Is ‘The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence, profit.’?

There’s been much made about James Murdoch’s speech for the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival which has led to a #welovethenhs style campaign on Twitter – #welovethebbc – and Robert Peston losing his rag so I can’t add much about James Murdoch blatantly trying to give Sky an easier ride into mindnumbing, advertising driven TV hell.

He consistently calls the BBC ‘state-sponsored’ which may partly be true in that they do receive government funds but only a small percentage of total revenue, the licence fee funds the majority of the BBC (about 75%).  That means; you, me and all the other licence fee payers fund it, not the government.  Saying it’s state-sponsored makes you think it’s a distance relative of North Korean TV.  It’s not directly linked to the government, The BBC Trust is the middle man between The BBC and the UK government and UK licence fee payers.

He also said a much greater deregulated media industry without The BBC is giving consumers what they want.  A few years back James Murdoch said;

‘A free market tends to produce the best outcomes for economic growth and innovation for consumers.  That’s not a controversial principle these days you might think. We can find plenty of examples around the globe in travel and the financial services where freedom and a light regulatory regime have worked in favour of the consumer’

Yeah, cause light touch regulation in financial services worked out alright, didn’t it?!  Maybe not controversial back in 2006 but move forward a few years and your light touch on the back turns into a hard hit in the wallet.

The bit that caught my ear though was the throw away line he said at the end…

The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.

In linking independence with profit he’s stating that only a capitalist organisation can produce independent news.

Apparently this is what the consumer wants.  Murdoch is simply giving us what we want, the fact that it would greatly increase his own company’s profits and influence has absolutely nothing to do with it.

This leads back to profit being the only guarantor of independence.  The BBC royal charter states…

“be free from both political and commercial influence and answer only to its viewers and listeners”.

There’s one guarantee that The BBC remains independent already.  Would a commercial organisation with no BBC as a benchmark or royal charter to obey, in a deregualated market, be as independent?

What if that same deregulated media market entered a period of recession where advertisers slashed budgets, concentrating on the growing online medium, meaning news rooms getting a smaller slice of the pie?  Would they still be upholding The BBC’s mission of…

“to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

…or would they just be throwing us imported crap, opinion-based news, more ads, shopping channels, reality shows, repeats, etc?

I can’t think of one original Sky programme.  Admittedly, I don’t have Sky and only get Sky 3, Sky News and Sky Sports News on Freeview but always seem to flick right past them.  There must be some, but I reckon BBC 3 or 4 have produced more original hits in their short life than Sky.

Profit puts the pressure of having to survive financially purely with the corporation, meaning the citizen is just a consumer, nothing more.  Murdoch is correct in saying that media is different to other industries, it’s difference means that everyone needs to have a stake in the viability of the nation’s media, meaning we all pay a small amount to receive independent news.  Independent of the state and, just as importantly, commercial organisations.

Receiving independent news is not a luxury or an option but a human right.

The alternative is a free-market industry as they have in the US.  After living there for over 3 years, I can safely say their standard of news is absolutely nothing compared to The BBC and because of their high standard, ITN and Channel 4 have to produce quality news to compete.  The fact I left the US just as Glenn Beck started his own show on CNN may have been coincidence but seriously, the best TV news in America comes from The Comedy Channel – The Daily Show.  That best sums up what life is like without The BBC.

The BBC is not perfect.  I agree with Murdoch that buying Rough Guide was a step too far, it probably does spend too much on talent, guilty of commissioning more than one series of ‘Two Pints and a Packet of Crisps’, needs to reign in its commercial activities but having said that it still produces some of the best TV in the world and probably the best, most comprehensive news service all for less than £12 a month.

Sky is currently £16.50 per month (with £60 setup) for the most basic  package.

It’s not fair to compare costs as The BBC does get some government money and has a bigger customers base, but how much original programming do you get with Sky?  When was the last time you visited the Sky website? Can you see Sky upholding a mission to ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.’ when you turn it on?  Would a light touch regulatory body ensure they did inform and educate as well as entertain?

If independence can only survive under profit, what happens when a corporation does not make a profit? Looking at Sky’s figures over the past few years, their profits have fallen.  Their shares have also been on a rollercoaster the past 3 years.

Falling profits is not a viable state for a commercial organisation to be in perpetually.  Therefore it’s neither reliable or durable.

To ensure independence, financial needs have to be somewhat removed from the equation.  Focusing on profit does bring with it efficiencies but not always in the right areas.  The licence fee gives The BBC freedom to operate with a certain level of guaranteed income.

Your guarantor of independence is independence from commercial, profit driven organisations and not total reliance on them with the only avenue for change being not renewing your subscription.