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January 25, 2009



"BBC4’s programmes on Friday were just fantastic"

I am sure they were but should I be forced to pay for them with the threat of imprisonment?

Getting the BBC out of the news business would calm my ulcers but it still doesn't go far enough.


"if the BBC were genuinely public spirited and committed to Reithian ideals": ooh, you are a one, Dillowbert.

Bob B

I don't watch TV at all and depend on BBC radio with its website for news and - importantly - intelligent extended analytical commentary on news and current affairs.

By comparison TV news tends to be driven and taken up by available visual content - if it bleeds, it leads. The effect is dumbing down and when TV news gathering is more costly, especially when the BBC sends several teams to cover the same events.

Some 25 years ago and more, the BBC TV and ITV had good drama - remember: I, Claudius, or Far Pavillions? - but that was before the BBC paid celebrity salaries for mediocre talent.

Bishop Hill

Yes, I agree with Kit. In the multichannel world a monolith like the BBC is not required. It is positively damaging to the TV industry (and increasingly to other industries too) suppressing competition and innovation. Its dominance of the local radio market would be illegal if it were a private business.

Bob B

Fact is that ITV has always been rather trashy compared with the BBC snd the publicly owned Channel 4 but then some pols like it just that way.

As Abraham Lincoln put it: In a democracy you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you can't all the people all the time.

Just as some don't want too much education for the masses, they don't want a well-informed electorate either. For some, a preference for old-time deferential politics dies hard.

Francis Sedgemore

Chris – your argument that the web is a better medium for news than TV is partly convincing, but I suspect that for many the Internet is where they chat with friends and do a little lazy shopping. And for some of us who spend much or all of our working lives online, the aim is to reduce the amount of time spent in front of a computer.

Abolish news gathering? If anything the BBC should be devoting more resources to news gathering. Maybe they could cut back on 24-hour rolling news presentation, but not frontline journalism. The BBC often excels in this area, and that goes for local news as well as the big stuff on the national and international stages.

Newspapers are already cutting back on reportage and replacing news with opinion. And they are sinking under the weight of this often low information content verbiage. Newspapers are increasingly appealing to niche markets, and while the Guardian, for example, is doing well, it is no longer a national newspaper as we once understood the term.

I think you are in danger of becoming blinded to the wider picture by your cultural affinity with BBC4. The corporation produces and commissions quality programming right across the network.

A cull of BBC managers would be a good thing. And perhaps they could have Jonathan Ross put down humanely while they're at it. Just think of the number of professional journalists the BBC could hire with the millions paid out to inane broadcast celebrities.

Tom Addison

I think the more important issue here is the BBC's coverage of football. It's crap. When you watch a big match on Sky the hype they create is brilliant, you get the feeling it's the most important match ever and watching it is the meaning of life. The dullness the BBC offer represents the worst of Britain, our negative, pesimistic "psssh, England aren't gonna win anyway".

And regarding getting more fancy programmes, if we rejecy Say's law and believe demand creates supply, you're gonna get crap because all people want is crap.

Bob B

"I think the more important issue here is the BBC's coverage of football. It's crap."

But that's one of the really great features of the BBC.

The commercial TV channels want to cover football because of all the advertising revenues that draws in due to the many football fans and when the commercial channels are hardly likely to take on critical analysis in current affairs progs about the role of the bankers in promoting the recession for fear of the repercussions on advertising revenues.

As for: "should I be forced to pay for [the BBC] with the threat of imprisonment?"

Of course, so long as I'm forced to pay for a replacement of the Trident missile system when:

"Three retired military commanders are urging the Government to scrap the plan to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent. In a letter published in The Times . . they said that Britain’s independent deterrent has become 'virtually irrelevant' . . "


"BBC4’s programmes on Friday were just fantastic".

Which programmes do you mean? Are you by any chance referring to the music programmes on at night? I appreciated them, like.

Luis Enrique

I think there's a real value to society from having some well funded investigative news teams around, and some organisations with the capability to run stories that people have expended time and effort putting together. This includes having some decent foreign correspondents. Without that, you just getting newpapers re-writing the wires, attending news conferences and opining on them. Bloggers can't do it, and newspapers appear to be doing less and less of it. I know the BBC doesn't exactly spring to mind in the Woodward and Burstein stakes, but might it end up being one of the few places capabable of real newsgathering?

I think we've run into a real free rider / public good problem - the disaggregated private market just can't figure out a way to pay for decent news organisations. Some people might say that just means we don't want it; demand isn't there. But I disagree, I think it would be easy to write a model where news gathering is under supplied by the private sector - after all, if you break a story, your rivals can run it.

Bob B

Luis: "This includes having some decent foreign correspondents."

Absolutely. The commerical media won't take on reporting this about the Khiam Prison in South Lebanon for fear of the hugely active Israel support lobby:

Reports like that have become crucial with today's news:

"Any Israeli soldiers accused of war crimes in the Gaza Strip will be given state protection from prosecution overseas, the country's PM has said."

In other words, the IDF has official permission from the Israel government to do anything. As it is, few British news media, apart from the BBC, could bring themselves to report Gerald Kaufman's speech in Parliament on 15 January 2009:

"A prominent Jewish MP has compared the actions of Israeli troops with Nazis who forced his family to flee Poland."


Tom Addison:"I think the more important issue here is the BBC's coverage of football. It's crap. When you watch a big match on Sky the hype they create is brilliant, you get the feeling it's the most important match ever and watching it is the meaning of life."

Feeding opium to the masses? I prefer to watch my soccer without hype, as a pointless but occasionally elegant distraction.

Bob B

News update:

Try this update on the BBC and Jonathan Ross:

"The son of an 86-year-old woman at the centre of Jonathan Ross's latest poor taste gaffe on Sunday said he should be sacked. . . "


"The BBC should not have spent £18 million hiring Jonathan Ross and should expect to lose public support if it rewards its top presenters with astronomical pay packets, Greg Dyke, the former Director-General of the corporation, says today [1 November 2008]. . ."

Idle Pen Pusher

"It is, however, possible that there is a market failure which causes the under-provision of BBC4-type programmes."

I'm not sure how true this is. What type of 'market failure' do you suppose is involved? Just because there aren't enough people who actualy want the output of a niche industry (and are prepared to pay for it with their own money) does not mean that it's a market failure!

Why should others have to cough up to pay for television programmes because you think they are "just fantastic"?

Bob B

"What type of 'market failure' do you suppose is involved?"

The classic reference on this is Steiner, Peter (1952), “Program Patterns and Preferences, and the Workability of Competition”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 66(2), pp. 194-223, which doesn't seem to be available online without pay-per-view.

A brutally simplistic summary is that a single TV or radio broadcaster, with multiple channels, will have an incentive to cover the waterfront of viewer/listener preferences whereas multiple competing channels, each under rivalrous ownership, will strive to attract the popular middle ground and neglect minority tastes unless the middle ground is already saturated. An alternative text covering this and wider issues is: BM Owen: Video Economics (Harvard UP, 1992)

But see also:

"While it was once conventional wisdom that competition would maximize diversity, theory has shown that the incentives to differentiate may plausibly imply a welfare maximizing structure that consists of a single firm. Empirically speaking, evidence for either of these positions is scant, although there are some suggestive contributions."
Alexander and Cunningham: Diversity in Broadcast Television


Steve Mitra: The Death of Media Regulation in the Age of the Internet

Bob B

Try this in today's news:

"Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said the government was looking at regulating the internet to 'even up' the imbalance with television."


But for extreme stuff, you really can't beat old fashioned books according to this recent news report in the Telegraph:

"Wetlands erotic novel goes on sale in Britain

"A female-penned novel so pornographic that it has reportedly caused people to faint at public readings is to go on sale in Britain."

But note the concluding paragraphs:

"Several best-sellers of recent years have featured pornographic material written from a female perspective. They include The Sexual Life of Catherine M, an explicit memoir by the respected Parisian art critic Catherine Millet.

"A number of the books started life as anonymous internet blogs, including The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour and Girl With A One Track Mind by Abby Lee."

Tom Addison

Charlieman: "Feeding opium to the masses? I prefer to watch my soccer without hype, as a pointless but occasionally elegant distraction."

Nah, sometimes it's best to put snobberies to the side and get involved in the hype, it's great fun. Sitting there in the corner smoking your pipe offering the odd clap of appreciation doesn't make you any more of an informed or well educated fan.

I'm a huge Man United fan but tickets are near impossible to get, so I want the next best thing which is the TV creating a great atmosphere. The morbid, pessimistic moaning that the BBC has to offer doesn't really satisfy that need. Andy Gray, now he does.

Adam Higgitt

This is not a sensible proposal for reason 2 (and quite possibly a number of the others); confining the BBC's news services to online would not reduce "expensive news-gathering", at least not unless you wanted also the quality of its news to remain as high as it is. The news would still have to be gathered - the only thing different would be its means of distribution.

Nor would it save money year (at least not in great measure) since other content would presumably be broadcast in place of the news.

What you would do is to greatly reduce the reach and impact of BBC news, esp. as nearly 100% of the population have TV and radio while only 60% of people have the internet at home. That may be your intention but, if so, it would be better if this were made explicit.

Many more people watch news than documentaries, which suggests that they find value in TV news even if you do not.

Bob B

I don't miss TV news but I would certainly miss the BBC radio news, interviews and commentary.

And I was greatly delighted to discover that many excellent BBC TV docs subsequently reappear on YouTube.

Try Adam Curtis on: The Power of Nightmares-Part1

Bob B

News update:

Hooray for BBC journos:

"The BBC is facing a growing revolt from its own journalists over its decision not to broadcast the Gaza humanitarian aid appeal, with sources reporting 'widespread disgust' within its newsrooms. . ."

Idle Pen Pusher

Bob B "whereas multiple competing channels, each under rivalrous ownership, will strive to attract the popular middle ground and neglect minority tastes unless the middle ground is already saturated."

How does this argument stand where such channels as the History Channel, Sky Arts, Discovery Channel etc etc thrive in a world of almost countless TV channels catering to all kinds of niche tastes?


The BBC's decision not to broadcast the Gaza Appeal and the subsequent high profile over the last few days its editorial team have given to the issue has meant the appeal has had hugely more airtime than it would have got had the BBC decided to run the appeal, which most of us probably would not have seen/heard anyway. Meanwhile, the news stories about it go on and on, with interviews with appeal fund raisers and Palestinians etc etc, but, I notice, no interviews with Isralis on this issue.

Bob B

"How does this argument stand where such channels . . "

That's a very fair question. The answer would go along the lines of when the numbers of competing TV channels expand to many dozen, there will be sufficiently saturated coverage of populist preferences through competitive pressures that some channels will emerge to attract viewers with minority tastes, such as popular history and science - which is just what Steiner's analysis predicts.

My particular problem - and that of a few others, I suspect - is that I'm irritated by pop history and science TV channels. That's because the information density is so low and the delivery so slow with all the visuals that I lose patience and give up. But I do go for the excellent TV docs on BBC2 like those of Adam Curtis. For another of his on political themes, try:

The Century of the Self 4 of 4

Other examples of excellence are the Google lectures, like this on: The Paradox of Choice, by Prof Barry Schartz

The reason I don't watch TV nowadays is because on checking out the viewing data online for the 10 most popular Xmas progs, I wouldn't have wanted to watch any as there are so many better things to do.


Congratulations, an early contender for the most elitist article of the year award!


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