Bias And The BBC

by Quinn

I know I have already spoken about peoples’ attitudes to the BBC in a previous post, but seeing today’s front page headline in The Independent, and reading the article reporting “BBC viewing figures fall to all-time low” made me want to revisit the subject.

In the first instance, I am surprised that The Indie feels this is an important front page story; but personally, although I think it is generally a fine paper, its current fashion for dramatic front pages, which are often prone to editorialising, is not to my taste. Still, what they put on their front page is up to them; so what about the article itself?

Well, we learn that the combined viewing figures of BBC 1 and 2 have fallen by 9% since 2000; BBC1 to around 25% of the audience and BBC2 down to 10%. That still means 35% of people are watching the two main BBC channels, which seems to me like quite a lot in this day and age, but whatever. Surely it is inevitable that as more and more channels spring up, the BBC’s market share will drop. However, reading further into the article, it states that ITV1 has suffered “even more severely than the BBC – since 2000 the channel’s audience share has fallen 22 per cent to 22.8 per cent of all television viewers”. Why then is the front page headline solely about the BBC? Why is not not about both organisations? Why not talk about the traditional terrestrial broadcasters all struggling as the number of channels has increased?

Ah, because they are not. According to The Independent, “Channel 4 has proven it is possible for a terrestrial broadcaster with a public service remit to improve its audience share against such a competitive backdrop”. The reason Channel 4 has been so successful? For one thing they have bought “The Simpsons”, but it is apparently also because of home-grown successes; its “range of popular factual programmes, such as Wife Swap and How Clean Is Your House?”

“Wife Swap” and “How Clean Is Your House”? For fucks sake. Is The Indie suggesting that this is where the BBC should be going in order to arrest its slide in audience share? And can you imagine the headlines if the BBC decided to produce this sort of out and out tat?

For me, this article is indicative of the double standards many people seem to apply to the BBC. It is perfectly highlighted by the famous case of the death of the Queen Mother, where the BBC got into a right old muddle because some factions of the media (and, I guess, the general public) thought they didn’t cover the story in enough detail; this despite the fact that I know people who abandoned a planned Saturday night-in to race to the pub once they realised the TV schedule was going to be overturned wholesale and there would be blanket coverage of the news. I also remember reading at the time that the BBC only actually resumed their normal schedule once they were certain that ITV had done the same.

Why one rule for the BBC and another for ITV etc.? Take a look for example at “Biased BBC”, one of the websites devoted to the Beeb’s perceived left-wing bias. They make the occasional fair and reasonable point, but it is often lost among the authors’ prejudices and one-sided nit-picking, usually rounded off with a call for the licence fee to be scrapped. And I guess this is why the BBC gets so much stick; partly because they are the most prominent broadcaster in the country and so are there to be shot at, but mainly because many people just disagree with and object to the licence fee.

Which is fine. I personally think the licence fee is the worst possible way to pay for the BBC; that is, after advertising, by subscription or from general taxation. Whatever I may dislike about the fee (and it goes against my basic ideas of what constitutes a fair tax) I cannot imagine any of the alternatives improving television in this country, and this surely is the most important matter when discussing how the BBC is funded. And even though people can pay up to four times the licence fee for their Sky subscription and the mass of absolute shite they get with it, and pay more in advertising revenue to ITV than they pay to the BBC, the element of compulsion means that the BBC will always get both barrels. This is probably not fair, but I can understand that this is the way of things. But why is this argument not separate from the whole matter of what the BBC produces? Once the decision is made on how the BBC is funded, why can we not treat them just the same as we would treat any other broadcaster, and subject them to the same criticisms and judgments; because at the moment that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Anyway, this is now my second post about the BBC, and that is at least one too many. There are so many more important thinks in the world to discuss; Sudan, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe. Just don’t tell Biased BBC that. Or the editor of today’s Independent.