Tony Garnett • Blog Posts

BBC Whitepaper

Response to the BBC White Paper

Sighs of relief. Think BBC White Paper could have been worse? Read behind the PR and be very afraid.

The BBC was lucky in the timing. Cameron’s priority is to win the referendum. That is why he modified the Trade Union Bill. He needed to bring the Union barons into his tent. It’s not because he suddenly realised he was becoming a latter day Castlereigh and didn’t like what he saw. Similarly, he is ultra sensitive to the dangers of stirring up those who love the BBC. I doubt he cares about the opinions of luvvies at awards and certainly not the pinkos in Labour. But his political
antennae are more sensitive than those of his dogmatic free marketeer colleagues, those who see a thriving BBC as an affront. His own backbench MPs – some say a dozen, others twenty or more – had become restless. Their constituents did not like what they were hearing. From the almost 200,000 reactions to the 2015 Green Paper, to the numerous speculative kites which refused to fly, it was clear that these Tory voters saw the BBC as family and they don’t politicians messing with their family. Many of them were tempted by Brexit. So Cameron has backed off. Or has seemed to.

The White Paper proposes a settlement the headlines of which, at least, are reassuring. Whittingdale was clearly told not to frighten the horses. But remember that Cameron’s only job outside politics was Public Relations. That is his other trade. He can say one thing, mean another and smile most sincerely. I wouldn’t buy a second hand car from, but I can readily imagine him on the forecourt of a Jaguar dealership. He does revolution the Conservative way: test the water. Retreat. Establish a principle with a small change few will notice. Then inch towards your final objective as boldly as you can, but always be ready to retreat, hold your hands up, look hurt, and maintain it was never, would never, be your objective.

The original idea was to turn the BBC into a market failure guarantor. That is, only the shows that Murdoch and co couldn’t make a profit with would the BBC be allowed to make. Radio 3, for instance, and the more thoughtful talks on Radio 4; maybe some Greek History on BBC4. Seems the believers in free market competition only really like a rigged market.
They tested the water during the latest negotiations. The result is what one would have expected in these circumstances. A good PR face covering proposals which are time bombs. It is cleverer than it looks. It has all the marks of Osbourne.

The White Paper proposes the BBC commit to:
A unitary board dominated by government appointees, thus entrenching political control. So what’s the problem? The old Board of Governers and its Chairman used to be hand picked by No 10. Plus, as we have seen over the years, from Reith and Baldwin, through Thatcher and D G Milne, to Blair’s Iraq weapons, politicians have always exercised control over the BBC whenever it was important to do so. They vote the BBC’s income and therefore its very existence. But this is different. Although expressly forbidden to interfere in editorial matters, it will act like a company board in every other. This isn’t the subtle velvet glove power, pretending its opposite. This is the crude daily oversight of management. No hint of democracy, no voice of either the audience or the employees.
Then the BBC must bend to Ofcom, a regulator of the commercial sector. Inter alia, it is to monitor the BBC’s “market impact”, so further opening it up to “independent” i.e. commercial companies. Who appoints the board of Ofcom? Whittingdale, of course.

And if that is not enough, the National Audit Office will be the BBC’s auditor, deciding what is value for money. Central government bodies all over BH., as if it didn’t have enough management layers already!
This is the inevitable and conscious creep towards commerce that began with the establishment of territory for ‘independent” producers in the 80s. As I predicted then, the territory increases and international corporations absorb these companies, seeing profit from exploiting British talent. From petit bourgeois fantasy to American conglomerate in a few easy steps.

£20 million is to be sliced off the top of the licence fee and given to commercial companies. This is a marker for the future. It lays down a principle that can be extended. Very useful for instance when they try to sell Ch4. A commercial buyer could use the licence fee to make all the stuff there’s no profit in. That makes it a much more attractive buy.
So watch the BBC fall into the commercial world, like a dynamited building collapsing on slow motion film.
Ditto the NHS.
It’s happening now, before your very eyes.
Odd that only the Tory voters in the Shires will be able to save it.



Read the BBC Whitepaper


2 Responses so far.

  1. Nick Gunning says:
    Spot on analysis
  2. bobby says:
    I hate Thatcher, for moving working conditions back towards the Victorian era, for the removal of currency controls, for unleashing the Banks by deregulation, by having internal markets for goods and services at both the NHS and the BBC that have made them soul-less and pretty much worthless.

    I wouldn’t mind defending the BBC but is there anything to defend? Their news is the same boilerplate run of items in the same order as ITV and Sky (very Orwellian), just with different presenters. They have soaps (which I have absolutely no time for) stripped across the week, instead plays and the anthology strands of my youth. Cheap reality and make-over shows are the norm. Their current affairs is a palid 30 minutes of utter blandness. There is no arts, hardly any documentaries. Children’s Tv has been ghettoized. Seasons of classic black and white matinees (not to mention world cinema) have for a generation left the airwaves, thereby robbing younger generations of the pleasures of coming to know of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Cagney, Bogart, Gable, Grant, Davis and Hepburn, film noir, italian neo-realism. Nor is there a place for the repeats that charged up my week as I looked forward to that special day: Bilko, The Outer Limits, Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, ect….some made by the Beeb others not but exposed to a wide audience via repeats.

    Even BBC Radio 4, which has had a starry history, has succumbed to identity politics, with presenters talking about the gender politics of films in ‘The Film Programme’.

    The ‘Golden Age of the BBC’ (1960-1991, with perhaps plus 5 to 10 years on the BBC as the creativitive personnel was shunted out or retired), no, make that British Broadcasting (ITV went toe to toe with the Beeb and produced masterpieces too) is long gone. Aside from two panel shows on Radio 4 (‘I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue’ and ‘Just a Minute’, the odd strand such as ‘Soul Music’) and the under-funded BBC4 with some presenter led documentary, there is very little to save of the BBC.

    It’s top down commissioning to some outside production units is the embodiment of creative bankrupcy.

    It used to be the other way around. Barry Norman presenting the ‘Film 19XX’ show would in time be given the chance to produce ‘The Hollywood Greats’ and then ‘Talking Pictures’. A multi-part interview with Orson Welles for the arts strand ‘Arena’ led to the brilliant ‘The RKO Story’. The ‘Everyman’ religious strand of programs made ‘Shadowlands’, long before the film version. ‘Comedy Playhouse’ led to 27 sitcoms. ‘Seven in One’ led to ‘Porridge’ and ‘Open All Hours’. There are numerous examples.

    Is there anything left of the BBC to save, other than BBC Radio 3 and BBC4?