The BBC is playing a dangerous game with its kowtowing to Brexiteers, which Andrew Marr’s toothless interview of Ukip sugar daddy and Leave.EU founder Arron Banks was the latest example of.
I’m not going to dwell on the latter because my colleague Matthew Norman has already done an excellent job in highlighting the glaring problems with that piece of the political theatre.
What I do want to do is look at the wider picture in which the BBC operates, how this affects it, and the dangerous game it is playing in setting out its stall as the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation.
That picture is not a pretty one. Put simply, Auntie is increasingly being abandoned by its younger nephews and nieces.
It admitted in March that 16 to 24-year-olds now spend more time on Netflix in a week than all of BBC TV’s output, including iPlayer (believe me, it isn’t just young people).
They also shun BBC Radio in favour of streaming services such as Spotify.
If you have kids under 16, meanwhile, you’ll know only too well how enraptured by YouTube they are. Stampy and DanTDM are bigger stars and better known than the corporation’s top kids’ names.
“You don’t want to damage Auntie, we could end up with the Beeb being run by Murdoch!” That was how the former Labour minister Andrew Adonis characterised the reaction of some of his associates, leery of criticising the BBC’s editorial judgement, in a comment piece for The Guardian.
“Well I certainly want no such thing. But recently, and particularly on the issues surrounding Brexit, it has frankly been hard to see what difference it would make,” he opined.
That’s a very good point, one that was underlined when Channel 4 News ambushed Banks to ask if he would consent to a follow-up interview. Banks demurred. Perhaps he knows where his friends are.
He knows, I’m sure, which broadcaster characterises findings against both Leave campaigns from the non-partisan Electoral Commission as “claims”, a word which, as any first year journalism student will tell you, is used to cast doubt. I bet he was also glad to see that news about the record fine Facebook received from the Information Commissioner, over the Brexit referendum-related Cambridge Analytica data scandal, wasn’t featured especially prominently on the BBC website.
This kind of behaviour is losing the corporation friends. And if it thinks the Brexiteer right, the favour of which it has sought to curry, will rush to its defence when things get sticky it needs to get a grip fast.
The right has never liked the BBC, and accused it of bias when that didn’t exist. Check out the coverage of the Labour government over Iraq if you don’t believe me, and if you want to see an example of the Beeb speaking truth to power. Its honest reporting in that case proved that, at its best, it scrutinises the ideologies and arguments of left and right alike, and puts on a proper show of fairness.
The right has talked about privatisation in the past. The BBC’s current behaviour may give it an opening to do so again, all the more so if you consider this: the basic Netflix package costs £6 a month, £72 a year. The “standard” one, including HD, goes for £8 a month, £96 a year. YouTube, of course, is free and you can watch Sky News on it. So is Channel 4, which is funded by ads.
The BBC, by contrast, levies what amounts to a poll tax on everyone with a TV (with certain exceptions) that currently costs £150.50 annually.
With its friends, and traditional advocates, deserting it in disgust and the younger generation shrugging its shoulders, for how much longer can that realistically be defended?
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