Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another institution
‘modernised’ by Labour :

Another institution in crisis.

The BBC has found itself in deep trouble this month following a storm of protest about the style, content and extent of coverage of the Osbourne/Mandelson/Rothschild affair and then a hurricane of protest over the Russell Brand show and the comments made by him and Jonathan Ross to Andrew Sachs’ answerphone.

Irrespective of ones views about either story (and both are entirely subjective issues) there is widespread agreement that the rows themselves have been badly handled by the BBC. Initially they failed to react at all and looked high-handed and arrogant as a result; and then faced with the furore have over-reacted to the long-term detriment of the Corporation. This echoes the fuss over the queens ‘tantrum’ that never was and the now infamous phone poll fixes.

Controversy is nothing new to the BBC; for as long as I can remember there have been fairly regular outcries about what is broadcast or complaints of bias and in the past there was a quick response from the Chairman of the Governors or the ‘DG’ or both.

For a long time past the BBC has been a problem, it has grown from a national broadcaster of two radio stations and the sole TV channel to being Britain’s biggest media empire with extensive interests in publishing, film-making, the internet and literally hundreds of channels on air on TV and radio around the world. It badly needed a root-and-branch review – what is the BBC for in the digital age? Why should 100% of viewers pay for a free service that only about 35% of people watch? Why have a licence fee for watching TV when increasingly we will get our entertainment ‘on demand’ over the web or via satellite?

New Labour failed to address the big challenges and instead agreed to renew the charter with some tiny (and utterly futile) changes to the management. Out went the Board of Governors and its hands-on chairman and in came the BBC Trustees; a toothless quango whose ill-defined responsibilities appear to clash with the existing regulator OFCOM.

And the result? Another new Labour fiasco. The BBC is now not sure who it reports to (we tax payers are not represented either directly or via our elected Government) and the whole edifice seems incapable of deciding day-to-day why it exists or what it should be trying to do other than get as much money out of the treasury as possible and spend it as fast as it can.

This is a repeating characteristic of nearly everything New labour have restructured, from the regional Development Agencies, health trusts, the banking regulators and the broadcasters the story is the same, lack of focus, lack of accountability and self-serving management.

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