, and actually “attack” some guy. It ain’t pretty; pissed Jeff off for months at one point. Like, let’s suppose I decide a photographer whose website is an abhorrent denial of structure and style deserves a massive thrashing for being failed at presenting his understanding of the domain he claims, and then the goober tries to play in the world of words–MY WORLD–where I pretty much feel asssured I can wipe him across the floor like an old, dirty mop….

    That, Skippy!, would be a personal–albeit unfair, since the opponent is obviously unarmed– punch in the schmuck’s gut.

    PS: wheeling out some Bill Moyers clip–who, like the domos at the BBC, got rich sucking at the public tit, is just lame. It proves nothing. Murdoch may well get favorable financial treatment from governments, but that started when he burst out from Down Under; even the quote you float shows his aims were beyond America’s shores. And his actions in China proves he doesn’t really give a rat’s patootie about what government he’s gotta deal with to make his cash flow go.

    So, if you really want to have this dance, bring it over to my sandbox, Skippy, because I won’t bother JJ’s bandwidth anymore with this.

  • TC:
    I guess your meds ran out this morning.

  • bit torrent

    Compare what you get from the BBC for the licence fee with what you get from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky for several times the money. Where are the nature programmes, documentaries, British dramas on Sky?

    Murdoch interferes with British politics via his newspapers: The Sun and The Times.

    The BBC’s left wing bias is a myth these days. But of course Hitler would be to the left of many American Republicans.

    True the BBC doesn’t always have to follow ratings. That is why it can take risks and be innovative.

  • bit torrent

    As for the only high ratings being for ‘clones of commercial offerings’, total rubbish.

    Spring Watch, David Attenborough, Dr Who, Manchester Passion, Bleak House. Please name the commercial equivalents!

  • Objections to the BBC seem to fall into to types:

    Those who object to having to pay a tax. (Libertarians)
    Those who see some sort of political bias (in other words programs don’t support their particular political viewpoint).

    I wonder what public opinion would be like if the BBC became a subscription service (ignoring the technical issues, for the moment)? The tax would be removed, but those who wanted to watch/listen would have to subscribe. Then by some sort of special decoder they could get the programs. This is just an extension of the pay to view model already in effect for cable and satellite.

    The fact of the matter is that people in the UK don’t realize how lucky they are to have the BBC. Things have gotten so poor in the US broadcast area that more and more people are turning to the BBC to find out what is happening in the world. Major networks like PBS now carry BBC news, as do several pay services. This didn’t exist 20 years ago. Only the tiny fringe with shortwave could get the service.

    Be careful what you wish for…

  • Julian Taylor

    I don’t agree with that statement I’m afraid. The BBC has over the past few years become an extremely biased orgnisation, due in part to the ‘war of position’ stance of its hegemonically obsessed political masters and due in part to the forced ‘re-education’ of many of its news staff. Possibly one of the most disgusting anti-Western and certainly one of the most virulent anti-American pieces of reportage I have ever witnessed was shown on 10th April on Newsnight where the unpleasant Greg Palast and Gavin Essler proceeded on an all-out lovein of everything Chavez and to savage anything to do with the USA. If people are indeed turning to the BBC as a source of information then I am sorry for them turning up and effectively finding the cupboard so bare.

  • simon

    ‘Spring Watch, David Attenborough, Dr Who, Manchester Passion, Bleak House. Please name the commercial equivalents!’

    Just because there are no commercial equivalents to these products shouldn’t mean I am forced to pay for them. I watched none of these things. None of them interest me. Those who want such products should pay for them. If the BBC is one tenth as good as it is always telling us that it is, it would have no trouble whatsoever funding itself via volutary susbscription.

    The BBC is a leftover from the bleak, totalitarian days of the 20th century. It’s had its day. Let’s get it off our backs and cut it loose so it can thrive by selling its programming to those willing to pay for it.

  • bit torrent

    Simon, maybe then we should scrap the British Library, Royal Ballet, Opera House, Nation Film and Television Archive and all the many and varied things that many people don’t use?

    Do you have children Simon? I am gay and I don’t and doubt I ever will have children, but, as a single person I pay a much higher tax rate than many married people to fund schools, healthcare for children etc etc.

    Why should I pay for things I don’t use or benefit from? Tell you what, I’ll stop paying for all of those and you can stop paying for the BBC! And we’ll see who is better off.