Thursday, November 21, 2019
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Why it’s time for adverts on the minority-interest BBC

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THERE was a time when publicans had a severe beef with the BBC. Every time Hancock’s Half Hour came on the wireless, the pubs would empty. The only way to listen to the show was when it was broadcast.

At the time, the BBC had in effect a monopoly over broadcasting. It started to be eroded from 1955 with the launch of ITV, but there were still only three television channels (two of them run by the BBC) until 1982, when Channel 4 was launched.

Now the competition for viewers and listeners is intense. So how can the BBC compete for audiences?

There is the public service angle, where advert-free content designed to ‘inform, educate, and entertain’ can be shown. The BBC can boast that due to the ‘unique way it is funded’, it is able to create programmes without commercial considerations. This means that its programmes are able to alienate viewers and listeners without any fear of a financial backlash from advertisers. The recent Jo Brand controversy is an example of this. Any boycott by listeners of Radio 4 will have no effect, as listener numbers are not how the BBC gets its money.

Despite being funded using a regressive household tax, the BBC still has to pull in audience share. The audience reaction when Jo Brand suggested using battery acid rather than milkshakes to douse politicians provides a clue how they do this. The audience laughed. Perhaps you had to be there, but the joke was not actually funny. Perhaps I should qualify that. The joke was not funny to me.

The BBC should broadcast content to suit all tastes. But in a crowded marketplace, the BBC seems to have given up. It does not have the ability to create content that will empty the pubs any more. But that might be because all pubs now show football, and also because people can now consume broadcast content at a time of their own choosing.

The BBC’s heyday was in an almost monocultural era, when half the country would watch the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. And it is to that monoculture that the BBC appears to be returning. It seems to be trying to grab the virtue-signalling collectivist identitarian politically correct audience segment to the exclusion of all others. The corporate culture is inherently anti-conservative. This explains why Jo Brand’s comment was able to pass through the entirety of the production and broadcast process with no pause by anyone. They all thought it was edgy, but acceptable.

It was not. It never was. A senior director of a state-funded charity made exactly the same ‘joke’ on Twitter a few weeks ago. She was fired and for her own sake had to delete her Twitter account. People are defending Brand on the grounds of free speech. Vitriol-throwing has never been funny, and Brand was also unoriginal. Her so-called joke had already failed a public test.

The point remains that the BBC has deliberately shifted away from programming that appeals to a wide audience and is instead targeting a minority. Its role as a public service broadcaster is thus open to question. Rather than an instrument of social cohesion, the BBC is increasingly an instrument of social control.

There are an increasing number of topics on which discussion is now directed according to an ideological agenda, not least Brexit. The BBC consistently refuses to represent the Brexit majority on the panel of Question Time, sometimes not even having a single supporter of Brexit.

To understand how detached from normal life the BBC has become, one only need look at its recruitment practices. While the proportion of transsexual people in the UK is a fraction of 1 per cent of the population, the percentage of transsexual BBC employees is between four and five times greater. It is not clear why the BBC has such discriminatory employment practices, except that every BBC department might have to have at least one transsexual member of staff for the sake of appearances.

The BBC should commercialise part of its operations, as it already does in the USA. A rough guide to the ring-fenced public service entities could be as follows:

BBC4 running all day

Radio 3

Radio 4

BBC News 24

CBeebies

CBBC

BBC Parliament

World Service

BBC News Website

BBC Local Radio

I invite readers to add to this list if I have missed off any genuine public service entities. Of course, genuine public service broadcasting would have to be free of ideology.

The rest of the channels and services could and should run advertising. The licence fee should be reduced as a consequence if it is to remain enforceable by the criminal justice system. One benefit would be that the commercial content would have to respond to market forces, with the result that the politically-correct element would not be so blatant because it would be an audience turn-off. The cultural loss to the UK of commercialisation would be almost non-existent.

There would also be the requirement of some conventional morality in the BBC’s newly-commercialised operations. One aspect of the child sex scandals involving British television personalities is that they were strongly, if not exclusively, associated with the BBC. A commercial channel could not afford the consequent advertising boycott and thus has to make sure there is moral behaviour in the production of its programmes. This pressure is absent at the BBC. The innocent have suffered due to the ‘unique way the BBC is funded’.

So long as the BBC believes that ideology is part of its remit for reasons of audience share, it is going to attract only that portion of the audience happy with that ideology. It should not be doing this with our money if the ideology makes us turn off. We should be paying for public service, not ideology. If the BBC wants to advertise ideology, it can also advertise soap.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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