There’s a story in tomorrow’s Times that is genuinely exciting. The Times’ Sam Coates reports this:
"Mr Cameron’s culture team has begun a policy review into public service broadcasting which is looking at ways to ensure Britain will have a “plurality of public service broadcasters” in the digital era. It will report early next year… Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Culture Secretary, told The Times that in future the BBC might not be the sole recipient of the licence fee. “That’s one option because we want to make sure we aren’t exclusively dependent on the BBC for high quality television. “We want choice for consumers, and the BBC is not the only silo of good quality television.”"
Absolutely. It appears that Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is pursuing the issue I raised with him earlier this year (see second answer in this Q&A).
There are two things here that are often conflated:
1. The TV licence fee – the poll tax on every TV-watching UK household that provides a means for high quality broadcasting to be produced.
2. The BBC – the organisation that currently consumes all of the licence fee. The same organisation that ConservativeHome believes is institutionally biased in a number of ways.
The Tories wouldn’t be politically sensible to recommend that a large proportion of the licence fee is taken away from the BBC but the Corporation would find it much harder to argue that a small proportion (say 2%) shouldn’t be allocated to new public service programming – either on other channels or, ConservativeHome’s preference, to fund a new public service broadcaster that is based on a different approach to news impartiality.
What we need, as former BBC journalist Robin Aitken has proposed, is a new licence fee funded broadcaster that is based on the British system of getting to the truth’ via having opposing arguments test one another. Our judicial system (defence and prosecution) and parliamentary system (opposition and government) is based on this adversarial principle. At the moment, the BBC is largely based on the French inquisitorial system whereby an expert searches for truth. The trouble is that the BBC expert is up to eleven times as likely to be liberal as conservative. That’s why, in the last 24 hours, the BBC’s
coverage of the Bali summit has been disgraceful. There has been next
to no attempt to give fair coverage to the Washington perspective. The
Europeans have been presented as the good guys in wanting to address
the issue (even though they’re better at signing treaties than meeting their obligations under them) and the Americans are the bad guys (although Washington is investing hugely in clean technologies).
10% of the current licence fee funds the BBC’s ten national radio stations. There’s surely room for one-fifth of that money to go to a new current affairs radio station that is based on this adversarial approach to truth seeking? If you want to think of what it would look like, I’d point to the BBC’s excellent Moral Maze as an example of what could be imaginatively replicated.