Not defending the BBC, not this time anyway

2:04 pm - November 14th 2008

by DonaldS    

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It’s a commonplace on this site that one should “defend” the BBC from unceasing, unsubtle and rather tiresome attacks from trenchant right-wingers. Very little written about the organization by either the Daily Mail, or any of its apers on the Web, has any merit. That’s true. The Beeb is worth defending: there’s something enriching about our ad-free broadcaster. Something that serves the public, that stands above the commercial white noise of modern television. Of course, the organization isn’t entirely non-commercial: BBC Worldwide makes decent profits that, at least nominally, feed back into UK public service broadcasting. So far, so uncontroversial. However, BBC Worldwide’s 2007 acquisition of travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet did raise objections, notably from rivals like Rough Guides (owned by Penguin/Pearson) and TimeOut (whose books are published by Random House/Bertelsmann):

Time Out founder Tony Elliott says he fears that the BBC will provide Lonely Planet with “an inexhaustible fund of factual, technical and editorial information and expertise quite beyond the resources of any privately funded organisation such as Time Out”.

Complaints along these lines haven’t gone away. This week Lyn Hughes, publisher of Wanderlust, accused the BBC of deliberately targeting her long-running, independent travel magazine, undercutting ad rates and planning a launch issue of Lonely Planet Magazine to coincide with Wanderlust’s 100th:

I would question why any travel magazine would be launching at this time. Our advertisers are finding it tough. … No other magazine publisher would be launching a travel magazine at this time. They’d be completely daft. … Why is the BBC launching one at the worst possible time? I can only think they’re smug. They don’t need to make money.

She’s right at least on the emboldened point. The predictable consensus at this year’s World Travel Market, which ended yesterday, was that 2009 would be tough for the business. No sane publisher would launch a print travel mag right now. But as its 2007/8 results showed, the BBC can afford to buy increased top-line magazine sales in return for decreased profits. Further, the recently relaunched (and rather lovely) Lonely Planet website is very much a commercial concern, with click-through sales, destination advertising, custom-publishing client solutions and plenty else on offer. They announced plans yesterday to pay amateur travel bloggers for content, from February 2009, on a revenue-sharing basis using Google AdWords. There’s no doubt, surely, that BBC experience in running the world’s best news website has given LP an edge here. (Three BBC online experts were sent to LP’s Melbourne HQ immediately after the acquisition.) So, expertise gained at our expense is being used to give LP a competitive edge in the domestic market. This is the very essence of distorting that market, and dangerous territory for the BBC. So, who is it that wants to “privatize” the BBC now? Cameron and the Conservatives? Or the BBC itself? Our state-funded monolith has the freedom, via its effective sub-brand Lonely Planet, to also operate as a 100% commercial entity in the UK. Not only can’t that be right; it ultimately can’t be good for the BBC.

Also published here.


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About the author
Donald is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a travel journalist, editor, author and copywriter. In the wake of the 2005 General Election, he co-founded and edited The Sharpener for a couple of years. He writes the occasional book or newspaper article for money, as well as sharing his thoughts here for free. Also at: hackneye
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Reader comments

Good grief – another perfectly sensible piece yet whose author can’t resist starting with an attack on the Daily Mail.

The licence fee will have gone within 10 years.

Not only can’t that be right

Right? It is legal.

Plenty of charities (and even Churches) have commercial arms. It’s a case of what happens to that money. If the BBC make tons of money and then plow it back into their public service remit than I can’t see the problem….

You can offer no logical, moral or economic justification for the licence fee and a State broadcaster. So we are being “enriched” are we? Where have I heard taht tired excuse before?

The point is the whole thing is funding by a ghastly, anachronistic poll tax which no other country in the world is daft enough to have. I’m sorry, but it is not good enough to point to some vague floaty ‘enriching’ nature the BBC has. For heavens sake, you can get a criminal record for not paying their license fee! Thats not very ‘enriching’, is it! And they don’t stop pursuing you even if you don’t have a TV.

Make it a subscription-based service, it would still produce good programmes. But stop this ridiculous paternalism that is prepared to criminalise people (and create layers of intrusive surveillance) to the supposed end of producing quality television. Again: it is worthy of Kafka that people can get sent to prison for watching television. When the license fee is finally revoked people will start to see how utterly ridiculous this state of affairs has been.

You can offer no logical, moral or economic justification for the licence fee and a State broadcaster.

No offence, but the post is not – nor should the comments be – addressing that. I fancy the talented bloggers here could do that subject justice if they desired. One day soon, perhaps, we’ll deal with the subject directly, but please let’s not hijack another post about a specific aspect of the BBC operation with generalist attacks. For once at least.

The more interesting question is not whether the BBC are distorting a tiny market but whether this acquisition distorts the BBC.

I noticed that when I was in the US, the bbc website front page contained commercial advertising. Now I’m back in the UK it doesn’t seem to. Can anyone confirm this?

Tim F,

When in Tallinn, I observe that the BBC does carry adverts.

Not sure how this is a problem, mind. Brits pay the license fee. Why shouldn’t non-payers contribute to the service by suffering ads?

Tim F – yeah same with me while I was in the US. I believe that is the BBC Worldwide arm.

I actually think what the BBC is doing here is trying to gear up for a time when it has to become self-sustaining or that the license fee is drastically cut.

I think the problem, as Donald points out, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They start distorting the market and generating a certain amount of negative publicity – further undermining support. It gets to a point where public opinion moves against it and it becomes part-privatised… except now the BBC uses the low revenue argument to cut what we see as essential public service programmes.

> The more interesting question is not whether the BBC are distorting a tiny market…

Which “tiny market” are you talking about? The BBC have acquired the #1 player in a market worth north of £100m annually, in UK retail books alone. Never mind all the corporate custom content sales, website click-through revenue, the recent deal with Nokia, and so on. And that also doesn’t include the market the Beeb is launching “Lonely Planet Magazine” into.

> I can’t see the problem….

What, even if businesses that are currently (and have been for ages, cf. Wanderlust) put at a disadvantage by the presence of the BBC here? Or even if one of them goes out of business? Is this what we publicly fund the BBC for? The BBC is designed to enrich the mix of media available to us, not to engulf chunks of it. And what exactly has the acquisition of LP got to do with Public Service Broadcasting anyway? This is the kind of thing the Tories will latch onto to implement their agenda for the BBC.

> It is legal.

Well, the BBC Charter and Agreement is quite clear:

The Agreement requires all commercial activities undertaken by the BBC to comply with four criteria. …

4. comply with BBC fair trading guidelines and in particular avoid distorting the market.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the DCMS, currently in Parliamentary Committee re the BBC’s commercial operations, has something to say about the LP deal. I can’t see how it meets the 4th criterion.

Sunny, I think you’re probably right about the BBC’s intentions. That concerns me because I think the licence fee is the least worst of a number of imperfect ways of funding what I see as a crucial public service.

I am very uneasy about the BBC accepting any form of advertising. Of course the BBC isn’t impartial – it has it’s own institutional biases (although all the Tories who think it’s pro-Labour are daft). The strength of the BBC is not its impartiality, it’s its independence. From state and from corporations.

Sorry, just saw Sunny #8.

> I actually think what the BBC is doing here is trying to gear up for a time when it has to become self-sustaining or that the license fee is drastically cut. … it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They start distorting the market and generating a certain amount of negative publicity – further undermining support.

Yes, what Sunny said, too. I’m pro-BBC, all the way; but any defence of it has to recognize that it’s now doing stuff that’s way beyond the kind of things it ought to be. I’m all for BBC Worldwide running ads for overseas readers, or selling Bob The Builder to 176 different countries or whatever. But chewing up bits of the UK publishing industry, trying to have its cake and eat it here in the UK, is just a Very Bad Idea.

DonaldS – point taken, but it’s not as if the BBC have bought out Tescos. And I wasn’t actually meaning to criticise your article – you address both questions; I was just saying which one concerned me more.

We shouldn’t see all this stuff as entirely new, though. What about the competition between Radio Times and TV Times? Or the competition between BBC Music magazine, and Classic FM’s equivalent? (in both cases the beeb’s equivalent is better, though my music magazines of choice are Gramophone and Terrorizer).

that was in response to DonaldS #9

No worries, timf, but given that the Beeb have always been in the business of 1. knowing TV listings and 2. playing music, the PSB synergy in your 2 examples is obvious. They weren’t in the destination information or travel guide business until October last year.

The BBC is a great British institution like the Health service, that will only really be appreciated once it is gone. The knuckle dragging , frothing at the mouth right wing wants to destroy both and probably will in time. A great shame.

Donald – I think its probably worth keeping up the pressure on this regard and more regularly blogging about what the BBC is doing in the travel sector.

I think this current piece of strategy (to try and diversify in preparation for the future) plays into Tory hands. It will get to a point where the argument to sustain the license fee will be difficult and it will become de-facto privatised.

To that extent, to protect the Beeb we have to raise our voice against this sort of market distortion and muscling into areas the BBC should not be. If you could keep saying more about this as time goes on, that would be great.

It’s not true that no other country has a similar system. Italy has had a subscription system since Mussolini’s time and the “canone” is due every January. What’s more RAI (the Italian state television network) not only reaps the benefit of the “canone” but is also allowed to run as many adverts as it wishes – often ad nauseam. Sally is right to say that we’ll only miss it when its gone. BBC has never been as dire as RAI nor Berlusconi’s many private channels. When any of you are next on holiday in Italy just switch the telly on in your hotel room and you’ll soon get the point.
Incidentally, if the TV licence controllers in Italy come to your door you are legally not obliged to let them into your private home unless they have a Magistrate’s warrant but not many people are aware of this right.

How can the BBC be independent from the State? Its owned and controlled by the State. Its links to the Labour Party are well documented. It controls some 50% of UK broadcasting, by taxing rich and poor the same amount for owning a television and by threat of imprisonment. This is thoroughly illiberal. The fact that most of you support the current system, unsurprisingly, shows you are just plastic liberals. Liberalism to you is just a theme to hijack.

“its a great institution” Yeah, just like the hereditary House of Lords and foxhunting.

As for maintaining high standards, so what if they decline. Its pretentious and patronising to suggest your cultural preferences are more important than those of others.


“Its links to the Labour Party are well documented. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Nobody gives a flying fuck what you have to say troll.

Sally Chavscum there was entirely lucid .If by no-body you mean no-one in a coterie iof parochial nobodies picking fleas of eachtoher you have a point . Otherwise the BBC is a recognised farce and its links with the Labour Party are indeed well documented. Would you like me to teach you a lesson on the subject or would you prefer to keep your ignorance to yourself ?

Up to you dear

>Chavscum there was entirely lucid .If by no-body you mean…

Perhaps just those of us exposed to chavscum popping out from under her/his bridge with such predictibility in posts mentioning tories/bbc/etc. At least you make me smile (sometimes) Newmania with a veneer of wit with your trolls, although I’ve noticed that you both usually pop out in tandem on the same subjects with tedious regularity. Are you by some chance related?

Chavscum needs to go back to troll-skool at the very least. 2/10 for efftiveness

Wot sally said, in shedloads. Oh for a kill list…


Mr. Gruff during the 90s a cultural fissure was opened between the Conservative Party and the country which the entire effort of David Cameron has been directed at closing . That work is incomplete and , it is forgotten , we did not expect to be in a position to win the next election . I am far from certain that a longer period of rapprochement would not be preferable myself, but the engine of this triumph of the privileged baby boomer elite Liberal Conspiracy was the BBC.
It was during this period that Polly Toynbee was the editor of social affairs and attitudes were informed almost exclusively by Guardian journalists and those who either worked for or went on to work for the Labour Party. If you would like details I will supply them
That Conservatives were taxed and forced to assist in bringing about this catastrophe should never be forgiven or forgotten. It will not be and when there is next a Conservative administration the BBC are well aware that there is one scalp above all others that the Party will demand ; theirs. It is , if you like , our fox hunting . In fact their output now is far less biased but its too late for that now.

Yup, notorious Labour stooges like Jeff Randall and Andrew Gilligan…

“it’s our foxhunting”

The trouble for you is, the public like the bbc but they don’t like foxhunting.

They also like the death penalty

Imagine that this was News Corporation, rather than the BBC, that was being talked about. Would you all then be so supportive of its efforts? Imagine that it was Rupert Murdock that had just bought the company that was already the biggest player in the travel market and was deliberately targeting a long-running, independent travel magazine, undercutting ad rates and planning a launch issue to coincide with their 100th. The same arguments apply.

@ 25: they used to, now it’s down to 50/50 support/oppose (slightly higher when there’s an unusually horrible murder all over the press, slightly lower when someone innocent gets let out). Hopefully the trend’ll continue in that direction.

the BBC also has well documented links with the Conservative party and in fact all parties, as should be naturally expected of any nationally-sponsored organisation and all reputable news organisations.

Now, if your complaint is that the relative balance/bias of the corporation isn’t in-keeping with your own prejudices you can always apply to be the next chairman, start a non-payment protest and see where that gets you or simply get rid of your TV, but your lobbying is clearly politically motivated and is sufficiently answered on a daily basis by the ability of your favoured party to have something sufficiently relevant to say on each topic to get into the reports.

If you are not prepared to take any of the above mentioned courses then everything you have to say on the topic is empty of any substantive content.

You are the weakest link. Goodbye.

The public hate Europe , loathe current immigration levels , like the death penalty and I agree on all three. If they liked the BBC in any real, sense the licence fee could be voluntary, we all know what would happen then so the truth is they do not like the BBC. Why I should have to either throw out my TV or dedicate my like to its extermination in order to have an opinion on the state lie machine is a mystery only adepts of the dimography like Thomas can divine . Thomas , tell me , do you think they are laughing with you ?

As I said the real period of extreme bias was in the late 90s . Recently realising it might face retribution they have tried to clean up .Too late. After 1997 there was spate of defections form the BBC directly to the government .Lance Price joined the No.10 Press Office Martin Sixsmith worked as a Government Press Officer , Tom Kelly ( Head of News N Ireland ) joined the No. 10 Press office . Ed Richards ( head of Strategy) went to work for Gordon Brown . Bill Bush head of political research joined a research unit at No.10 as did Catherine Rimmer his colleague .John Birt obviously takes the Labour whip in the Lords .Don Brind (BBC Political correspondent ) went to the Labour Party Press Office ,. Sarah Hunter ( BBC Policy Directorate ) joined Downing Street . Joy Johnson BBC New Editor at Westminster went to Labours Press Office .Ben Bradshaw I expect you know ( World this Weekend ). Chris Bryant . James Purnell ,( come on down you former head of BBC cooperate Planning )Other notables , Jill Tweedie Polly Toynbee staggeringly Social affairs editor for years Rawnsley Marr, Naughtie all left leaning progressives
There is nothing comparable by way of links with the Conservative Party and there could not be because these famous examples are only the tip of the political correctness iceberg. Now what I want to know is this . How can anyone calling themselves a Liberal possibly support a Poll tax warping the media in any direction . How do you fancy being taxed to fund the Daily Mail , Simon Heffer being Editor of Social Affairs or Peter Hitchens conducting the set piece interviews funded by their cash?

That is what we have had to put up with for years and understandably there is an account to settle ./ Thats all.

We have a very interesting situation here don’t we? The BBC is constantly criticised for being poor value, or a waste of money…and it’s things like this that enable it to remain at the value it currently is. Let’s face it, the BBC needs real commercial opportunities and investments to stay viable…if it doesn’t then the License fee is going to increase at a much greater rate than by inflation.

By doing this sort of thing it protects the BBC from its critics, as it provides a self sustaining subsidy to the rest of their output, and I can certainly understand why we would be against this, but I can’t for a second understand why those already against the BBC would be willing to use this as an argument, either for wasting our money (it’s the opposite) or for abolishing the License Fee (which this doesn’t increase, but decreases in comparison to value of output).

Newmania, their own personal political allegiances are irrelevant as long as they produce impartial reporting. We could of course bring up some others who have worked for the BBC who are not left-wing or liberal: Andrew Neil, Jeff Randall, Nick Robinson (Tory in his university days, for goodness sake), and doubtless other examples. Comparing the BBC to the Daily Mail is utterly ridiculous.

Septicisle: the point isn’t supposed to be that lying that the Beeb is Labour-biased is correct: the point is that it’ll fire up twunts like Newmania to vote against it.

And actually, the ban on fox-hunting is a very good comparison: it’s a ridiculous invasion of liberty, done for entirely stupid reasons, by fuckwits who thought that class war was more important than any kind of serious principle.

[no, seriously: vegans have the right to oppose foxhunting; for anyone else, it’s less horrible than even the life of a milk cow, nevermind animals that actually get slaughtered].

33. jezza clarkson

Newmania, if you’re so good why can’t you spell your own name?

I can understand why you loathe intelligent public-sector broadcasting and want to replace it with a British Fox News. You feel intimidated by people cleverer than yourself, don’t you?

Sceptic Isle

There are not countless others ;you assume I will not know better but I do. I could go on and on with formal links but that is not the main problem . The problem is the background assumptions in its drama , its web site and its editorial Policy. Take the traitorous EU Constitution that the elite have been trying to sell us out with ..In 2004 Tony Blair announced we would have a national referendum having previously argued that it was a tidying up exercise . Such lies are still current . During this period there were detailed studies by Minotaur media tracking that showed a 70% to 30% bias in favour of defending New Labour`s plot ( A U Turn on the referendum at that time ). Furthermore the sceptic coverage was represented by UKIP{ not the Conservative Party) so as to put the Government in a position of opposing complete withdrawal .
Minotaur examined 2000 hours of BBC coverage and concluded there was
1 An overall bias towards Eurpohile speakers of 2 to 1
2 An untoward emphasis on Conservative divisions
3 An under representation of Labour sceptics
4 No analysis of renegotiation
Poor journalistic standards where erroneous information favourable to the Europhile position went unchallenged

The Wilson report that emerged in 2005 complained about institutional bias …cultural and unintentional bias . Personally I feel it has often gone along way beyond that but this all pervasive anti Conservative culture is the fertile soil from which the weeds grow. I would argue that by not admitting to its point of view the BBC is more insidiously biased than the Daily Mail at times it has been demonstrably as politically off centre. Polly Toynbee Social Affairs Editor , for Christ’s sake could it be any worse ?

John B – No if Fox hunters collected a tax from you to finance their hunting it or if they represented a capture by a cultural power elite of the media it would be a good comparison. Clown
Jezza – As you are an infantile fuckwit the question does not arise .

Rule of thumb: anyone who says things like “traitorous EU constitution” is stark raving mad and can safely be ignored. End of.

Has it occurred to you that, very shortly, it might need to?

Rule of thumb: anyone who says things like “traitorous EU constitution” is stark raving mad and can safely be ignored. End of.

Does anyone say ‘End of ‘ other than perhaps a preening faggot bitching about who gets the jewellery ? I will only point out that the people who said that the Common Market was no such think and would be used to impose the rule of New Super-state on us were also derided and fruit cakes and so on by the Establishment. Most of these were of the left at time actually and they have , of course been proved right .

Well done Newmania. You have comprehensively defeated the so-called liberals on this subject.

“they have , of course been proved right .”

If you believe that we’ve had the rule of a new superstate imposed on us, then yes. Unfortunately, if you believe that then you’re completely and utterly mad. This, I think, may be where your argument falls down.

Funny I did not notice the referendum which was lied through precisely because my ‘insanity’ is shared by the majority. I wonder at what point will it occurr to you that everyone else may be sane ….scary

The majority of people believe we’re ruled by a New Super State? Got a poll to confirm that…?

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. DonaldS

    @GeorgeHopkin The brief to-and-fro inspired a blog post:

  2. DonaldS

    w/o URL typo: New piece from me at LiberalConspiracy: BBC vs. Lonely Planet vs. (sort-of) David Cameron (ta @GeorgeHopkin)

  3. DonaldS

    @GeorgeHopkin The brief to-and-fro inspired a blog post:

  4. DonaldS

    w/o URL typo: New piece from me at LiberalConspiracy: BBC vs. Lonely Planet vs. (sort-of) David Cameron (ta @GeorgeHopkin)

  5. DonaldS

    Given what I wrote re BBC vs. Lonely Planet, the Trust rejection is right. Assuming local media deliver

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