A Dark Day for Quality Broadcasting
Earlier today, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw outlined plans to share part of the TV licence fee with ITV – a proposal that couldn’t be any more shambolic if it tried.
ITV is supposed to be an independently funded broadcaster. As such, it is supposed to deal with any funding shortfalls via its own means – and that includes the £5.7 million fine incurred from the phone-in scandals.
It doesn’t help that the BBC is still in a somewhat vulnerable position after the non-stop harassment of the Daily Mail – a.k.a. Sachsgate – when the choice daily paper of right-wing nutjobs blew everything out of proportion. They launched a tirade against the corporation and the licence fee, claiming moral outrage, and felt smug as they watched the media circus come to town. As a result, anything the BBC does now comes under rigorous scrutiny.
The plans outlined stated that any funding taken from the licence fee would be spent on public service broadcasting, the result being that ITV Local News could see itself handed £130m from the BBC’s budget. Success, it seems, for the Mail’s campaign.
Except it’s actually a much bigger victory than you might think. All of ITV’s news output is provided by ITN, which is privately owned. Whilst ITV hold the largest share, the Daily Mail themselves own a 20% stake, and would actually benefit if the plans went ahead.
Now let me make this clear – I’m an avid supporter of the TV Licence fee. The BBC is a unique institution that this country is privileged to have, in that it provides creative content without fear of having to keep shareholders happy. It can actually take risks on daring shows that might not necessarily work without fear of losing advertising revenue. Things such as Blue Planet, State of Play and The Office, all of which are almost unanimously loved, but could never have been commissioned by another broadcaster.
For an independent network whose output consists almost solely of reality shows and talent contests to be given a massive amount of public service funding to help cover the cost of its own mistakes would be utterly outrageous, especially given the agenda of those involved.
If the proposals go ahead, then quality broadcasting faces a very dark future indeed.