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A solution to the BBC problem – break it in two

29 January 2014

10:45 AM

29 January 2014

10:45 AM

Monday’s episode of The Unbelievable Truth, in case you missed it, featured comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Rufus Hound. I did miss it, partly because I read about how Hound thinks David Cameron wants to kill your children, and I just couldn’t face the jokes about the Daily Mail and ‘hoards of Romanians!’

Even Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe has become unbearable. I gave up half-way through the last two episodes I attempted, one of which was entirely about how stupid and neanderthal Ukip are and the other which contained a slot just as big explaining how anyone hostile to further migration from eastern European was simply an idiot and that’s it.

Political comedians are paid to make an amusing point about the absurdity of politics, but almost by definition their arguments have to be one-dimensional, since the wider, more nuanced picture is less funny; admittedly interviewing David Goodhart or Paul Collier about immigration would be less amusing than some half-wit outside a shopping centre, although a comedian could easily poke up fun at the Home Office’s 2004 prediction that between 5-13,000 eastern Europeans would arrive every year; but strangely no one at the BBC ever has. Funny, that.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but when political comedy becomes too partisan it gets boring. I’m not against the BBC using Brooker, who is after all one of the funniest men in Britain, and I’m sure after I emerge from a nervous breakdown in my forties as a liberal I’ll find him funny again. But I do wonder if it occurs to anyone involved with commissioning the show to think that it was quite clearly politically partial, and it should perhaps be balanced by something from the opposing side?

That’s my major problem with the BBC – there is just so little diversity there. Almost nothing of what you hear or see strays outside the very safe comfort zone of a certain London demographic, probably closer to the Economist than the Guardian (and far more to the Left on cultural issues than economic ones). This is epitomised by Thought for the Day, three minutes of platitudes that wouldn’t offend anyone’s old swinger aunt.

Discontent with the beeb is only going to get more vocal as a new Buzzfeed generation without old media loyalties emerges, many of whom have become used to watching programmes on their laptop rather than the television. The BBC needs the support of conservatives.

And I think I’ve come up with a solution that will preserve all that’s best about the corporation.

Split the BBC into two entirely separate broadcasters, both of which have a charter to run a high-brow service with all the usual commitments to quality and impartiality; the BBC cannot achieve impartiality, whatever they claim, but even by attempting to do so they reduce bias.

Then abolish the license fee and have the two media groups, BBC and the Other One, supported by income tax (which is fairer).

However every year each individual taxpayer gets to choose which of the two they would like to support with their money. We could stall it three years in advance to avoid uncertainty and give them time to adjust, so that this year we would decide on the 2017/18 share; it would also be advisable to limit the annual swing between the broadcasters to, say, 5 per cent, to stop a fickle public destroying one of them after a bad year.

We could either let each taxpayer nominate the amount they have personally paid towards broadcasting, or allow each taxpayer to nominate the same amount, or somewhere in between the two ends.

This strikes me as the only way the BBC will ever reflect public opinion; it doesn’t matter how many high-profile people apologise for their bias, they’re never going to change so long as they have a monopoly.

This way the public could at least be ensured diversity of opinion. There is room for Hound, Brigstocke or Brooker, but there’s something perverse when theirs are the only voices the national monopoly broadcaster airs. Only this way will my hope, my dream, that one day James Delingpole will be a guest editor on the Today programme come true.

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