Archive for the ‘Licence Fee’ tag

How do we know what impact it's having if we don't count it?

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Last week was, Stephen Glover writes in The Independent, ‘as bad as could be’ for the newspaper industry. Falling circulations, plummeting advertising, and large scale redundancies. The Independent announced 90 jobs would go. The Daily Mail and General Trust said 400 would lose their jobs. Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press continued to drop ever further in value.

What effect will this economic crisis have on the provision of news? Right now the debate seems polarised between doom saying pessimists and idealistic optimists. The pessimists see spiralling structural decline of the news industry, and with it all the democratic benefits of good journalism we’ve taken for granted the last 60 plus years (read Andrew Keen for the arch-pessimist view). The optimists separate journalists from journalism and suggest the later is alive, well and flourishing – buoyed by the creative opportunities released by new media (Jeff Jarvis does a good line on the positive outlook for journalism and Rupert Murdoch has recently suggested that “newspapers will reach new heights in the 21st century”).

What this debate is missing is evidence. To date, very few people (in the UK at least) have taken the time to work out what is actually happening to news provision. In other words, what is not being reported that we think, as a democratic society, should be.

If we agree that it is the job of the press to report on local councils, for example, we should find out which local councils are being covered and which aren’t. If we think the press should tell people what is happening at local schools and hospitals, then we should measure what coverage there is right now, and where, so we can work out what’s missing. Same with transport, crime, prisons, etc.

Government and industry are already starting to talk about redistributing the BBC’s income, giving further funding to Channel 4 and considering various other interventions, without really knowing what the problem is. Lord Carter, the Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, said over the weekend that the BBC’s License Fee may well be used to fund other media outlets. Alan Rusbridger has argued that local newspapers should be ‘in with a shout’ for any government money used for provision of news.

But how can the government intervene effectively if it doesn’t know what it is trying to achieve by its intervention? How beneficial is it to the public if the State is just intervening to prop up existing media institutions?

If, as a society, we think we need a ‘Fourth Estate’ (and I think we do), then we need to be a lot more conscious of its benefits before working out how to save it. We have to to examine whether the doom laden claims of the pessimists have substance, and work out if the excitement of the optimists is justified. And that means we have to start counting.

Written by Martin Moore

November 24th, 2008 at 8:37 am

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BBC to cut news and current affairs output

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What is the BBC’s commitment to news and current affairs? A number of reports over the weekend suggested the BBC is about to increase its popular entertainment output to the detriment of news and current affairs (‘BBC approves “dumbing down” at expense of current affairs’ - Sunday Telegraph, ‘Official: BBC is too upmarket’ - Observer). They refer to a new ‘Household Value’ review commissioned by the DG Mark Thompson, to see how to appeal more to lower income families who, the reports say, are turned off by serious factual programming.
Such reports always have to be taken with a pinch of salt – the BBC is an easy target for the rest of the media (and the BBC may be playing politics). But, given the timing of the review, one suspects there may be some truth in it. The BBC has spent the last 3 (5? 10?) years making sure it secure another 10 years of Licence Fee income. Part of this meant producing programming with a clear Public Service Remit (capitals intended). Now that the Licence Fee is secured, the BBC can start worrying about how to keep hold of its audience (ready for a post Licence Fee world?).
There is absolutely nothing wrong in the BBC being conscious of appealing to the whole population. The problem is if it confuses elitist programming with public interest programming. I deliberately distinguish public service from public interest because public service covers the whole spectrum of programmes from The Trap to Jane Eyre. Public interest programming is predominantly news and current affairs and is produced not just for education, information and (potentially) entertainment, but because it is in the public interest. In other words, it is better for society as a whole that it be made.
It is less important, for example, that Panorama’s expose of the damage done by the anti-depressant Seroxat got ‘only’ a 15% share (3.7m viewers) than that it had a major impact amongst that audience, made the government more conscious of the problem, and almost certainly prompted GlaxoSmithKline, the company that produced Seroxat, to change its behaviour.
Public interest programming generally takes time to make, can be quite expensive, and often doesn’t get many viewers. It’s also good for us (in every sense of the word). If the BBC doesn’t do it, who will?

Written by Martin Moore

April 2nd, 2007 at 12:09 pm

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