BBC under fresh assault

It’s becoming more and more clear that the BBC will have to come up with something more to stem the tide of media and political criticism that makes it the victim of its own success. That success by the way, was founded on going on line early while the newspapers and all other UK mainstream media were asleep. Ex Guardian editor Peter Preston, whose paper has aims to become no less than the centre left’s website of choice for the entire world, holds out a long spoon to sample supper with James Murdoch, who attacked the “Orwellian” BBC dominance of the UK media market in Edinburgh last week. Like Gordon Gekko, Murdoch proclaimed :

“ The only reliable durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

His independence and his profit. Is this anti-BBC diagnosis the right one? How come the US media is suffering likewise where there’s no BBC equivalent?

Preston returns to the vexed problem : to charge or not to charge?

It’s hard enough to find ways of charging for news sevices in a world where even devout Guardian bloggers say they’ll just push off if anyone attempts to extract a penny from them. It’s practically impossible while the successors of Lord Reith sit at the centre of their own huge stage, declining to adjust logic or strategy

He sets up the big issue for the future – the convergence of platforms whose shape no one today can foretell.

So the tangle over websites, pitting newspapers against corporation, isn’t an end game in itself, it’s just a beginning. The politicians and regulators we have – or are just about to get –are intrinsically being asked to decide what “broadcasting” means today


And Preston makes a plea

There’s no point standing on a fortress wall howling defiance. I’d hate to leave the world to Sky. I think the BBC is a force for good (and truth in journalism). I want it to last another 87 years, at least. We need it to survive and prosper
But for that to happen, we also need to see the way things are, and will be, not the way things were: to recognise a problem in order to start finding solutions. A civilised discussion, not an Edinburgh shouting match?

But a civilised discussion about what?

I can foresee pressure on the BBC to charge for its website, certainly for iPlayer, and a freeze of the licence fee under a Conservative government. But crying wolf over BBC News On Line text services is well overdone. The time to prick their bubble reputation is long overdue. ( though the World Service’s is different and better). Compared to newspaper sites like the Guardian’s and Daily Telegraph’s, the BBC’s news sites are not much more than a new headline service with poor back story files and an indifferent search facility. BBC News On line Northern Ireland is pretty weak. Were it to extend the range of its blogs – imagine a Nolan blog like the show – and distil its current affairs and other factual ouput into on line stories and columns, it could wipe the local press out. No sign of that.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London