Wednesday 14 March 2012

BBC going privater and privater...

The BBC is a state owned institution but is not run directly by the state. We pay for it by a poll tax, the licence.

Over the last thirty years the degree to which this was a totally public enterprise has shifted. Production was 'opened up' to 'independent' suppliers and of course a good deal of the internal services - canteens and the like were put out to tender. At various points since the 60s outfits like Kinsey have come in to do 'cost benefit analysis' and famously under the Birt regime, a system of internal accounting was brought in which meant that each and every programme and service within the BBC had to be budgeted. Greg Dyke racked some of that back.

The BBC (or the Ministry responsible for it) has been under constant pressure from other 'media suppliers' - most famously the Murdoch empire - to get out of certain areas of production and/or to do less and/or to be 'open to competition'. Put another way, big players in the media world are regularly massively irritated by the fact that a state owned institution has the clout and skill to operate in what they think should be their patch. This is all about what they see as their 'market' ie us and our viewing/consuming time.

The fib here is that commercially owned media are 'free' and the BBC costs us. This is rubbish. Commercially owned media is paid for by companies selling advertising. Companies can only sell advertising if they are making profits themselves. Profits come from the work of those who work for those companies. So, in a sense commercial TV is paid for by the workers in each of the companies whose ads we see in their media. So there's nothing 'free' about it.

Meanwhile, the BBC has slowly but surely been asked to 'free up' sections of its production. In the past few years, those of us who work in the media as freelancers have got used to flogging our wares both for the BBC and for independent 'suppliers' selling their stuff into the BBC. Intriguingly, we have often found that the people we're dealing with are often ex-BBC or people trained by the BBC - a situation rather akin to NHS private practitioners. Even more intriguingly, we are beginning to find that some independent suppliers aren't really independent at all. They are offered longterm contracts which in effect mean that they are monopoly suppliers for that period of time. However, because they are in the 'media market' they can also flog their wares anywhere in media land.

So we now have situations where outfits which are more or less monopoly suppliers - even in some cases actually living inside BBC premises paying the BBC rent - selling stuff to the BBC, selling stuff to outside suppliers and at this stage in the game, staffed largely by people who are ex-BBC employees.

Is there any point to all of this? Is it a new status quo? Or is it a slicing up ready for the real privatisation which will happen if the Tories get a second term? And is this in turn an indicator of what is happening elsewhere in what is left of the welfare state? Hospitals, schools, social services?

As I wrote the other day, this surely requires MPs to be privatised soon, too...