Published: 25th October 2013
BEFORE discussing the future of the BBC, we must first get out of the way what many believe to be the elephant in the room: the subject of BBC bias.
I sometimes think it is wrong to say the BBC is too left-wing. That very much depends on the individuals who are presenting the show, not the corporation as a whole.
There is no doubt that the BBC attracts liberal-minded people to work for it. Anyone who has done BBC interviews, especially at regional level, cannot fail to notice that the newspapers available to read while waiting to go into the studio are usually The Guardian, The Mirror or The Independent – The Guardian has almost become the in-house newspaper of the BBC.
Setting that aside, however, this question very much depends on the show and the interviewers.
I think that one of the most politically-neutral shows on the BBC is theToday programme. Some people will gasp at that comment and say: “It’s outrageous: John Humphrys sits there berating the Tories but never gives Labour such a rough ride.” When both sides of the House of Commons believe there is favouritism for the other side, the balance is probably just about right.
Where the BBC does tend to have its issues are in areas such as the Radio 5 Live morning phone-in show. Some of the comments the presenter of that show has let slip leaves us in no doubt about where said presenter’s political loyalties lie. That does the BBC a disservice, because, by revealing the political hand in the comments made, the idea of neutrality goes out of the window.
For example, we all remember the Jim Naughtie comment on the Today programme: he said “we” while interviewing a representative of the Labour Party, rather than “you”. Such slips do get made.
However we do not want to see programmes being dumbed down.
That is where Question Time lets the BBC down very badly, because it is dominated by left-wing opinion.
I was at a public meeting and the question at the end was “Who would you most like to share a panel with, and who would you least like to share a panel with?”
Somebody said they would like to share a panel with Peter Ustinov, which was interesting, and somebody else said they would not like to share a panel with Nick Griffin.
My answer was different. I said I only want to share a panel with people who have been put there because they have been elected by and are accountable to the public.
I want Question Time to have elected, and therefore accountable, politicians from across the political spectrum so that the public get to hear how the issues of the day are addressed by those representing the range of political opinions in this country.
I get sick to the back teeth of opinionated comedians et al going on and spouting forth when they are not in any way accountable to the public.
That is where the BBC lets itself down – through what I call a dumbing-down.
That point leads on to what I want to discuss: the future of the BBC. The idea that it is the role of a public sector broadcaster to entertain and to be informative is laid out in its charter, but I believe that it is surely the role of a public sector broadcaster to enrich the people it serves.
We then get into the argument about what lets such a broadcaster enrich the people it serves, and, thus, whether it is wrong to say that any of the BBC’s programmes or content should be commercialised.
The BBC may have led to Sky Arts being formed and having a high-level arts output, but I would argue that BBC News followed Sky News.
Which areas would I commercialise? I often feel that BBC 1, Radio 1 and Radio 2 could easily exist in a commercial environment.
Why do I say that? I say it not in order to cut the TV licence, but to bring in more money for investment in the things that will enrich our lives.
Let us examine some of the most successful television comedies, such as Little Britain. It made a journey from Radio 4 to BBC 2 to BBC 1, whereupon it was hugely successful in its sales of DVDs, books, CDs and so on, as many BBC programmes have been.
I would like the BBC to focus its resources much more strategically, rather than taking a scatter-gun approach across many a television station.
I feel that BBC 3 and BBC 4 are excessive and are not actually needed. BBC 2 used to have the content that BBC 4 and BBC 3 show, and it was often seen as the feeder channel into BBC 1, along with its having the highbrow content.
A lot of the stuff on BBC 1 can survive in a commercial environment because it has the ratings, but that is not to say that we should bring in commercialisation to cut the television licence; the BBC should be able to gain as much revenue as it can in order to invest that back and carry on investing in British comedy, British drama and news.
* Alec Shelbrooke is the Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell. He spoke in a House of Commons debate on the BBC’s future. This is an edited version.