Wednesday, December 18, 2019

GWPF Newsletter: Boris Johnson May Abolish BBC Licence Fee In Wake Of His Election Victory

Yes, Prime Minister: It's Time To Cut The BBC Down To Size

In this newsletter:

1) Boris Johnson May Abolish BBC Licence Fee In Wake Of His Election Victory
The Sunday Telegraph, 15 December 2019
2) The Government Is Right To Consider The Future Of The BBC - They Should Start By Scrapping TV Licences
The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2019

3) Boris Is Right -- It’s Time To Scrap The BBC Licence Fee
The Spectator, 9 December 2019
4) Yes, Prime Minister: Sir Antony Jay Calls For The BBC To Be Cut Down To Size
GWPF, 16 December 2019
5) Greta Thunberg And Charles Moore Among BBC Today's Christmas Guest Editors
Press Gazette, 26 November 2019
6) The Energy-Cost Campaign That Helped The Tories To Win Over Labour Seats
The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2019
7) And Finally: Another UN Climate Talk Fest Flops 
Associated Press, 15 December 2019

Full details:

1) Boris Johnson May Abolish BBC Licence Fee In Wake Of His Election Victory
The Sunday Telegraph, 15 December 2019

Boris Johnson has ordered his aides to launch an urgent review into decriminalising the BBC license fee in the wake of his election triumph.

The move, which is bound to trigger a showdown with the corporation, comes as Downing Street has decided to impose an effective boycott of Radio 4’s flagship news programme over allegations of pro-Remain bias.

The Telegraph understands that Downing Street is preparing to launch a formal consultation on whether television viewers should face prosecution for failing to pay the £154.50 annual cost for watching live television or iPlayer, the broadcaster’s catch-up service. 

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a former board member of the official Vote Leave campaign, who is now a defence minister, was being tipped as a possible new Culture Secretary on Saturday night.

The Prime Minister last week questioned how much longer the Government could justify funding a broadcaster out of “a general tax”, in remarks at an election rally. […]

Last year, 25.8 million households had TV licences, with the income from fees worth £3.6bn to the BBC in 2018-9. The review is likely to example replacing the current criminal sanctions with a civil system of fines for non-payment.

The BBC has pointed out that a review carried out under David Cameron in 2014 “found the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained.”

Nick Robinson, a Today presenter, has previously warned that “a normal service from the BBC means you will hear people you disagree with say things you don’t like.”

Full story

2) The Government Is Right To Consider The Future Of The BBC - They Should Start By Scrapping TV Licences
Philip Booth, The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2019

Arguments about bias would then become irrelevant. If a private and mutualised BBC is biased, then the state should not be concerned any more than it should curb the bias of The Guardian. People who do not like the BBC’s biases could simply stop watching it and, crucially, stop paying for it.

After the Brexit bill is passed, the new Government is right to consider the future of the BBC. The BBC has always had an uneasy relationship with the Conservative Party. Dennis Thatcher once wrote to Duke Hussey, then BBC Chairman, about an episode of the Today programme, complaining: “Never in the history of public broadcasting has so foul a libel been published against ANYONE let alone a prime minister.”

More generally, there have been persistent perceptions of bias against free markets, the Conservative Party and Brexit for several years.

These perceptions are backed up by research. There is bias by selection – the choice of topics covered. Rarely does the BBC run programmes or news items looking at how globalisation has led to more people being pulled out of poverty in the last 40 years than in the previous 6,000 years, for example. Nor does it ever mention that we are in the first sustained period in industrialised history of falling global inequality. On the other hand, features on inequality under so-called austerity or on the super-rich are common-place.

The Today programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’ rarely mentions business in a positive light, but often does so negatively. Detailed analysis of interviews suggests that people of particular perspectives are hectored or interrupted more. It was not only Conservatives who made official complaints after Andrew Marr’s campaign interview with Boris Johnson featured nearly as much of Marr speaking as it did of Johnson.

BBC bias is not a problem that can be managed by better governance. We all have our own priors and believe that the way we present issues is fair. But the BBC establishment is always likely to be hostile to markets, and by extension to the Conservative Party, when its sole source of funding is a government-guaranteed television tax. As a creature of the state, it might be expected to have a bias in favour of the state and to attract journalists who are naturally sympathetic towards big government.

This should change. The Government is considering decriminalising the licence fee. But in truth, licence fee funding should end full stop. Some have put forward proposals to privatise the BBC on a fully commercial, shareholder-owned model. That would have some merits. However, we have seen in other countries how such a structure can detract from media plurality and, in fact, such organisations can become the target of wealthy aspirant politicians who take over large commercial broadcasters and tie them back into the political process.

Companies do not have to be shareholder-owned. Other models of ownership and corporate governance have a great history in British commercial life. Worker co-operatives (such as John Lewis) and mutual associations all have their place in the rich tapestry of a market economy.

Different forms of corporate governance work well in different situations. So, why not turn the BBC into a subscriber-owned mutual and create a genuine people’s broadcaster? We should end the TV licence within the next two years and allow people to receive television signals for other channels without a licence. BBC television would be encrypted and only available to subscribers. Every subscriber would become a part owner of the BBC. No doubt, most people would still subscribe. But the increasing number of people who are turning away from the BBC should not be required to pay for it.

Full post
3) Ross Clark: Boris Is Right -- It’s Time To Scrap The BBC Licence Fee
Ross Clark, The Spectator, 9 December 2019

Has Boris decided this election is in the bag? I ask because this afternoon he’s made just about the first bold policy announcement of the campaign. After a safety-first manifesto and little other announcements so as not to frighten the horses, he has stuck his neck out and suggested that the TV licence might be on borrowed time. Having said he was under pressure not to make up policy ‘on the hoof’ he went on, well, almost to make a policy on the hoof:

‘You have to ask yourself whether that kind of approach to funding a media organisation still make sense in the long term, given the way other organisations manage to fund themselves’.

How odd that it has taken a Prime Minister, or even a party leader, this long even to contemplate ending the TV licence. Whole tranches of the state have been privatised over the past 40 years, and yet still we have a state broadcasting service that is funded via a hypothecated tax – a system that dates from the days when the technology did not exist to charge for watching an individual TV channel and devised at a time when broadcasting was, in any case, a state monopoly. It ought to be pretty obvious that such an arrangement is bad for competition.

It is as if we were all forced to pay an annual fee to Tesco, in return for which we could help ourselves to all the groceries we liked at no further cost, and we still had to pay Tesco even if we wanted to do our shopping at Sainsbury’s or Asda. What would that do for the market in food? It would quite clearly kill all competition, as well as damage the quality of the food on sale at Tesco.

Yet no government has felt brave enough to make the case for doing away with the TV licence fee. Why? Possibly because they have feared that the BBC has a touch of the NHS about it – it is an institution that the British love, for all its faults. Or maybe they feel – for all they bleat about BBC bias – that deregulation of the broadcasting sector would leave them at the mercy of channels that felt less need to respect impartiality.

Either way, the TV licence is reaching its end – whether political leaders want to preserve it or not. Last year, the number of licences sold fell for the first time, with 37,000 fewer households deciding they need a licence. With masses of entertainment now available on Netflix and other internet-based services, it is not hard to see why many people have come to this conclusion – especially the young, who move quickly between rented accommodation and for whom a property-based licence fee is a huge inconvenience.

The tragedy of the BBC is that it cannot see its own nemesis. It clings to the licence fee like a comfort blanket, refusing to contemplate life on a fully-commercial footing. If it had genuine confidence in the quality of its product it wouldn’t need to worry of course – we would all choose to pay a subscription fee. In contemplating the end of the licence fee, Boris is being kind. The only thing that will save the BBC from a sad, lingering death is if a commercial charging structure is forced on it.

4) Yes, Prime Minister: Sir Antony Jay Calls For The BBC To Be Cut Down To Size
GWPF, 16 December 2019

8 years ago, the late Sir Antony Jay, co-creator of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minster, attacked the BBC for its blatant bias on climate change and called for the licence fee and the BBC itself to be cut down to size. The time has come for Boris to follow through.

Sir Jay Antony's foreword to Christopher Booker’s The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has a duty of impartiality, as we all know. But what exactly does ‘impartiality’ mean? If it simply means giving equal time to Labour and Conservative politicians on matters of party contention, the BBC fulfils its duty fairly well. But if it means not having, or at least never revealing, any views of its own on any subject of public debate, well, that is quite another matter.

Anyone familiar with large organisations knows that over the years they develop and perpetuate their own ethos, their own value system, their own corporate beliefs and standards. The police, the Army, the National Health Service, the Civil Service – they all subscribe to their own central orthodoxy, even if not every member accepts every item of it. Connoisseurs of Whitehall are aware that different Ministries have different and even conflicting attitudes – the conservatism of the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry contrasts with the liberalism of the Departments of Education, Health and Social Services and the Department of Environment, though they are united in their belief in a large and well remunerated Civil Service. Those at the top of the tree are the custodians of corporate orthodoxy; they recruit applicants in their own image, and the applicants are steadily indoctrinated with the organisation’s principles and practices. Heretics tend to leave fairly early in their careers.

It would be astonishing if the BBC did not have its own orthodoxy. It has been around for 85 years, recruiting bright graduates, mostly with arts degrees, and deeply involved in current affairs issues and news reporting. And of course for all that time it has been supported by public money. One result of this has been an implicit belief in government funding and government regulation. Another is a remarkable lack of interest in industry and a deep hostility to business and commerce.

At this point I have to declare an interest, or at least admit to previous. I joined BBC television, my first job after university and National Service, in 1955, six months before the start of commercial television, and stayed for nine years as trainee, producer, editor and finally head of a production department.

I absorbed and expressed all the accepted BBC attitudes: hostility to, or at least suspicion of, America, monarchy, government, capitalism, empire, banking and the defence establishment, and in favour of the Health Service, state welfare, the social sciences, the environment and state education. But perhaps our most powerful antagonism was directed at advertising. This is not surprising; commercial television was the biggest threat the BBC had ever had to face. The idea that television should be financed by businessmen promoting their products for profit created in us an almost spiritual revulsion.

And when our colleagues, who we had thought were good BBC men, left to join commercial broadcasters, they became pariahs. We could hardly bring ourselves to speak to them again. They had not just gone to join a rival company; they had sinned against the true faith, they were traitors, deserters, heretics.

This deep hostility to people and organisations who made and sold things was not of course exclusive to the BBC. It permeated a lot of upper middle class English society (and has not vanished yet). But it was wider and deeper in the BBC than anywhere else, and it is still very much a part of the BBC ethos. Very few of the BBC producers and executives have any real experience of the business world, and as so often happens, this ignorance, far from giving rise to doubt, increases their certainty.

We were masters of the techniques of promoting our point of view under the cloak of impartiality. The simplest was to hold a discussion between a fluent and persuasive proponent of the view you favoured, and a humourless bigot representing the other side. With a big story, like shale gas for example, you would choose the aspect where your case was strongest: the dangers of subsidence and water pollution, say, rather than the transformation of Britain’s energy supplies and the abandonment of wind farms and nuclear power stations. And you could have a ‘balanced’ summary with the view you favoured coming last: not “the opposition claim that this will just make the rich richer, but the government point out that it will create 10,000 new jobs” but “the government claim it will create 10,000 new jobs, but the opposition point out that it will just make the rich richer.” It is the last thought that stays in the mind. It is curiously satisfying to find all these techniques still being regularly used forty seven years after I left the BBC.

The issue of man-made global warming could have been designed for the BBC. On the one side are the industrialists, the businessmen, the giant corporations and the bankers (or at least those who are not receiving generous grants, subsidies and contracts from their government for climate-related projects such as wind farms or electric cars), on the other the environmentalists, the opponents of commercial expansion and industrial growth. Guessing which side the BBC will be on is a no-brainer, but no one has documented it in such meticulous detail as Christopher Booker. His case is unanswerable. The costs to Britain of trying to combat global warming are horrifying, and the BBC’s role in promoting the alarmist cause is, quite simply, shameful.

So what do we do about the BBC? One course of action that would be doomed from the start is to try and change its ethos, its social attitudes and its political slant. They have been unchanged for over half a century and just about all the influential and creative people involved in political programme commissioning and production are thoroughly indoctrinated. So do we abolish the BBC? After all, we do not have any newspapers or magazines that are subsidised with nearly four billion pounds of taxpayers’ money; why should broadcasting be different? If broadcasting were to start now, with all the benefits of cable and satellite technology, I cannot see anyone suggesting a system devised for the era of restricted wavelengths in which the BBC was born in the 1920s.

Of course no government would actually face up to the problem of privatising the BBC. And there are strong arguments for keeping it: some of its production units are among the best in the world. There is also a case for leaving its news and current affairs operation alone; it may have a built-in liberal/statist bias, but there are lots of other news channels which are commercially funded, so there is no great damage done if one of them is run by the middle class liberal elite.

No, what really needs changing is the size of the BBC. All we need from it is one television channel and one speech radio station – Radio 4, in effect. All its other mass of activities – publishing, websites, orchestras, digital channels, music and local radio stations – could be disposed of without any noticeable loss to the cultural life of the country, and the licence fee could probably be cut by two-thirds.

Could it happen? As the economic squeeze tightens, the case for a drastic slimming down of the BBC gets stronger every day. Cash-strapped households might be glad of the extra £100 a year, even at the expense of repeats, movies, imported programmes, quiz show and panel games – not to mention the sporting events we would see on other channels if the BBC hadn’t outbid them – that the BBC currently uses to fill out its schedules. But in some ways, the strongest case of all is made by Christopher Booker: if the BBC is to be paid to propagate the opinions of a liberal elite minority, it should not be allowed to dominate the national airwaves as it does today. Its voice should be heard, but it should not be allowed to drown out the others.

Sir Antony Jay
December 2011


This text was published in 2011 as foreword to Christopher Booker’s GWPF report The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal (pdf)
5) Greta Thunberg And Charles Moore Among BBC Today's Christmas Guest Editors
Press Gazette, 26 November 2019

Teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg is among those lined up to guest edit the Radio 4 Today programme over the festive period.

The 16-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee will speak to leading climate change figures and frontline activists.

She has commissioned reports from the Antarctic and Zambia and an interview by Today presenter Mishal Husain with Bank of England governor Mark Carney for her programme.

The tradition of guest editors at the Today programme during the week between Christmas and New Year has lasted 16 years.

Former Daily Telegraph Charles Moore, a long-time vocal critic of the BBC, will take charge of a programme for a special edition on freedom of expression.

Rounding out the line-up for 26 to 31 December will be rapper George the Poet, artist Grayson Perry, and Supreme Court president Baroness Hale.

The guest editors will all be interviewed themselves during their programmes and they will have the support of Today’s usual producers, reporters and editors.

Full post

6) The Energy-Cost Campaign That Helped The Tories To Win Over Labour Seats
The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 2019

The Conservatives targeted voters in the country’s most marginal seats with tailored Facebook and Instagram advertisements featuring warnings about how a Labour government would increase the cost of petrol and heating and hike inheritance tax.

A Telegraph audit of the Tories’ digital offensive reveals a highly targeted operation aimed at key seats the party was attending to defend, and those it hoped to gain from Labour.

A final Facebook assault launched last weekend included advertisements warning that Labour’s plans would put petrol up by 16p, heating bills up by £65 and cost households over £325,000 in inheritance tax. […]

The Conservatives also spent significant amounts on targeting videos at traditional Labour voters in an attempt to persuade them to overcome their allegiances.

Full story

7) And Finally: Another UN Climate Talk Fest Flops Over Climate $$$$$Billions
Associated Press, 15 December 2019

Marathon international climate talks in Spain have ended with negotiators postponing a key decision on global carbon markets.

This was despite organisers adding two more days to the 12 days of scheduled talks in Madrid.

In the end, delegates from almost 200 nations endorsed a declaration to help poor countries that are suffering the effects of climate change, although they did not allocate any new funds to do so.

The final declaration called on the “urgent need” to cut greenhouse gases in line with the goals of the landmark 2015 Paris climate change accord.

That fell far short of promising to enhance countries’ pledges to cut greenhouse gases next year, which developing countries and environmentalists had lobbied the delegates to achieve….

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said he was “disappointed” by the meeting’s outcome.

“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis,” he said.

“We must not give up and I will not give up.”

“It’s sad that we couldn’t reach a final agreement” on carbon markets, admitted the climate summit’s chairwoman, Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister.

“We were on the verge,” she said, adding the goal was to establish markets that are “robust and environmentally sustainable”.

The carbon market failure did not upset everyone., with some saying no deal on how to govern the exchange of carbon credits was better than a weak one that could undermine a dozen or so existing regional carbon mechanisms.

Full story

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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