Leading article: A powerful case for a well-funded and confident public broadcaster

Share
Related Topics

James Murdoch used the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival last year to tear great lumps out of the BBC.

This year, the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, used the same forum to return the favour. Mr Thompson's mischievous suggestion that BSkyB should be required to pay a fee for carrying public service channels such as ITV, Channel 4 and Five (although not the BBC) is unlikely to go down well with the Murdoch media empire. But beyond the tit-for-tat sniping, who has right on their side in this struggle?

It is easy to make the case against the BBC. The sky-high salaries and bonuses of the corporation's senior executives and its layers of apparently useless middle management have been enough to boil the blood of even the corporation's most loyal supporters in recent years. The corporation can be terribly clumsy too. The move into publishing with the notorious acquisition of the Lonely Planet travel guide was foolish and damaging. And local and national private newspapers are still desperately trying to recover some of the ground lost to the BBC after the corporation's headlong internet drive (particularly the expansion of its news site) earlier this decade. There are governance shortcomings too. The BBC Trust is charged with being a regulator and a cheerleader and ends up doing neither effectively.

But it is important to recognise that the BBC's most aggressive opponents, such as Mr Murdoch, are not disinterested commentators concerned only with the public good, but rather vested interests with their own very specific commercial agenda. It has long been the dream of the Murdoch family to see the BBC shrink into a feeble provider of news, documentaries and minority-taste arts programming (leaving the lucrative sports and popular entertainment sectors to them). Mr Thompson is right to fear that the definition of public service broadcasting in such a world would come to mean television and radio that few people want to watch or listen to.

Those who want to shrink and neuter the BBC must not be allowed to get their way. There are two compelling reasons why. The first is that there is wide and deep public support for the BBC model of public service broadcasting. The Murdoch family might see the BBC as a socialist relic with no justifiable place in the modern world. But, as Mr Thompson pointed out in Edinburgh, the British public takes a different view.

The second reason is that the licence fee model works. The news output of the corporation is internationally unrivalled. And the BBC is also one of the foremost global producers of original drama and comedy, as the profits of the corporation's commercial arm, which sells the BBC's output abroad, attests.

Of course, at a time of austerity the BBC needs to make savings along with the rest of the public sector. And the corporation must be careful to avoid damaging a fragile media ecology. The BBC needs to ensure that its output is complementary to that of private media outlets. The impulse towards popularity must always be kept in check by the requirement to uphold quality. But Mr Thompson makes a powerful case for a well-funded and confident BBC in a digital media environment. The war between these two opposed visions of the proper public/private broadcasting balance is not over. But the BBC director general can be said to have won this skirmish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee