Best defence 

17 May 2011 tbs.pm/1262

Having people like Sir David Attenborough and Prof Brian Cox defending the BBC in front of a Lords communications select committee is worth much more than a thousand “Delivering public value” promises from the corporation’s management, so it is with great relief that the former did actually happen on Tuesday.

Given that BBC management appears to be the corporation’s worst enemy at present, it will certainly take the work of outsiders to rebuild trust and confidence, therefore what the BBC Trust will do next under Lord Patten will be of hugely critical importance to the future of public service broadcasting in general.

Parliament currently relies on the Bank of England to set something as economically fundamental as interest rates, therefore why not let the BBC Trust define the level of the TV licence fee? MP’s know about as much about funding EastEnders and, erm., the World Service as they do about staving off hyperinflation, evidently.

Such a move would also help to further distance the corporation away from politicians, but for something like this to happen will require tough actions from both the Trust and the BBC itself, because politicians still don’t trust Mark Thompson for, it pains me to say, very good reasons as mentioned on the MediaBlog in the past.

Plus it’s interesting to see Sir David Attenborough repeat a common accusation relating to the BBC spreading itself too thinly, which the corporation is belatedly acknowledging in the face of further crippling cuts, although yet again there’s still no word as to whether any digital TV channel apart from BBC Parliament could be closed as a consequence.

Of course Attenborough was in charge of BBC2 during a three channel era when Play School and the Open University were sometimes the only things to be shown on the channel in the morning, so it seems fairly obvious that he would be in the camp of “less is more” when it comes to public service broadcasting issues.

Viewers and listeners alike will become ever more impatient with a corporation offering lots of channels if it still cannot get the fundamentals right, so if the BBC screws up any element of its services in the next few years, expect public support for the corporation to diminish at least to some degree.

Perhaps the BBC ought to distance itself more from other broadcasters, because it seems that its obsession with catering for everyone in order to justify the licence fee is partly influenced by its major competitiors, namely BSkyB with its wide-ranging subscription packages, not to mention ITV and Channel 4 as well (especially the latter).

The Murdoch effect also preoccupies broadcasters at this point, but the BBC does still have significant key advantages over BSkyB in terms of content generation, and as suggested by the controller of BBC One, co-production agreements with other foreign broadcasters could well be the corporation’s salvation in more ways than one.

It may be the case that political and financial pressures will inevitably force the BBC’s hand in specific directions, but whether necessity will actually force the ‘correct’ decisions at this point in time remains to be seen, although yet again the Trust will be the only defence against management screwing things up royally as a consequence.