Aunty needs to look at herself

May 20, 2009

It’s good to see the BBC licence fee being debated again.

 This time it’s the Tories – no doubt keen to deflect some attention away from their own expense claims – suggesting that efficiencies can be made and that the fee be frozen.

Before I go on, I’ll admit to not being the BBC’s biggest fan. I believe it is too big, often goes too far in stepping on the toes of the independent media, and they once turned me down for a job (to be fair I did call one of the interviewers an elitist, posh school cunt).

More importantly, the BBC as an organisation, like our MPs, has taken the taxpayer for granted.

I do accept and strongly believe that parts of the BBC are very important and need protection. It’s news coverage is vital. Its original programming has clearly raised and kept the standards of our television high.

However, there are many other parts of the corporation which need to be trimmed.

I’d put money on there being a few expense scandals lurking in Aunty’s murky corridors.

Some of those we know already know about seem massively excessive to me.
* £33k a day on taxis.
* £120k on a Christmas party for 2,500 staff.
* £45k on a launch party for Merlin.

Then there are the salaries of its ‘stars’. Would you rather spend £2m a year for Jonathan Ross or support 200 well paid journalists? Ross may attract decent audience figures, but his shows could (and probably would have been) easily be provided by another channels without cost to the tax payer.

Earlier this month we had the startling revelation that news reader Carrie Grace earns £92,000 a year for reading out loud. Ok, she’s an award-winning interviewer (although she handled that expenses one appallingly), but I don’t think it’s a stretch for the Beeb to find some equally talented for half that wage.
Afterall, there are (or were) thousands of talented journalists out there, including huge numbers working for less than £25k or even £20k in the regional press.

The digital channels – do we really need to spend so much on so many when the audience share is so low?

Do we really need regional news websites which steal most of its content from the regional press before cutting them down to a very superficial summary?

And then my real pet hate – the regional BBC radio stations. They offer very similar products to what’s already available commercially. How is it a pubic service to repeat what is already being provided by a non-state funded company?
All they do is take business away from non-state funded companies and deny local firms a platform to advertise.

So particularly in these trying times – the Beeb needs to take a long hard look at how it is spending its money.

But the bits of the BBC which provide genuine public service – in particular its journalism – need protection.

A free press/media is vital to a successful democracy, and it’s incredibly important to have news and issues debated by news organisations with differing political slants. Where we’re lucky in this country is that in the BBC, we have a service which reflects the news agenda from a neutral perspective very well.
It tries incredibly hard to present the facts and various points of views without taking sides and letting the reader make up its own mind, free from the bias of owners or market forces.

So before any cuts are made of the licence fee, the money it spends on its (national) news coverage needs to be secured.


Two tier regulation

March 12, 2009

It’s been another turbulent week in the unhappy world of journalism with more job cuts, pay freezes, forced unpaid holidays, strikes and Roy Greenslade suggesting most “freesheets” “have little worthwhile editorial content”.

But for me the most important story has been the ongoing media select committee hearings in the House of Commons.

Evidence has been given by Gerry McCann, Robert Murat and Max Moseley about how the press – largely the national, tabloid press – have stepped way over the line.

Now, I have no sympathy for Moseley, but the treatment of the McCanns and Murat  was pretty horrendous.

There is an argument that as the McCanns courted the media, they deserved what they get. I really can’t subscribe to this point of view. Nobody deserves to have lies printed about them so regularly, especially not people who have been through such a harrowing time as they have.

Now it’s naive to suggest that journalists should be impartial and balanced at all times, but we really should insist that accuracy is non-negotiable.
Of course we’ll get things wrong and while not inexcusable, we will also be misled at times. But when stories get exaggerated, twisted and even completely fabricated just to sell papers, then the whole industry is brought into disrepute.

The purpose of the select committee is to look at regulation of the press. I used to favour self-regulation, but I just don’t think it’s working properly.

The worst offenders – the national tabloids – can easily afford the fines handed out to them. In fact calculations are often made on whether they’ll be able to make up for a libel fine with the extra sales they’ll put on.

There’s something extremely rotten about that, as is the fact that most nats set aside a budget for libel payouts. In effect they know in advance how much per year they’re willing to pay out for not telling the truth. Deliberatly printing something you know to be untrue should be the biggest sin in journalism. Sadly it seems to be actively encouraged at some papers.

Take Jade Goody at the moment – it doesn’t matter what it’s about, every tabloid paper wants a certain number of Jade stories a week. That sort of approach can only breed dodgy articles.

Self-regulation works a bit better for the regional press, if only because they simply can’t afford to take risks in these days with the rise of no-win, no-fee and the ridiculous rules on paying court costs.
It still makes little sense to me that the penalities for the Sun or Mirror could ever be on a par with those faced by the Battle Observer (circ 3,000). It’s like Chelsea being handed a £100,000 fine. We scoff at it as it has no impact. But if the likes of Luton Town are ordered to pay the same fee, it could bankrupt them.

I am worried about just how much press freedom would be curtailed by outside regulation, particularly if from the Government, but carrying on as we are simply isn’t an option.

So why not make it a two tier system?

Keep self-regulation in some form for the regionals – most are already behaving responsibly – but introduce a tougher watchdog for the national papers.
They have more resources, more money and a bigger audience. They should be setting the example, not lowering the trust in journalism.