Sliced and diced 

1 April 2004

ITV backs ‘top slicing’ BBC licence fee

Yet another highly predictable outcome, though the only logic here is that ITV wants to see a weakened BBC but not a neutered one (which would totally devastate its ad revenue). But ITV still wants to jettison what little remains of its public service commitments, so in which case why should anyone bother to take such a request seriously?

The whole issue of course revolves around the support (or otherwise) of the independent production sector, which nowadays tends to be polarised between what few large ‘independent’ companies still exist and tiny companies that usually produce a small number of specialised programmes a year (if they get the commissions) – the important phrase in this sentence is “if they get the commissions” which is well worth bearing in mind.

The BBC makes an easy scapegoat for all the problems facing the broadcasting industry around charter review time, but the main broadcaster that should get the blame for neglecting the independent sector is Channel 4; after all it was set up with the main intention of cultivating and supporting an independent sector and has a public service remit but nowadays tends to rely heavily on tried and tested formats which are usually sourced from major producers as opposed to the smaller independents.

One idea which I think definitely won’t happen is the BBC being brought under the control of Ofcom, and this is for two reasons: firstly, to do so would be to give the government some more unwanted bad publicity regarding ‘meddling’ in the BBC’s affairs, and secondly (and much more importantly) Ofcom would have to regulate the BBC on broadly the same terms as the commercial sector.

And given Ofcom’s lack of interest in regulating the commercial sector (ie. not lifting even the smallest finger to protect jobs and production facilities at ITV regional outposts), applying the same nonexistent level of regulation equally to the BBC would prove to be just as embarrassing as having one strict regulatory standard for the BBC and a different standard for everyone else from the same body.

Plus of course there’s the whole issue of exactly what counts as “public service programming” as well as which broadcaster(s) would get money ‘sliced’ from the licence fee along with the exposure that the resulting production(s) would get. This would have to be tightly regulated in order to work at all and would still be a heavily flawed system; for example, which commercial broadcaster would willingly bid for ‘worthy’ programming money in order for something of ‘public service merit’ to be shown in peak time? And it also introduces the concept of tight regulation to the commercial sector (a doomed idea in the current climate if there ever was one).

All things considered, the notion of ITV supporting the concept of a crippled BBC seems rather obvious, but to everyone else outside ITV this proposal should be taken as seriously as a bad April Fool’s joke. Which I’m hoping that this will eventually turn out to be the case, but unfortunately the vultures are starting to circle in a post-Hutton Report climate which makes a change for change’s sake even more likely. The best we can hope for is that the whole issue of regulation is put on hold for a few more years, giving time for the ramifications to be properly considered.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Thursday 19 May 2022