Gloves are off in the BBC’s battle for the licence fee

Change and reform at the BBC has been the theme of quite a few recent media reports – including some coming from the BBC itself.

Although it has yet to be approved by the BBC Trust, a proposal has been put forward to close down BBC Three television in the autumn of 2015 and to move its content online.  The future of BBC Four is apparently also up for discussion. 

“BBC Four could be the next television channel to be scrapped, after the corporation confirmed that BBC Three was to become available on the internet only.

Danny Cohen, the director of television, said that he was unable to guarantee the future of BBC Four, the highbrow art and culture channel, as the organisation sought cut costs.

He warned that if the next license fee settlement was not sufficiently generous, the channel could be next in the firing line. He was speaking after the BBC unveiled plans for the youth channel, BBC Three, to be moved online, to save £50 million a year.

Asked on Richard Bacon’s 5Live radio show if he could guarantee the future of BBC Four, Mr Cohen, a former controller of BBC Three, said: “The honest answer to that is ‘No, we can’t say for certain what will happen to BBC Four in the future’.”

He added: “For BBC4, that means if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same route.” “

As The Telegraph points out:

“The comments will be seen in the context of the charter renewal and license negotiations with ministers, due to be completed by the end of 2016.

They serve as a warning to the government and other opinion formers that another settlement considered harsh by the BBC will put other services at risk, including BBC Four – a favourite of the political and chattering classes.”

Concurrently, some MPs are proposing to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee whilst the BBC’s director general recently promoted the idea of extending it to cover BBC iPlayer.

“Hall used a speech at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday to mount a robust defence of the BBC and the licence fee, saying it was “one of the finest broadcasting organisations in the world” and “great value for money” reaching 96% of the population ever [sic] week.

Far from the licence fee being abolished, as some critics have argued, Hall said it should be extended to take account of the different ways in which people consume TV and radio in the digital age, on their computer, iPad or smartphone.”

Seeing as the licence fee is currently obligatory payment for anyone watching television in the UK even if they do not actually view BBC-produced content, Tony Hall’s comments obviously raise the interesting question of whether the same principle would, under his proposal, be applied to owners of computers, tablets or smartphones regardless of whether they in fact access BBC iPlayer or not. 

In its own report on Tony Hall’s proposal to extend the licence fee to BBC iPlayer, the BBC devoted considerable column space to the amplification of a recent report produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

“Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, however, Lord Hall said the “flexible” nature of the licence fee allowed it to adapt over the years to encompass changing patterns of viewers’ behaviour.

His comments come amid renewed calls for the licence fee to be shared with other broadcasters and for it to be cut in response to the BBC’s alleged mismanagement of its financial affairs.

They also coincided with the publication of a new study that claims cutting the BBC licence fee will limit consumer choice and value for money.

The report suggests the BBC would be “reduced to a minor sideshow” if so-called “salami-slicing” continues.

Without BBC television, it claims, most viewers would “have a greatly reduced choice of programmes they wanted to watch”.

The report, by Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, is entitled What If There Were No BBC Television?: The Net Impact on UK Viewers.

Its authors, the academics Patrick Barwise and Robert G Picard, say that without BBC TV there would be less revenue in the TV industry and as much as 25% less investment in content.

The latter, they write, would be “a severe blow to British production companies” of the kind that generate “first-run UK content”.

The report assumes that commercial broadcasters would increase their investment in content if they were no longer “crowded out” by the BBC.

Despite this, it insists there will be less overall investment – and that most UK households would “suffer detriment”.

It says they would either be “paying slightly more for slightly less choice” than they currently do with the licence fee, or “paying slightly less for much less choice”.

“The onus should now be on those arguing for a smaller BBC to provide some kind of evidence and argument about why they believe it would lead to a better outcome for the UK public,” the report continues.”

However, this BBC article neglected to inform readers that the organisation which produced the seemingly objective, academic report on “the net impact” of potential changes to the BBC – the Oxford University-based ‘Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’ – was, according to its 2012/13 report (see page 51), a recipient of funding  from the BBC College of Journalism, BBC Global News, BBC Media Action and the BBC Trust and that its advisory board (which, inter alia, gives “advice and guidance on general research directions”) is chaired by Chris Patten, who is also of course the Chancellor of Oxford University and chairman of the BBC Trust.

Clearly the gloves are off in the BBC’s battle to keep – and even extend – the licence fee, but it will be interesting to see whether the funds provided by BBC licence fee payers will also be used to enable them to read, watch or hear alternative views on the subject and how the BBC will handle the rather glaring conflict of interests when it comes to reporting the debate surrounding its own funding. 

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BBC says target audience of comedy show stereotyping Israelis is “16–24 age group”

Readers may recall that back in December a commissioned programme called ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ – broadcast on BBC Three – engaged in crude national stereotyping of Israelis as ‘expansionist’.

In the introductory segment of the show it was stated that:

“A report commissioned by the UN say [sic] that the Israeli construction of settlements into the West Bank is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” expansion end

And:

“You’ve got to wonder just when will this expansion end.”

At least one viewer who complained to the BBC about the programme has received a reply from BBC Complaints which claims, inter alia, that:

“This is the second series of this show and we think regular viewers will be aware of the premise and the comedic style. Whilst the programme is designed to entertain, it also attempts to inform its audience (predominantly the 16-24 age group) about political, social and economic issues that have a public interest.” [emphasis added]

Presumably then we can await a future episode in which those sixteen to twenty-four year-olds will be informed about the persistent and pernicious institutional anti-Israel bias which taints the United Nations.

Now that would be a revolution worth televising. 

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Crude stereotyping of ‘expansionist’ Israelis in BBC 3 comedy show

Israeli media pick up on BBC 3′s crude national stereotyping

Israeli media pick up on BBC 3’s crude national stereotyping

As regular readers of BBC Watch will be aware, a couple of weeks ago we drew attention to an episode of a BBC 3 programme titled ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ in which actors posed as planners for the Israeli Embassy in London in a segment promoted with the blurb “The Israeli Embassy is expanding, no planning permission required”. TRWBT clip

As we noted at the time:

“Like humour itself, the perception of something as being offensive or not is very much a matter of personal taste. Certainly in this case, it is safe to assume that the BBC can cite “audience expectations” (whatever those are and however they are measured) as justification for this crude national stereotyping of Israelis because, after all, the BBC has put much effort into creating and promoting just such a stereotype in its news and current affairs content for years, meaning that British audiences are highly unlikely to develop any alternative, more realistic, “expectations”. “

That story has now been picked up by the Times of Israel, featured in Channel 10’s late night news programme on January 2nd and is the subject of additional comment on other media platforms and social media. 

Crude stereotyping of ‘expansionist’ Israelis in BBC 3 comedy show

h/t J

A BBC Three comedy show called ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ (made by Hat Trick Productions) is described on the BBC website as a:

“Series bringing corruption, greed and hypocrisy to the fore. Politicians, multinationals and tax-shy corporations who have been taking the public for a ride for years are now on the receiving end.”

Apparently having run out of “politicians, multinationals and tax-shy corporations”, episode 6 of season two of the programme (available here in the UK only on BBC iPlayer), which was broadcast on December 15th and 19th, turned to other subject matter.

TRWBT clip

The segment billed in the programme blurb as “The Israeli Embassy is expanding, no planning permission required” opens with an animated sequence which suggests bringing up “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” at dinner parties, adding:

“It’s guaranteed to cause an argument, especially if you’re at a Bar Mitzva”.

Bar Mitzva

And no: we have no idea what those lunging pitchforks are doing in that animation supposedly representing a Bar Mitzva either. Against a background of highly misleading maps, the narration continues:

“A report commissioned by the UN say [sic] that the Israeli construction of settlements into the West Bank is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Israeli expansion

construction of settlements 1

construction of settlements 2

The narrator concludes:

“You’ve got to wonder just when will this expansion end.”

expansion end

The item then cuts to a filmed sequence in which the actors Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubinstein, posing as planners on behalf of the Israeli embassy, approach several shopkeepers in a London street.

embassy expansion team

Among the lines used by the actors are the following:

“Hello, is this your shop? I’m sure you’re aware the Israeli embassy is extending. This is where you are here [pointing at plan] and the Israeli embassy is gonna actually extend the whole way over there so they can have a conservatory.”

“Before it was your land it was our land. So we’re really gonna take what’s rightfully ours.”

“Err, well we don’t really need planning. We’ve got a very, very old planning book. It’s about two thousand years old.”

“Without putting too fine a point on it mate, they’re gonna bulldoze your land.”

“Well we generally go with the bulldozers first and letters later.”

“Can you see all those olives you’ve got in the deli display there? They’re ours as well.”

“It’s not like taking someone’s land is a big deal. We’ve been doing it for years. I mean, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t see what you’re talking about ‘proposed’. This is our land as given to us by the Almighty. I’m finding that smile a bit antisemitic, mate, so I think you should really wipe that off your face.”

shop keeper

When the BBC got itself into hot water with the Mexican Ambassador in 2011 over the promotion of negative national stereotypes, it responded:

“We are sorry if we have offended some people, but jokes centred on national stereotyping are a part of Top Gear’s humour, and indeed a robust part of our national humour. Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic; the French being arrogant and the Germans being over organised. When we do it, we are being rude, yes, and mischievous, but there is no vindictiveness behind the comments. […]

In line with that tradition, stereotype based comedy is allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience has clear expectations of that being the case..”

Under the chapter heading “portrayal” the BBC editorial guidelines state:

“Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.”

“When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.”

Like humour itself, the perception of something as being offensive or not is very much a matter of personal taste. Certainly in this case, it is safe to assume that the BBC can cite “audience expectations” (whatever those are and however they are measured) as justification for this crude national stereotyping of Israelis because, after all, the BBC has put much effort into creating and promoting just such a stereotype in its news and current affairs content for years, meaning that British audiences are highly unlikely to develop any alternative, more realistic, “expectations”.