Lies, statistics, and ITV viewing figures 

17 July 2008 tbs.pm/923

Ofcom chairman disputes BBC’s ‘unique link’ with licence fee payers

There’s more than a hint of trying to defend the indefensible when Ofcom chairman David Currie yet again attempts to weaken the connection between the licence fee and the BBC, and it’s hard not to conclude that you can clearly hear the sound a corpse being kicked before being consigned to the history books.

And I’m not talking about the BBC here.

This isn’t really about Ofcom trying to find a public service alternative to the BBC (although that’s still lurking in the background), it’s more a case of Ofcom trying to cover itself if/when it ultimately transpires that its loudly-trumpeted ‘top-slicing’ proposal in relation to the licence fee is actually unworkable under European Union legislation.

If top-slicing the licence fee for cross-subsidy purposes is ruled to be an illegal public subsidy (as is fairly likely to be the case), then that would completely scupper Ofcom’s public service publisher proposal. Indeed you can hear the furious sound of backpedaling with the classic “not ruling anything out” catch-all statement.

Then there’s the ongoing issue of ITV’s ever-shrinking public service commitments, which is defended by Currie in economic terms, to quote: “We would be delighted if the numbers looked different. But they don’t. The current downturn will accentuate the pressures” – but that’s a very specious argument if there ever was one.

Let me explain. If a famous art gallery placed half of its valuable treasures into storage, then fewer people would want to visit the gallery because there would be fewer items worth seeing. Then if the gallery in turn wanted to shrink the amount of space it occupied then it would have a strong case to do so since there’s now less of public worth on display.

Which is more or less the case with modern-day ITV. Nowadays it repetitively fills the schedules with soaps and other forms of cheap TV to a largely dwindling audience that channel-hops much more than it used to, hence there’s less valuable content on display, so to speak, with much more incentive to cut back on the public service commitments.

So it’s no wonder that ITV has an audience that’s smaller than it really ought to be at this point despite the recent proliferation of numerous television channels, along with all those years of faster-than-average audience decline before Michael Grade took over that have (perhaps) been conveniently forgotten about.

Therefore we can conclude that ITV has dug itself a very deep hole as a consequence, along with burying much of the remaining potential for advertiser-funded public service broadcasting that may still exist. And Ofcom appears to be still obsessed with finding vaguely workable alternatives as opposed to fixing the existing system.

Which, come to think of it, would be ‘too difficult’ for them.