The BBC’s future role, function and structure have been set out in a White Paper published by the UK government. I’m looking at a copy of it now.

It is nothing short of insulting. It’s insulting to consumers of British media. It’s insulting to legitimate British broadcasters. It’s insulting to the law-abiding TV licence-fee payer. And it should be insulting to anyone who values freedom. Of course, I have blogged about this before. My posts dated March 29th, 2004, April 14th, 2005, May 23rd, 2005 and October 11th, 2005 detail my disgust with the whole idea of a ‘public service broadcaster’, and the sheer obesity of the BBC to boot. But this White Paper is the icing on the cake.

Before I critique the main points of the publication, which is the culmination of the BBC Charter Review (see my previous posts for more information), let me share briefly my problem with the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation shares only one characteristic with other corporations: the name ‘Corporation’. That’s where the similarity ends. The BBC is funded by a compulsory act of law which threatens the UK public with an ultimate jail term if they fail to pay the fee for their ‘TV Licence’, whether they are BBC watchers or not. ‘Pay us or go to jail’ is their business model, closer to that of a paramilitary group than to that of a real corporation. Peripheral to this absurd and contemptible principal, the BBC loses marks on a few other counts: its behemoth budget and bureaucratic immensity, its falling ratings and its fallacious claim to impartiality.

Okay. That said, let’s look at the White Paper. Are you sitting comfortably? It starts with a foreword by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell. I will comment that I don’t understand the need for such a bloody daft government position, or why the government should have anything to do with either culture, media or sport. But that shouldn’t preclude her from having something intelligent to say.

Well, the second sentence is telling.

“No other country in the world has anything quite like the BBC. It is unique – in its quality, its scope, its reach and in the public trust it engenders. Perhaps only the NHS comes [closer] in our affections,” [emphasis mine].

What a primer! In whose affections would that be, exactly? The National Health Service is the one of the most prolific public sector disasters in the West! At a time when people are waiting 16 MONTHS for a hip operation on the NHS, Towell is propping it up as an instance of pubic service success?! Baffling. This is like a Mastercard commercial: Publishing a White Paper that defends the BBC – bad. Publishing one that changes nothing about its arrogant method of funding – worse. Starting the foreword by citing the NHS as an example of the “public trust” it engenders – priceless. Ah, folks. That was a rib-tickler. A real rattler. I almost vomited on the carpet, I was laughing so hard. The government is doing a better job of parodying themselves than I ever could in this blog. Thanks, Ms Towell.

There are six “new” public purposes for the BBC.

1) To sustain citizenship and civil society.
2) To promote education and learning.
3) To stimulate creativity and cultural excellence.
4) To reflect the UK’s nations, regions and communities.
5) To bring the world to the UK and the UK to the world.
6) To build digital Britain.

All of these sound like nice things. I have no idea what some of them mean, but it’s nice airy-fairy language and, I’m sure, makes people feel wonderful.

But I don’t understand. Can “citizenship and civil society” not be attained without using forceful government-sponsored broadcasting to do it? And just what does “citizenship and civil society” actually mean? What has citizenship got to do with broadcasting? And why do we need the BBC or the government to “build digital Britain”? It seems that others have been building it perfectly successfully on their own. It appears to be happening magnificently, indeed, SPECTACULARLY, without any ‘official’ stamp on the idea from Towell and her cronies. It wasn’t exactly government that PLANNED the whole ‘digital’ thing in the first place.

Well, Ms Towell attempts to answer that question:

“…By 2012, and starting in 2008, the whole country will have switched its TV reception to digital. The advantages are, for the first time, universal access to the clearer digital signal and to the wider range of channels and services only digital brings.”

So let me get this right. The PURPOSE of the BBC – this giant, bloodsucking leviathan of a statist entity – funded at gunpoint – is to help give us a clearer picture on our TV screen? HELL’S BELLS, FOLKS!

As you can see, I’m not getting far through the White Paper before getting sucked into bountiful, obscure, meaningless government-speak. Towell says that by 2012, the whole country will be using digital. What she doesn’t elaborate on is why that is the case. The fact is that the government will have made broadcasting non-digital (analogue) TV signals ILLEGAL by then. (Progress, you see!)

And this “build digital Britain” is a great excuse for the status-quo. You see, the people love to be looked after. The British have gotten so used to the rewarding, punishing, nannying, insuring, policing, coddling hand of big government that they really, genuinely will APPRECIATE the government taxing the shit out of them to ensure that they have a nice clear picture on their television screens. How wonderful.

Except… it isn’t wonderful, is it? Because I’ve had a digital picture on my TV screen for almost five bloody years without the meddling fingers of government to help the process along. No, let me help you come clean with the British public, Towell: corporations rather than governments are leading the global digital revolution, just as they led the industrial revolution, the automobile revolution, the health revolution and every other worthwhile technological change WITHOUT a mandate from the state. Satellite TV companies like BSkyB switched to digital years ago. Cable companies followed suit. Purely as a matter of competition, desirable change always follows capitalist innovation into people’s homes.

Saying that you need government help to get digital TV into everyone’s homes is like saying that we could have done with some government help to learn how to use a microwave, or to get cellphones ‘to the people’, or to proliferate the useful addition of the dishwasher. I’m surprised we aren’t having government-funded mandatory classes on how to use the VCR remote, since so many of the older population have such a hard time learning how to record Eastenders. After all, Eastenders is so important that it needed to be provided at gunpoint, so why should the lack of an Official Remote Control Statute be allowed to interfere with the essential job of ensuring that The People are being entertained to the government-approved standard?

This White Paper is beginning to feel like an analogue TV in 2012: useless.

“On collection and enforcement of the licence fee, we will make the Trust more directly accountable for the activities of TV Licensing. We will encourage the take-up of easy payment schemes. And we will consider further proposals to divert offenders from the Criminal Justice system.”

Excellent. So, rather than haul your ass to jail for failing to comply with their demands that you pay for Eastenders (whether you watch it or not), they’ll merely charge you a fine and take you to civil court. Of course, if you don’t turn up at civil court, they’ll still haul your ass to jail. So, actually – again – no change will occur. As everyone knows, if BBC funding/watching were optional (ie. a subscription-based service), few would sign up.

Now. If I’m right on that point, then there is NOT a strong enough popular mandate from the people to warrant the licence fee-funded BBC. If I’m wrong, why won’t they prove it by changing its method of funding?

One of the biggest inconsistencies of the entire notion of “public service broadcasting” is that, largely, the BBC isn’t actually doing anything that other broadcasters aren’t doing voluntarily. They provide merely another source of entertainment, another source of news, another source of information… with the crucial exception that they do it by force. Commercial broadcasters provide entertainment, which attracts viewers, who view commercials paid for by advertisers, who realise that the show will attract the viewers, BECAUSE it is entertaining. If the idea of a “public service broadcaster” is that it provides something that is construed to be impossible to fund commercially, why does it look so much like everything else on the box, and what is this magical ‘X Factor’ that the BBC possesses that other networks do not? It’s just entertainment like everything else, isn’t it?

The answer given in the White Paper is another cop-out: “Entertainment is a vital part of the BBC’s mission. The Government sees no conflict between the new arrangements and entertainment.” Of course not. “We do not subscribe to the idea that public service broadcasting should be confined to the worthy….”; thereby making it legitimate for the UK government to threaten its citizens with a jail-term, lest they fail to voluntarily fund the next contrived game show, a further 10 years of riveting soap storylines, or a new sitcom.

How. Damned. Arrogant.

It’s like a protection racket. The BBC has the enviable position of being able to make programming guaranteed by an act of law. Comedy at gunpoint. Game shows under threat of jail. Soaps sanctioned by law enforcement. And people think this is okay? I’m amazed.

And with regard to the idea that the BBC is unique and different and distinct (and therefore worthy of its aforementioned enviable position), the White Paper seems to squabble equally fervently with reality. It confirms that there are “five characteristics that will distinguish the BBC’s content … from anyone else’s.” I’m intrigued. Maybe they’ll be just as sublime as the “six purposes” we were treated to earlier.

“High quality – the BBC’s programming should be recognised by licence fee payers as standing out from the rest.” This should be easy to test. We’ll grab a bunch of random TV sequences from the BBC, and a bunch from the commerically-funded ITV, and ask licence fee payers to distinguish between them. You and I – and Jella Tassel – all know what the result would be.

“Challenging – it should make audiences think.” Unlike CNN or The History Channel, for example?

“Original – it should strive to offer the right level of new or originated content.” So how come all the innovative new programming is coming from commercial broadcasters? Could an independent panel that came up with the 30 most innovative new TV shows find that a proportionately high percentage of them derived from the BBC?

“Innovative – it should present new ideas or invent exciting approaches, rather than copying old ones….” Umm. Could someone explain to me the difference between ‘Original’, which was already one of the ‘Five Characteristics’ and ‘Innovative’? Make that FOUR characteristics, douchebags.

“Engaging – it should draw the audience in with fascinating and entertaining subject matter.” So that it could easily be differentiated from the Discovery Channel?

The final indicator of lunacy is the paper’s assertion, “We confirm that all BBC content should display at least one of these characteristics,” as though a program would thus be viable by being original but not engaging. ‘An hour of farting noises interspersed with Mozart while watching paint dry’, perhaps. Who the fuck wrote this paper?


The rest of the Shite Paper is equally as ludicrous and equally as deplorable. The entire purpose of the paper is patently to ensure that British citizens will be forced to pay for BBC content, whether they want it or not. In a world where the best results have derived from capitalist enterprise, where your choices are respected, your rationality honoured and your freedom protected, the British public should have sent its government the following memo:

‘SCREW YOU. Screw your White Paper.

‘And screw your Licence Fee.’

Unfortunately, they didn’t, this is the result; and NOBODY is getting furious enough about it.