The Tory-backed Policy Exchange think-tank has today called for the BBC to be dismantled, with BBC Worldwide privatised, the BBC Trust scrapped, and sport and popular entertainment dumped to create opportunities for commercial channels, according to a preview to the report “Changing the Channel” covered by the BBC website and the Guardian.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what the Policy Exchange is saying because, although they have given away copies to the BBC and to the Guardian, they have yet to publish their own report on their own website.
But, based on what we know now, this is the old right-wing (Policy Exchange actually calls itself ‘centre-right’, but you don’t need to read very far before you realise that ‘centre’ is a euphemism) animosity to the BBC. While the Labour party has long decried the ‘Tory Press’, Conservatives get equally frustrated with the ‘liberal BBC’. Of course, at the moment they are able to build on popular opposition to large salaries, such as the one Jonathan Ross is giving up, but the truth is, they want to take away from the BBC many of the things we most love about it.
Following the Policy Exchange’s prescription, we would lose sport and popular entertainment. So, no more Eastenders, no more Doctor Who, no more football, athletics, Wimbledon, the Olympics, and definitely no return for the cricket. Based on current schedules, the new look BBC might be something like this on a Saturday evening:
7pm – nothing – replaces ‘So you think you can dance’
7.45 – National Lottery draw, probably extended edition
9pm – nothing – replaces “Casualty”
10pm – nothing – replaces “Live at the Apollo”
10.45pm – News – extended edition
11.00 pm – nothing – replaces football
Of course, they wouldn’t really leave all those nothings in. But what would they fill them up with? Not re-runs of old classics, as that would be popular entertainment. Certainly not cutting edge wildlife shows — they cost as much as popular entertainment to make. Ditto Horizon, Panorama, Shakespeare productions, Grand Opera, Jane Austen. Policy Exchange’s prescription would be about taking the money away from the BBC which currently goes on those shows.
There is, of course, a channel which already does what the BBC would be like if Policy Exchange had its way: it’s BBC News 24. The same news, over and over again, all day and night long. It doesn’t cost much to make. But, equally, it doesn’t have many people watching it for long.
If you take away the things that people like on the BBC, you will not assuage their opposition (if there is any) to the license fee. You will increase it. They will be paying the same amount of money (Policy Exchange wants to beef up Channel 4), but getting nothing they like.
How long before the BBC is abolished?
On that basis, not long at all.
But have a care. Policy Exchange is publishing a new report every three or four days. They are setting out the programme for a Tory government — the things that David Cameron dare not put in his manifesto. Britain after Cameron might well be a place with marginally less debt, if he can somehow get his sums right. But it will be a joyless, grey place, where only sure-fire hits are played on commercial TV (in other words, US shows six months after they were shown on Sky), and where home-grown television has as much interest and creative flair as a 1970s Czechoslovakian cartoon.