Tim Blair


New Criterion



Wednesday, July 09, 2003
SOME OPTIONS FOR A PUBLIC BROADCASTER gone berserk. These are from Barbara Amiel of the UK Telegraph, on July 7th, via Bernard.

I can think of five options. The first approach is to continue complaining and do nothing. The BBC might occasionally be sued for defamation; there could be blow-ups and reconciliation at Downing Street. Viewers could write letters to the editor. In essence, we would all accept the fact that the Left has captured the BBC. As this is the most humiliating and easiest approach, it is likely to be the one chosen. It has the inert momentum of stupidity.

The second way is to decide unequivocally that the hijacking of the BBC by any ideology must end. It is time to clean house. This means a radical purge in order to re-establish the objectivity that is the BBC's mandate and is practised only in the breach.

A purge involves pensioning people off and replacing them not with "Right-wingers" - which would only change the disease's complexion - but with people dedicated to even-handedness. The problem is that such people would not be easy to find. So a draconian approach - for an end that, even with the best will in the world, may not be attainable - might not be worth the candle.

A third option would be to accept that our attempt to establish objective journalism has been a failure and should be replaced by the parti pris system. French television and radio have some excellent programming and so long as everyone understands that the national broadcaster will parrot the views of the government of the day, this approach would have the virtue of honesty. The BBC would slant its views as the government changes.

Four: we could adopt the American system. America doesn't have a public broadcaster, only the Public Broadcasting System, which depends almost entirely on voluntary subscriptions. It produces some high-end cultural and entertainment programming, as well as one good news show. It also screens a lot of the best of the BBC's situation comedies and dramas.

If we copied this system, we would abolish the BBC licence fee and tax subsidy. In one sense, the reasons for a national broadcasting system are obsolete anyway. When the airwaves were restricted, it made sense, but with today's technology and multiplicity of channels, it has far less rationale.

I could see a fifth option, in which we maintained the BBC without its news and public affairs. The corporation would do the intelligent comedy, drama and music that it has always handled well. These options could be refined, but my preference would be for one of the last two.

No doubt many people at BBC news and public affairs believe themselves to be quite apolitical, and some might be. But those departments suffer from a world view that is now infecting a new generation of viewers. Like other nasty viruses, this one requires swift containment.