My response to Tomorrow’s BBC consultation

It closes on 5 November (so we can’t well forget, can we?)


It’s the BBC’s own consultation, and if you accept that we are on a horrific trajectory, its focus is hopelessly wrong. I mean, the world’s ecosystems are under severe threat, which are intertwined with the economic “armageddon”, as Paul Mason calls it, that we are facing – both caused by massive, corporate neoliberalism. Listen, I’m just repeating what the experts are saying. Though you wouldn’t know that from listening to the BBC!

So their Tomorrow’s BBC consultation sets out “an open, more distinctive BBC”, supposedly. Reading the helpful summaries of their proposals at the front of each section (informing, educating, entertaining) doesn’t show me that. What it shows me is a managerial endeavour to keep up with technological development  (there is a lot about streaming news and entertainment to mobiles on an on-demand and tailored basis); and with complaints about crowding-out the private sector (so there is a proposal for an “accountability service” -placing reporters in council chambers and magistrates courts (excellent)-  which can be delivered by ‘reputable news organisations’ who can bid for contracts).

Nowhere that I could find was there a recognition that the people own the BBC and it is to us that it should be accountable. So that’s what I put in my answers. I am attaching them here, I hope. Please click away and feel free to crib whatever you want – and indeed to challenge what I say. Am I wrong? I’d love to be!

I’ve had to delete the link to the PDF of my responses, because although when I look at it as sent to me by the Beeb it is just three pages long. When I post it up here it is five pages long including my private “about you equal-opps” pages. WHY?!!!

So, I’ve copied and pasted the relevant answers here:

Part 1: Striking the balance between what the BBC is today and what it will be in the future
1 In the rest of this document we ask for your views on the new ideas outlined by the BBC. But first, we would like to know whether you think the BBC is striking the right balance between continuing to do the things it does today, and focusing on new ideas. Is there anything in particular you think the BBC needs to consider in striking this balance? Why do you say that?
But first, we would be like to know whether you think the BBC is striking the right balance between continuing to do the things it does today, and focusing on new ideas. Is there anything in particular you think the BBC needs to consider in striking this balance? Why do you say that?:

There are very difficult issues around the way your questions are framed. You are wanting us to tailor our answers to a way of thinking that is not necessarily the way we private listeners/viewers/readers think.
I’m not sure I understand the question (and with this huge proliferation of consultations, I have no idea how all our answers will be balanced out) however I want to be helpful:

The BBC needs to be reinvented for an age that is much more open, inclusive, pluralistic and creative. The balance should be towards new ideas, and new structures to stop it being the expression of establishment thinking that it is today. It needs:

  • new mechanism for determining charter and licence fee issues that are entirely free of government
  • new staffing strategies
  • a revived sense of what delivering public service news and current affairs means
  • new governance systems that manifest the people’s ownership of the corporation
  • the opening up of the corporation’s output.

Part 2: Future ideas for the next Charter – Inform
2 These are the BBC’s initial ideas which will require further work. Please let us know what you think about any or all of these, for example whether you support or oppose them and why.Is there anything the BBC should think about as it continues to develop these ideas? For example do you have any views about how to make them as effective as possible? Are there any particular obstacles or problems that you think the BBC needs to take account of?

Oh dear… How do I get through on this one?
The measures you describe above are all premised on the idea that news is an uncontested product, and so the only thing we need to discuss is the mechanisms and locations for delivering it. I think these mechanisms are not addressing the real problem with BBC news coverage, which is that it has embraced an establishment perspective and excludes the perspective the rest of us (and now the official opposition too) espouses, and avoids explicating where that is what is most needed.

Where in BBC News is the anti-austerity perspective espoused by the greatest, most thoughtful economists and thinkers including Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz (both Nobel economics laureates), Danny Blanchflower, Simon Wren-Lewish, Ha Joon-chang, and 79 others who signed the Guardian letter in June? Where is the coverage of TTIP? Where is the recognition that the gore-porn of murders and atrocities is prurient voyeurism, and that the way international relations are conducted is mostly for show, whereas the real exertion of power works outside the diplomatic communiques?

The mechanisms you describe won’t, I think, resolve the bias problem with news and current affairs coverage. For example, locally here in Barnet the council is pioneering the “commissioning council” which involves cutting and outsourcing public services. You say: “While the service would be run by the BBC, any local organisation, as well as the BBC, could compete to win the contract to deliver…”. This will not solve the problem that the majority of voices I speak to in Barnet oppose the council’s approach, and the ideology that dictates it: market fundamentalism and insistence on the small state. Where will our perspective be in the dispensation you describe? We (the Barnet Alliance for Public Services – a campaigning organisation) are unlikely to win this contract even if we bid, which will be difficult for a voluntary organisation, but our perspective must be reflected in the coverage. How will the BBC, which we own, reflect that? “Other reputable news organisations” are corporate news bodies. You, the BBC, are not – you are the people’s news organisation. Your duty should be to reflect the perspectives the establishment doesn’t want expressed.

HL Mencken’s dictum should be yours: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I think there are mechanisms for achieving that, and that is what I want to see written up in the box above, and isn’t. Our social democracy, our rights and civic spaces are under severe threat. The public realm – including the BBC – is under threat. You the BBC and we citizens must together work to assert the non neoliberal, grounded in evidence perspective. I want to see how the people’s ownership of the BBC is going to express itself in the way the BBC does its news and current affairs coverage. Please rewrite that section to enable that (incorporating points about governance, staffing, accountability, editorial decisions and sourcing of news and current affairs).

This is mostly focused on home news, which I care about a lot. But there is a whole world out there. Turkey, a frontline state in the most dangerous region in the world at the moment, has just had a momentous election. Where is the explanation of the significance of this, how it came about, and what the implications might be? Wouldn’t that be a lot more “informing” than livestreaming the funeral of a poor policeman knocked over by a dangerous driver? Really!







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