Free market bad for quality broadcasting

Local MP, John Grogan, talks about his faith in the BBC

What makes you proud to be British? In recent weeks following Gordon Brown’s speeches, perhaps more people than usual, in a nation where understatement is quite rightly seen as a virtue, have been asking themselves the question. For me the BBC has got to be near the to the top of the list. Last week in Parliament I initiated a debate on the closure of the BBC World Thai Service. This has resulted in demonstrations outside the British Embassy. In a country where media freedoms are still being established, the BBC’s presence with its traditions of impartiality has for sixty years provided information that local people can trust. It has also put pressure on domestic broadcasters and newspaper to aspire to higher standards.

Whether the BBC’s radio service in Thailand can be saved remains to be seen but the good news is the broadcaster appears set to get Parliamentary approval for it’s Royal Charter in Britain for another ten years. Some people complain the BBC distorts the market but for me that is the whole point. To see what a free market does for radio and television you just have to look at the USA. Sure the system produces some top quality drama but for the most part this is surrounded in the schedules by wall to wall games shows and chat shows where the lowest common denominator rules.

The BBC’s mission has to be to make the good popular and the popular good. Planet Earth, Radio 4 and Radio Three’ patronage of orchestras are one part of that tradition where as Radio 1’s promotion of live music and new bands and the cult show The Office are part of the other. The public service values of the BBC have an influence on commercial broadcasters. If it was left simply to Rupert Murdoch’s instincts, for example, Sky News would just be an imitation of the American equivalent of Fox News but that simply would not be acceptable to viewers in a British context. Moreover, as a keen sports fan I have to say there is a particular pleasure to watch the the 6 nations and this year’s World Cup uninterrupted by adverts.

There are many challenges facing the corporation in the next decade. Research last week indicated that younger people in particular spend more time on-line than watching television. The BBC’s excellent presence on the web is essential in maintaining its future relevance as the world’s of TV and broadband come closer together.

Nobody has yet been able to devise a system of raising revenue other than the licence fee which would protect the BBC’s independence. For students and others on fixed incomes it is sometimes difficult to find the cash but I would argue we are all paying for the very best of British.

One comment

  1. Indeed, you only have to look at the quality of television in the states to see how proud of the BBC we should be.

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