Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UK Government Minister's behaviour descends to new low in the battle regarding public broadcasting

Ben Bradshaw, the UK Culture Secretary, is thoroughly emotionally-committed to the so-called "Digital Brain" proposals which include, among other things, the idea that the Licence Fee, which is paid by everyone in the UK who owns a TV, should be shared by organisations other than the BBC (at present, the Fee goes entirely to the BBC; this is because other organisations are expected to raise their funding from the market).

In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, Mr. Bradshaw described the leadership of Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, and of Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, as “wrong-headed” and claimed not only that opposition to government plans to share some of the licence fee with rival broadcasters was “self-defeating” but even that the BBC staff themselves were in favour of the Bradshaw proposals - something whose veracity can easily be checked, if necessary, but is wholly denied by Mr Thompson, who says that he has "seen absolutely no evidence that the BBC is anything other than fully united" against the Bradshaw proposals.

Splitting the licence fee is a move designed to weaken public broadcasting in the UK and, as the BBC is the premier broadcasting organisation in the world, that would have tremendous negative consequences on public broadcasting around the world - as well as on the future of democracy, as I have argued elsewhere. What is needed, rather, is to strengthen public broadcasting.

The BBC is not a perfect organisation, but it is an important bastion of human and humane values - and it is open to public scrutiny in a way that few other media organisations are.

Splitting the licence fee would undoubtedly lead in time to using the licence fee for wider purposes that are at present supported by general taxation.

The net effect of would be a continued weakening of the BBC, and eventual loss of independence from market forces for the BBC.

In any case, the Culture Secretary has indulged in uncultured behaviour in descending to personal attacks on Mr Thompson and Sir Michael.

We all have uncontrolled moments, so I do not call for Mr. Bradshaw's resignation. However, I do call on him to apologise to Mr. Thompson and Sir Michael.

And I call on him to withdraw the thoroughly damaging proposal that the Licence Fee be shared by other organisations whose role historically has been, and is today, to raise their funding from the financial and advertising markets. Sphere: Related Content

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