THREATOGRAMS

The folks who run the TV-LICENSING blog dropped me a line that I would like to share with you.

I thought I woulddraw your attention to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request we arepursuing with the BBC. As you will no doubt be aware the BBC has attractedwidespread criticism for the menacing tone of their TV Licensing routine letters,which have been dubbed “threatograms”. Using the Freedom ofInformation Act 2000 we asked the BBC how many complaints had been receivedabout these mailings since 2008.

The BBC initially replied with misleading data, which we knew was incorrect sowe challenged them on it. They promised to issue a revised response, but havemissed their own deadline to do so on three separate occasions. A month has nowpassed and the BBC still can’t tell us how many complaints have actually beenreceived. They blame their contractors, but the simple fact is that the BBCshould be monitoring these complaints closely and they obviously aren’t.

Licence fee payers should be seriously concerned that the BBC has such adismissive attitude to legitimate concerns about the wording of these letters.The BBC Trust has even criticised the tone of them. The full text of our ongoing FOIA request can be found here:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/complaints_against_tv_licensing
 We have also been keeping readers informed at our blog:
http://tv-licensing.blogspot.com

AUNTIE LEADS TO COURT

Say what you will about the BBC, it certainly keeps our Courts busy!

More than 3,000 people a week are being prosecuted for not having a TV licence making up a tenth of all magistrate court cases, it has been revealed. Spiralling numbers of prosecutions courts deal with more such cases than any other offence. Two out of three of the defendants are women – thought to be because they are more often at home when enforcement officers call. Last year 140,000 defendants were convicted and saddled with a criminal record. 

This is the side of the BBC that requires more focus – the way in which it criminalises hundreds of thousands of people in order to secure its multi-billion funding! To my way of thinking it’s morally wrong. WHY should the State Broadcaster have such a power? I can understand that any organisation  would wants the requisite funding to operate but the License Tax, backed up by the Courts, is anachronistic and draconian. 

Editorial Independence, Or Unaccountability?

Can somebody please read this update of the BBC Agreement (as in “Charter & Agreement”) and tell me if “Editorial Independence” actually translates into “Unaccountability”?

Continuing Agreement

Concerns have been expressed that the NAO reviews could lead to individual star’s salaries becoming public, or the details of managerial decisions on finance, because the NAO can ask for any information it needs for its audit. The wording of the agreement makes no specific reference to those concerns and no such information has been revealed in previous NAO reports on the BBC.

A Trust spokesperson said: ‘The NAO already have full access to the information they need to carry out reviews of the BBC; today’s announcement confirms and continues that arrangement. In addition it will now enable the NAO to decide which areas to look at, but in an arrangement where it will continue to submit reports to the Trust. We believe that the terms agreed build on the BBC’s existing relationship with the NAO to the benefit of licence fee payers, while preserving the BBC’s independence.’

Editorial Independence

The agreement makes clear that whilst the NAO is ‘entitled to review any BBC decision’ it is not entitled to ‘question the merits of any editorial or creative judgment or policy decision about the way BBC services are made or distributed.’

The Trust will still do its own value for money reviews, in fact the agreement requires it to lay out its own programme of such work each year. The NAO can’t examine the same area as the Trust in the same year.

The NAO will submit its reports to the Trust, which will prepare a response before sending both to the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament.

There’s more at the link. The NAO (or anyone else, presumably, like OfCom) can say what they like, but the Trust will decide what to present to Jeremy Hunt, decide what is value for money, and decide if the BBC can syphon off extra Government/taxpayer cash to spend on the World Service. (Hopefully not for hiring yet another field correspondent to cover the US.)

This sounds like unaccountability by any other name.

BEYOND THE FRINGE…

Did you see that BBC Director General Mark Thompson has used his Edinburgh TV festival (Where else, natch?) speech to hit back at the corporation’s critics. He accepted the need for “radical change” in the corporation but rejected calls for the licence fee to be cut. Why? It seems to me that the license fee must be abolished (or at least savagely cut!) to enable the BBC to play on a level playing field! What say you? The bias can continue but we should not be funding it. 

HOW THEY SPEND OUR MONEY…

The Telegraph reports that the BBC has lavished £1million building a rooftop studio for its World Cup coverage and then wasted thousands more installing a lift so that Shearer, Lineker and Hansen would not have to walk up three flights of stair. (I suppose Shearer might injure himself?) Hasn’t anyone told the BBC we are in a recession – is the age of austerity to be held at bay at the BBC care of the license tax?

USING YOUR MONEY WISELY?

The BBC needs every penny of that £3.5bn it steals from us each year. I mean, it does such invaluable work.

The BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds on teaching staff how to use Facebook. The corporation is holding classes for large numbers of its 23,000 workforce, despite the fact that using the social networking site is second nature to millions. Hundreds of BBC workers have already signed up for the sessions, in which they learn how to set up accounts on Facebook, as well as Twitter and Bebo.

Easy money, expensive words

The BBC have given £45,000 to the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari, to settle a legal case brought by him against the BBC for comments made by Charles Moore on Question Time in March. Charles Moore accused the MCB “leadership” of failing to condemn attacks on British soldiers, thereby implicitly condoning them, and this was deemed libellous of Mr Bari.

I read Cranmer’s response to it, and it simply reinforced my sense that a wrong had been done. The big question seems to be why the BBC so tamely ponied up telly-taxpayer’s money and imply that even mild indirect criticism of Islam is not within the law in the UK. I understand from Cranmer’s comments that Mr Moore is seeking legal advice of his own. The BBC don’t mention him in their own report, possibly mindful of such escalation, but it seems to me this is an attack on the mildest kind of free speech, and the BBC are binding themselves to being wary of who they allow to speak on the BBC. We often express dismay at the liberal-leftist consensus which the BBC supports by stacking their panels with centre-leftists; here the BBC are accepting legal reinforcement of their natural instincts; perhaps it’s no wonder they surrender so meekly to the heap big chief of the MCB.

Needless to say, the libel lawyers in this case were Carter-Ruck, tyrants of the UK libel laws renowned for squeezing money out of the flimsiest cases of offence and reputational damage. What a bunch of evil shysters they are.

The legal approach

Charles Moore writes about his decision not to pay the licence fee. He’s taken every precaution- a donation to charity of the sum in question; an equivalent sum set aside in case the BBC accept his case that they are in breach of their Charter, and amend accordingly.

Of course I think he’s right that the BBC are in breach, but more precisely I think the concept of a Charter such as the BBC have (and updated just a couple of years ago) an absurdity, a political charade, a conceit played upon the conscience of the public. Moore grounds his case on the failure to remove Jonathan Ross from his post following RossyBrandSachsgate. Fair enough, I would say, yet as Moore also points out, there are many reasons to wish not to pay the BBC for the use of your television. John Kelly for example has been summoned to court to answer for his non-payment, and grounds his case on the BBC’s lack of balance in coverage of the EU.

Obviously we should watch both cases carefully. I note that the BBC renewed their charter a couple of years ago. In the new Charter I believe there is no reference to impartiality, which was one of the Labour Government’s friendly touches for the BBC; removing the impartiality clause really left sites like this one in a changed situation. Therefore John Kelly may have a problem since the BBC’s partiality is central to his complaint. Instead, the Charter talks of the BBC’s “public purposes”, which are,

(a)sustaining citizenship and civil society;(b)promoting education and learning;(c)stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;(d)representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; (e)bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; (plus the promotion of digital telly)

Charles Moore is evidently basing his prospective case on the failure in “sustaining citizenship and civil society” exampled by the Ross-Brand-Sachs scandal. I think it’s a good idea to keep this little bunch of purposes in mind in all our considerations of the BBC. I have to say the new Charter was a rotten document from the beginning. The bit I quote is the most substantive part of it concerning the BBC’s responsibilities, yet where does “news” fit in to the above list? Is is “education”? Or “citizenship”? It’s hard to see where to fit the BBC’s coverage of “Global Warming” into this. Bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world is a nice soundbyte, but how does it differentiate between a tourist slot for Brazil and a report on Israel?

If I was arguing the case for either Mr Kelly or Mr Moore I would want to point out that the current Charter is utterly inadequate as a moral foundation for a compulsory tax on British-based TV owners. Then I would argue that its education is false, its citizenship flawed, its culture impoverished and its mission in the world ill-conceived and superfluous. After ten minutes of that, I would apologise for going on (as I am now, in fact), and say that the amount of rational criticism that one can make of the foundation of the BBC is evidence of the injustice by which it is sustained. The BBC’s ring-fenced status outside the democratic ebb and flow is entirely unjustified. The only comfort from the terrible inadequacy of the BBC’s charter is that it arose from the friendship between the BBC and an overwhelming Labour majority in Parliament. Therefore logically if the majority is overturned, so can be the BBC Charter, and the institution itself.

PERSECUTION TIME

Did you read that the BBC is prosecuting a viewer who has refused on principle to pay his television licence for seven years, amid claims the Corporation is fearful of a growing backlash against the fee?

Retired engineer John Kelly was one of several thousand people who have refused to pay since 2002 in protest at what they regard as bias in the BBC’s news coverage of issues such as the European Union. He and nearly all the other ‘refuseniks’, including former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, have so far escaped court – despite tens of thousands of prosecutions each year. But now he has received a summons which he believes has been prompted by a flurry of publicity about high-profile figures, including former BBC presenter Noel Edmonds and journalist Charles Moore, who are also threatening to rebel.

BBC shows true colours wasting OUR money persecuting Mr Kelly. What a disgrace.

What do you make of the BBC’s director general concession that the licence fee could be scrapped and replaced with funding via council or income taxes – or even a levy on electricity bills?


Mark Thompson’s comments have been taken as an admission-that the growing use of new technology to watch programmes will make the licence fee obsolete.

Rubbish. It’s not new technology that invalidates the license tax- it is the very concept of forcing us to fund a biased and insidious State broadcaster. And as for the notion of transferring this cost to an income tax or council tax – NO WAY. Thoughts?

"a serious suggestion for the BBC"

The Magistrate on BBC expenses :

Of course there is a proportion of people who just don’t like paying any bill, but let’s put this into perspective.

The licence fee is more than two weeks of Jobseeker’s Allowance, and about a day-and-a-half’s worth of the average wage. The £2000 spent on flying the boss’s family back because Sir had to sort out the Ross/Brand fiasco represents more than 33 weeks’ worth of JSA for the poorest licence payers. So come and have a look at JPs fining the unlicensed in – note – a criminal court.

Then, next time you want to charge up a £200 lunch at the Ivy for two people who are already well-off you will have a better idea of where the money comes from. I’ll be happy to arrange it, and I might even come along myself.

THE GRAND PLOT?

I wonder what you make of BBC DG Mark Thompson’s suggestion that there is an ideological plot behind plans to “topslice” the television licence fee…..

In an impassioned attack on the proposals, Mark Thompson said that the Corporation was the victim of a clique of Labour policymakers who want it to hand over £130 million a year from the levy to prop up regional news bulletins on ITV. In a surprising display of rhetorical aggression, the BBC’s boss said that they were “ideologically focused” on attacking the Corporation’s funding structure.

Well, I have to say that I take an ideological position on the BBC license tax. I think that it is outdated, inappropriate and unfair. In the 21st century we do not need a State broadcaster as currently manifest by the BBC and it’s not a question of “top-slicing” it, it is question of AXING it? Oh, and it’s not the BBC which is the victim of a clique of Labour policymakers – it is the people of the United Kingdom.

DON’T FEED THE LYONS…

I’m not surprised that BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons claims the Conservative proposal to freeze the license tax for one year is “a recipe for curbing the BBC editorial independence”. Those whose snouts are plunged in the trough of public funding will naturally squeal when they are asked to refrain from gluttonous spending. In my view the Conservative proposal is entirely inadequate – we do not need to see a freeze for one year, we need to see dramatic reduction. This country is in a profound economic recession – everywhere one looks there are cut-backs, wage cuts, jobs losses – since WHEN did the BBC become immune from these realities. The Commons debate on this will be interesting to observe insofar as we will see are ANY MP’s committed to the principle of cutting back the scope of the State Broadcaster. As for Lyons and his silly claim that editorial independence is compromised through prudent budgetary restraint – is there anybody out there who buys that?