A battle may be won 

17 November 2009 tbs.pm/1115

BBC fears part of licence fee may still be used for ITV regional news

But the war won’t finish unless the BBC learns to stop fighting – that seems to be the ongoing message from recent events as well as the rapidly disintegrating aims in the recent Digital Britain report.

Of course several of the BBC’s commercial competitors – most notably BSkyB and much of the newspaper industry – would love the BBC to roll over and die at this point, given their particular axes to grind (of which few have actually any practical consequences, based on the US market where the decline of traditional media is far more advanced).

But arguably of more pressing concern is the relationship between the BBC and government ministers, since the latter are the ones that wield real power; Rupert and James Murdoch may be somewhat influential but they weren’t the ones actually writing the statute books. (At least not yet anyway.)

So in the two-year breathing space that the BBC now has before the next administration – and that’s a long time in both politics and the media industry given the relatively rapid pace of change – the BBC has to sort out both its internal and external public relations so that they are singing from the same unified hymn sheet.

And the hymn they are singing better not be off-key or be subject to wildly fluctuating tempo changes, as was painfully evident during a succession of recent mishaps, of which some ended up being far worse than they evidently had the right to be due to badly mishandled PR that extended right to the top.

Certain pressing issues, in particular a bloated management structure that’s paid too much (whether true or not) were also dealt with much later than they should have done; BBC management headcount should have been trimmed first BEFORE applying the same rationale to everyone else in order to deflect criticism and to set a fair example.

A good working relationship between the BBC and government is essential in the medium term if the BBC is to withstand the sort of external pressures from the commercial sector that will be an ongoing concern, especially with a rapidly changing media landscape.

It’s true that the BBC still has to exert its independence under an exceptionally tricky situation, but it needs to work alongside bedfellows that may be uncomfortable at times. And that demands a long-term working relationship that extends beyond passing mere pleasantries, namely holding ministers to proper account if they change their mind.

The very fact that the TV licence fee still has majority support from viewers – albeit begrudgingly in some cases – is the one major asset that the BBC still has and the one thing that will prevent an immediate dismantlement of the corporation by a Conservative administration if one was to gain power at the next election.

Therefore the BBC ought to do much more to exploit this key asset, and by definition to shift the media debate towards the inadequacies of the commercial sector that extend well beyond the changes in the media landscape that are currently taking place. You only have to look to America to see this happening.