A very lively and enjoyable Any Questions last night from the beautiful town of Aldborough in North Yorkshire.
The question which seemed to bring out perhaps the most passion from an already very passionate audience concerned the BBC’s coverage of the Jubilee celebrations. I didn’t envy Jonathan Dimbleby having to chair that one. No least because the question included a reference to his own reported criticism of the BBC’s coverage. I mentioned that I had simply turned over to Sky and others on the panel went on to attack the BBC’s management. But there are two points which I didn’t get a chance to air last night which I thought I might note here: one ‘for’ the BBC and one ‘against’.
The ‘for’ point first is that it isn’t nothing that one of the BBC’s main radio discussion shows encouraged and broadcast an all-round flagellation of the BBC like this. It is almost inconceivable that any other broadcast or print media would be able to engage in such self-criticism and indeed (I’m not certain this is the right term) self-abuse. Through the Leveson process so far most of the print media have been intriguing for the selectiveness with which they have been willing to report criticisms of the media. Generally they have been more than willing to report criticisms levelled at their competitors, but very rarely included even mentioned criticisms made by witnesses to the inquiry against their own organs of opinion. Whatever the BBC’s failings it is an unusual, and I think admirable, thing for an institution to be open enough to give such space to critics of some of its policies (including employees).
But one other point has to be made. Yesterday evening Alan Johnson picked up part of the point I was trying to make when I said that I had simply turned over to Sky. He said we all have a choice and we don’t have to watch the BBC and so on. That may be so. But it misses the issue. We do not have to watch the BBC. But if we wish to watch television we still have to pay for it. That is what makes the BBC different. No other broadcaster or media source in this country is allowed to levy what is essentially a tax on the population in order to source revenue. The BBC is a public sector broadcaster and as such it is right that its failings are more severely felt and decline in standards more seriously regarded than when the same things occur among its commercial rivals.