Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/904/22945
Tories out to knife the BBC
Socialists demand democratic ownership and control of mass media
Culture secretary John Whittingdale recently published the government's White Paper plans on the future funding and governance of the BBC.
Ken Smith explains what lies behind the changes and why they must be fought.
The Tories and their big business pals are keen to shrink the public broadcaster to benefit private news and entertainment media, such as the Murdoch empire, and also to exert greater political control over content. To that end a constant stream of black propaganda attacking the 'left-wing bias', 'profligacy' and 'monopoly' of the BBC has been carried by the right-wing media.
Changes to the Royal Charter regulating the BBC will be made by the government in the autumn covering the next eleven years. The governing trust will be replaced by a board, with a number of members appointed by the government - so much for 'editorial independence'. There will be no vote in parliament on the issue.
And although the licence fee will remain, Tory chancellor George Osborne has already decided that the cost of free TV licences for the over 75s will in future be borne by the BBC, not the government. The BBC has already severely cut its budget and staffing levels in a forlorn attempt to appease the government.
Of course Murdoch's Sky business shows no sign of giving up its 'monopoly' over satellite broadcasting - particularly of sport - even when instructed to.
Many big newspaper companies enjoy a virtual monopoly of print and online news provision in most of Britain's major towns and cities. And, because of cost cutting, the quality of news and service they provide is nowhere near that provided by the BBC.
Socialists do not defend the BBC uncritically. Much of its news service is dominated by the same pro-big business and right-wing establishment values as the rest of the media. Its senior executives and 'stars' earn high pay that is far removed from the reality of most journalists and working people.
However, it does provide programming that the commercial broadcasters do not and never will be inclined to provide.
The corporation is the largest single investor in TV news production; it spends approximately £680 million a year on its radio services, with approximately £120 million on radio news, across the UK. The commercial sector spends only about £27 million on radio news.
The broadcaster receives £3.7 billion income a year. Sky's annual income is nearly double that, but it produces a tiny proportion of original programming.
The BBC accounts for over 40% of the total investment in UK original content. It is the most important commissioner of new content in the UK, spending about £1 billion a year on non-news commissions.
The BBC also spends 76% of its licence fee income on TV content. This is more than any other broadcaster. As a subscription platform, Sky spends 34%.
Having a state broadcaster, even one as politically threatened as the BBC, still represents an enormously valuable and relatively cheap asset for all those who use it.
Ultimately, the BBC needs to be critically defended as a public service broadcaster, against a media where news and entertainment - and there's not a lot to distinguish which is which in the majority of media outlets - is becoming completely dominated by the Murdochs and the Daily Mail owners.
Media unions have an immediate battle to fight to defend jobs and the quality of programme making at the BBC.
But there is a longer-term campaign also to be fought by working-class people who have a clear interest in defending the BBC to avoid the Murdoch empire tightening its death grip on news, sport and entertainment.
The only way the BBC can be effectively defended is by also raising the question of who controls the BBC and more widely who controls the media?
Socialists argue that all major media companies should be publicly owned under democratic workers' control and management.
Their resources - particularly the printing and broadcast facilities - could then be utilised for the benefit of all sections of society by allowing all groups in society (except fascists) access to media facilities based on the level of support that group has in society.
Nationalisation of media resources has to be seen as a handing back of the media to the community, to allow journalists and programme makers greater freedom to develop content without fear of offending political or commercial interests.
While socialists argue for defence of the BBC we do not call for state control or a state monopoly of news and entertainment or a continuation of the BBC as it is set up at present.
The BBC should be neither controlled by the government or the metropolitan establishment elite that currently runs the corporation. Instead, a genuine democratic control of the BBC needs to be instituted, with working-class people and media trade unions being properly represented at every level of the organisation.
We campaign for the provision of news and entertainment to be taken out of the media profiteers' hands and for culture, news and entertainment to be provided through a genuinely independent, free media, as part of a democratic socialist society.
In The Socialist 1 June 2016:
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