The Truth About The BBC

On the BBC website yesterday was an overt piece of self-promotion by the director of BBC Global News, Peter Horrocks, which extolled the BBC’s virtues and bragged about the increasing number of people around the world watching its broadcasts.

“We have heard so much about the decline of established media brands that it is a rare occasion when one of them celebrates a milestone audience increase. Yet that is just what the BBC can do today, with the news that a quarter of a billion people around the world are tuning into the BBC’s global news service every week.

These are huge figures – around the world, one in every 28 people is a viewer, listener or reader of BBC global news.”

It seems the reach of the world’s best-known government propaganda amplification device is increasing.

Peter Horrocks continues:

“Eighty years after the BBC’s Empire Services began broadcasting, its successor, the World Service, reaches 192 million people around the world, from Libya to Burma to Peru.

This is almost double the number of people who listened at the height of the Cold War, when the World Service was often the only source of objective news.”

That what is now called the BBC World Service was once known as the ‘Empire Services’ reveals the BBC’s long history as essentially part of the UK state apparatus.

It’s clear that Peter Horrocks, unsurprisingly, accepts the popular narrative that the BBC has for decades been the world’s shining beacon of objectivity. No doubt he believes it’s still the world’s most objective source of news, as do the majority of people in the UK and perhaps even the world. However, the BBC’s very existence depends on the government, and so to believe that it can be impartial, unbiased or ‘independent’ in any meaningful way is quite ridiculous. It’s like believing that politicians who are major shareholders in train companies will be objective in their decision to decide which company is awarded the next big government contract. Or that people who rely on government benefits aren’t subject to a conflict of interest and will vote for the best candidate for society and not just the one who promises to maintain or increase their benefits. The simple truth is that everyone at the BBC has a vested interest in not opposing the predominant ideologies of the state in any significant way.

Laughably, in a document released by the BBC Trust discussing the new funding setup for its World Service, the BBC rejects outright any accusation of it being impartial or biased.

“The BBC World Service has always been an independent broadcaster. Being funded through a direct government grant has provided benefits to the World Service – it has enabled the BBC to expand the range of services provided, and the languages in which the BBC broadcasts around the world. However, it has also led to suspicions of the BBC being the “mouthpiece” for the UK Government, or somehow being directly government controlled. There is no truth to these accusations; however, it has been a regular refrain from regimes and groups who don’t support the spread of impartial news and information.”

Note that the BBC Trust offers no arguments or evidence in defence of itself. Either because it refuses to, which is rather arrogant, or because it sees no need to, which is rather unintelligent. The BBC Trust is content to simply assert that anyone who argues that the BBC is not impartial, and is biased or influenced by government is wrong. The mere act of the BBC Trust saying its accusers are wrong magically makes them actually wrong. And there I was thinking that it was reason and evidence that determined what was true and false. Nope. Words do that, apparently.

Well, unfortunately for the BBC, there’s plenty of reason and evidence to support the argument against the BBC being an independent, impartial and unbiased broadcaster. Aside from the fact that it has a vested interest in being agreeable to the state, it spends more on its news division that all other UK news outlets combined – as a result of it being funded by the government. The BBC utterly dominates the news broadcasting market, which naturally means so do the political leanings of its staff.

In an article for The Freeman entitled  ‘Britain’s BBC Tax‘, author Emma Elliot Freire elaborates on this:

“The BBC’s large, guaranteed revenue gives it an overwhelming advantage in Great Britain’s media landscape, particularly for news coverage. According to a government study, in 2011 the BBC spent $669 million on its news division, more than all other English radio and TV news providers combined. Also, 73 percent of all TV news hours watched in Great Britain were produced by the BBC. The BBC’s news website attracts 14 million unique visitors each week (between 60 percent and 70 percent of them in Great Britain). 

This is troubling for many reasons, not least because the BBC is biased against free-market views. “There is a sort of mainstream opinion in the BBC which is left leaning,” says Booth. “It’s not that they sit around at their desks thinking ‘ah, we must present this in a left-leaning socialist way.’ They don’t actually see that there could be another rational worldview from their own.”

As an example, Booth points out that Paul Krugman is a frequent guest on the BBC’s flagship news show Newsnight, where he gets long segments to air his opinions without any presentation of alternative viewpoints. Also, until recently, one of the show’s chief economics correspondents was Paul Mason, a former member of the Socialist Workers Party.

New research from the Centre for Policy Studies shows that BBC News was far more likely to cite ideas from left-leaning think thanks than right-leaning ones. The study also found that BBC anchors are far more likely to point out the political ideology of a right-leaning think tank than a left-leaning one.”

The BBC’s ‘argument’ that it is an “independent broadcaster” and isn’t biased or a “mouthpiece” just isn’t supported by reason or by the facts.

Towards the end of Peter Horrocks’ illustration of how prolifically the BBC is (mis)informing the world he reveals that the BBC World Service – the corporate, profit-making arm of the BBC – will soon be funded directly by the UK licence fee.

“International broadcasting is a highly competitive business, which requires predictable, stable funding. The BBC Trust has announced the budget for the World Service will be better protected next year, when it moves to licence fee funding.”

Until now, the licence fee had funded only the non-commercial BBC in the UK, and its World Service had been funded by a government grant – which was administered by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. So although the BBC’s profit-making arm was already receiving guaranteed funding in the form of a share of UK tax revenues those in power at the BBC weren’t quite satisfied that this source of free money was subject to government budget cuts and the whims of politicians. Opting to tap into the more “stable” and “predictable” pipeline of coercively collected cash – a singular tax known as the TV License Fee – was the obvious way for the BBC World Service to manufacture the (increased, curiously enough) funding it says it ‘requires’.

Imagine if I approached my manager on Monday morning and explained to her that because there’s lots of competition for my job from others I require a predictable and stable source of funding. Therefore I am going to put a gun to her head every Friday and insist she gives me £500 from the safe. This greater stability and increased funding will allow me to perform my role much better and therefore is for her benefit too.

This new ‘funding’ arrangement for the BBC means that its highly profitable corporate arm is going to have as its main source of funding money taken from television owners in a particular geographic area under threat of imprisonment by the UK government. television owners who don’t want to fund the BBC World Service corporation (or indeed the non-commercial BBC) by handing over £145 a year to the BBC just for owning a television will be fined up to £1000. And worse still be officially branded a criminal by being given a criminal record.

If a mafia thug tells a bar owner that he needs a ‘license’ to operate his business in this town, what he really means is: pay me money on a regular basis or I will hurt you or destroy your property. The only reason the bar owner needs a piece of paper with the word ‘license’ written on it is to avoid being harmed by the mafia. It’s the same for the television license. The only reason any television owner requires a ‘license’ to own that particular object is to avoid being fined by the government and being branded a criminal. That’s the only reason everyone pays for a television license, which otherwise has no use or value – it’s just a piece of paper.

We live in a society where extortion is a crime and resisting extortion is a crime. Orwellian doublethink anyone?

The reality of the BBC’s relationship with society is that it is extortionate and coercive. But those at the BBC are so deeply embedded in the delusion of the virtuous nature of the organisation they work for that they do not see this reality. In fact, those at the BBC perceive an opposite reality. They believe that by further leveraging the privilege of conducting legalised extortion, granted to it by the state, this will benefit the British public and its global audience.

“We believe that licence fee funding will be a benefit to the World Service, the wider BBC, and the British people.”

Of course they do. But in reality no one except those who work for the BBC benefits from the BBC’s unethical relationship with the government, and in reality people must be hunted down and threatened for not paying for a television ‘license’.

According to The Freeman:

“Last year [2012], over 180,000 people in Great Britain were prosecuted for failing to pay the tax levied on their TV signal. This made up 12 percent of all criminal prosecutions in Great Britain. Of those prosecuted, 155,000—two-thirds of them women…”

 “…TV Licensing starts by sending threatening letters to suspected offenders. These are worded to imply that their inspectors have the right to enter private homes (in fact, they need a warrant). The next step is a home visit from an inspector, who will try to gain entry with permission. If that fails, TV Licensing has technology to detect if a house is receiving a signal. They use this to gather evidence to apply for a search warrant. TV Licensing’s inspectors have targets for the number of offenders they are supposed to catch, and they earn bonuses for exceeding their targets.

TV Licensing’s policy stipulates that the first adult resident of the house that the inspector encounters becomes liable for prosecution. This is the reason two-thirds of those prosecuted last year were women. Inspectors usually come calling during the day when women are more likely than men to be at home.”

The BBC’s legalised extortion hits poor people particularly hard.

“As a regressive tax, the license fee falls heaviest on the low earners. Journalist Charles Moore wrote in The Spectator, “The licence fee is the most regressive and most ruthlessly collected of all government imposts, and the annual sum of £145.50 is a seriously painful sum for the social groups who watch television (though not, usually, the BBC) the most.”

This is the ugly and disappointing truth about the BBC. It’s a great shame because it didn’t have to be this way. It could have remained a truly independent broadcaster, which is what it started as, but alas the lure of free evil quickly got the better of it and it became the state’s mouthpiece in return for big budgets and a near-monopoly on the news. It has become a disseminator of propaganda and misinformation, the very thing it surely set out not to be.

It’s never too late to change. The BBC could morally redeem itself by refusing to accept the revenue generated by the TV License Fee and by calling for its abolition. It could switch to funding through advertising, which is a business model that its rival broadcasters employ and one which society evidently values. Not only would this be the morally right thing to do, but it would expose the BBC to to peaceful society; the free market, where its rivals live. Only by choosing to operate in the realm of competition and innovation, where consumers, not politicians, decide who gets funding and who doesn’t, can the BBC’s claim to be the best ever be legitimate.

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