Your License Fee Hard At Work: Twitter IS The News

After increasing their spending on the US division of the BBC website, and making all those new hires, the BBC has now decided what the best use of those resources is: reporting Twitter.

News tweets: Zombies attack ‘Amercia’

For the week of 27 May, here is the news – condensed into 10 topical tweets, some more serious than others.

The highest possible quality journalism, worthy of the legacy of trust and respect spanning generations, no? It’s especially silly considering the recent error over that Syria photo, which they rushed to publish simply because it was trending on Twitter. This is basically how they do newsgathering now. If they make this a regular feature, will there be any reason to consider the BBC as a serious news source for US news anymore? Lightweight, human interest stuff, with an increasingly small amount of hard news. Alastair Cooke is probably rolling in his grave.


I found this email from a Biased BBC reader interesting…

“Just renewed my TVlicence. Last year I paid in full in one payment. This year I decided to renew online.Went on the web site and what first struck me was that the site seemedto promote the monthly direct debit option. I clicked on this method of payment.However going through the process it seemed that the monthly payments shown onthe screen did not add up.I was paying around £25 for the first 6 months andthen around £12.50 each month thereafter. You pay the full fee in the first 6months and then keep paying.

I phoned the licence people. The reason they do it like that is so that you are”always in credit”. “So when do you get the overpayment back?”
“When you stop using a TV”
“That is usually when you die”“But we will refund the overpayment if we are asked”
How many people think to reclaim this overpayment when a relative dies? Theyare clearly making a nice secret profit out of this.

There is an upside to this. Once you have paid your first 6 monthly instalmentsyou can cancel any time and you do not need to start paying again for 6 months.There must be millions paying on direct debit. If they all stopped paying andtook the 6 month holiday that the system allows, it could seriously damage theBBC.It is a double whammy. Expose dubious financial malpractice and at the sametime inflict serious financial pain.”

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.

Sunday, bloody Sunday

The Sundays bring another round of analysis of the story the Beeb would rather forget – Manuelgate. The Telegraph has two that are interesting: the story that the Tories are considering cutting its funding by £200 million – at least a step in the right direction; and this piece by Bruce Anderson, which makes entertaining reading.

One depressing aspect of it, though, is that he points out that the problem of bias has long been recognised, just never tackled:

When he was in charge, John Birt identified the problem. Many BBC employees socialised only with those who shared their views. They never met anyone who thought that Ronald Reagan was a good president.

He also encapsulates well the argument that may be keeping the Conservatives quiet:

[S]ome Tories see an electoral argument for caution, at least for the time being. The BBC is already hostile. How much more damage would it try to do if it decided that there was nothing to lose?

It seems to me, though, that many at the Beeb have already reached that conclusion.

The Beeb’s favourite paper, the Mail, though, has a more damaging piece, which may shock those relying on text messages to Radio One as a scientific sampling of youth attitudes: An overwhelming 71 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds believe it was unacceptable for Brand and Ross to leave sexually explicit messages for Mr Sachs and 82 per cent of them think it was wrong for Brand to say that Mr Sachs was ‘thinking about killing himself’, it reports. It also finds support for the license fee is lowest among this demographic.


Wonder what you make of this item suggesting that the BBC could lose its exclusive right to the license fee?

“Ofcom will on Thursday suggest sharing the £3.4 billion-a-year pot with other channels to help them make unprofitable public service programmes such as children’s television, regional news, arts shows and documentaries.”

I don’t think this is good news since it does not address the central wrong of a license tax in the first place. Ofcom seems to think that the more you spread a bad idea around the better it is. Well I don’t think so. Broadcasters should stand or fall on their own financial capabilities and NONE of us should be forced to spend so much as one penny propping any of them up. Ofcom does not offer a solution, it merely proposes deepening the problem.


I see that Conservative leader David Cameron has caused a bit of a furore by threatening to make the BBC hand £250million of its (OUR) money to other broadcasters. The Tories plan to force the Corporation to give away part of its licence fee funds to create new competition in public service broadcasting. The move will break the BBC’s “monopoly” over programmes and guarantee more quality output in areas such as children’s television, the Tories claim. It’s an interesting idea coupled with a plan to scrap the governing BBC Trust and replace it with a more independent “public service broadcasting commission”. Naturally the BBC have reacted angrily to the Cameron suggestions..“Once you take away part of the licence fee you break the trust between the BBC and the licence-fee payer,” said a senior BBC executive. What trust? Wonder what you all make of Cameron’s suggestions?