Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC’s Director General – whose only career roles, at the BBC and the Royal Opera House, have involved spending vast amounts of taxpayers’ money – has set his staff a new mission.
Already, they are busting their collective sinews on foisting their pro-EU, multicultural, climate alarmist agendas upon us.
Now he wants this 8,000-strong army of BBC journalists – average pay £35K a year, among the highest of all UK professions – to become all-out crusaders for the retention of the licence fee.
In a staff address he has told them that as Charter renewal approaches, their campaigning task will be to ensure that the case for continuing the licence fee comes across loudly and clearly, and at the same time that they slay any ‘bullies’ in their path who dare to challenge any aspect of Corporation orthodoxy and news values.
This raises fascinating and deep issues about the future and the stance of the BBC. The staff clearly see themselves as right-on advocates of all the ‘progressive’ issues on the news agenda, as the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and its fall-out showed.
Here, their over-riding aim was to illustrate that everything and anything to do with multiculturalism was the way forward; that anything that implied generic criticism of Islam was both potentially racist and divisive; and that those had any fears about Islam or immigration – such as Ukip in the UK and Pegida in Germany – were right-wing fanatics.
But when it comes to financing the Corporation, their views are strangely and almost startlingly punitive, conservative and regressive. In the mistaken and highly snooty belief that Corporation output is reflective of the national psyche and outlook, and a cut above the rest of the media pack – especially any of it emanating from filthy capitalists like Rupert Murdoch – they believe that a regressive tax first introduced in 1927 should not be changed; that anyone who receives designated television services should be taxed at a flat rate, pitched as high as possible.
In practice, this means that this right-on gargantuan organisation – employing in total probably about 30,000 staff and directly responsible through patronage of thousands more – criminalises in the pursuit of its own survival every year with fanatical zeal, tens of thousands of hard-up struggling families, many of them headed by single mums.
It does this through its agents at Capita, who have put in place and sustain a massive covert operation of snooping and spying, of random knocks on doors and psychological wheedling, threats and pressure – with often ruthless disregard.
The contradictions inherent in this are clearly completely lost both on Lord Hall and his management. The media world has changed beyond recognition in 90 years, but the Corporation is behaving as if we were still in a two-channel television universe. Subscription is a clear alternative to the licence fee, and the case for it has been cogently argued, for example by David Elstein, the former boss of Channel 5.
Of course, elements of the BBC output may deserve some protection, for example the Corporation’s role in classical music where it maintains a range of orchestras and organises the Proms. But that could be covered by the creation of a general fund for public service broadcasting with elements initially reserved for the BBC, and other cash available to those who put forward the best programme ideas.
The combination of the two would introduce for the first time market disciplines and realism into the Corporation and force it to become more flexible and more diverse in its programme-making. Above all, it would also help force out the narrow left-wing agenda that dominates its current approach to journalism and which we saw last week so graphically in the Charlie Hebdo coverage.
Were Lord Hall’s ‘crusaders’ aware of this as they heard his Big Brother address? Somehow, I doubt it. They are all of them in a gilded, state-protected cage and what they want above all is for this to be perpetuated. When we see BBC staff marching for true media deregulation and choice, and an ending of the nasty, regressive licence fee, a revolution will truly have happened.
But don’t hold your breath!