Apr 132014

A curious article in Today’s Sunday Telegraph by Johnathan Maitland, argued that the BBC should be butchered and broken up so that only the news division remains, and all other content production and services are put out to the private sector. According to Maitland we should “Transfer all in-house radio and TV production – bar news and current affairs – to the independent sector.” Keeping only a “skeleton staff of essential personnel.” Maitland thinks we should pay no more than £20 for this residual service, and that the private sector would be able to innovate as part of a free market in ways that the stuffy-old Beeb cant because of it’s layers of Bureaucracy.

Here’s a more radical alternative. Why not turn the BBC into a network of members co-operatives, each with a local membership based on their existing local radio station profile, that are then federated regionally and nationally. Everyone who pays their licence fee gets a voice at a local level, and the chance to elect representatives at a regional and national level.

The BBC is funded by a tax and yet there is no direct representation. There has been a whole lot of centralisation over recent years, both in the public sector and in the private sector, that has diminished the independent local identity of our counties, towns, cities and regions. The programmes and services that the BBC offers are subject to the market forces that drives global media in the same way that Amazon and Netflix are hammering home with their on-demand programming.

The sorry state of BBC Local Radio and Television, however, with it’s generic programming, limited involvement of the public and standardised marketing, means that it’s almost impossible to innovate and provide local service that people actually want, and that are distinctive in this new pluralistic and plentiful media age.

If each individual station was an autonomous members co-op, with the right to withhold part of their funding to the regional and nation networks, then they would have a lot of clout. They could involve people in their local area more directly in programmes and programme making.

The BBC could become the first national media organisation to encourage mass participation in making and producing content. The BBC could become a local media training provider for media, working with colleges and universities to give room for alternative and marginalised voices that are presently excluded at the moment.

We’d have to do away with the Ofcom Broadcasting Regulations, mind. I’m sure that would be a relief given that they are a straightjacket on democratic and civic representation. Instead we’d have to put a system in place that would allow ordinary people to challenge the powerful in their own words and without the threat of legal action or hefty fines being imposed by the censor. With all the knowledge and expertise that the BBC attracts, that shouldn’t be hard to work out how to do it responsibly and ethically though.

So, Jonathan, rather than resorting to the tired-old thinking that only the private sector and the market can sort out the BBC, lets have some genuinely radical thinking and put the decision making power in the hands of the people who pay for it – or don’t you trust them?