Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part two

In part one of this post we took a look at some examples of the glaring lack of impartiality found in a programme in a series called ‘Y Wal’ (The Wall) produced by the licence fee funded Welsh language channel S4C which is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

In this post we will look at the accuracy of the background information provided to viewers – information which, at least in theory, is supposed to enhance their understanding of the programme’s subject matter and enable them to reach informed opinions.

Just minutes into the programme its presenter – actress Ffion Dafis – tells viewers that:

[02:20] Dafis: “The turn of the millennium saw another dark chapter in the history of the conflict – the Second Intifada, or uprising. Hundreds of lives were lost on both sides. In 2002, after dozens of suicide bombings, Israel decided to build a wall.”

As we see Dafis makes no effort to inform S4C audiences of the fact that the Second Intifada terror war was planned in advance by the Palestinian leadership and she downplays the number of Israelis murdered in those attacks. Israel of course did not decide to “build a wall” but an anti-terrorist fence, the vast majority of which is made of wire mesh and while the decision to do so was indeed taken in April 2002, the first section of that fence was only completed 15 months later. Dafis goes on:

Dafis: “When completed the 700 kilometer-long concrete wall will encircle the West Bank. It is a monstrosity. It is also deemed illegal according to international law. In 2004 the International Court of Justice concluded that the wall breached humanitarian law. Israel was told to demolish it but construction work continues.”

The claim of a 700 km-long “concrete wall” is a blatant falsehood. Neither was the anti-terrorist fence ever intended to “encircle the West Bank”. The politicised conclusions of the International Court of Justice in 2004 were of course never more than an advisory opinion and Dafis’ claim that the structure is “illegal according to international law” is unfounded. Later on Dafis tells audiences that:

[06:07] Dafis: “In the aftermath of the Second World War the UN voted to divide Palestine between Arabs and Jews. In May 1948 the State of Israel was created. The Jewish people had returned to their holy land.”

Dafis fails to clarify that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was rendered irrelevant by its rejection by Arab states and the local Arab population, who together proceeded to launch violent attacks against the Jewish residents of what was still at the time British administered Mandate Palestine. With absolutely no mention of the League of Nations ‘Mandate for Palestine’ intended to establish a national home for the Jewish people, Dafis goes on:

[06:53] Dafis: “The Jewish nation were to claim more than half of Palestine’s land even though the Jewish population was less than half the population of Palestine. After two years of civil war Israel expanded its territory further. An armistice was agreed in 1949. A tentative border was drawn between Palestine and Israel –the so-called green line.”

Dafis’ claim that a “civil war” took place of course conceals the attacks by numerous Arab countries. Not only did the 1949 Armistice Agreement specifically state that the armistice line was not a border, but it was signed by Israel and Jordan – not “Palestine” – with no claims whatsoever made on that territory at the time by the local Arab population.

With no mention of the fact that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem had been under illegal Jordanian occupation for 19 years when Jordan chose to attack Israel in June 1967, Dafis goes on:

[07:20] Dafis: “Since then, relations between the two nations have been fraught and bloody. The roots of today’s clashes lie in the 1967 six-day war when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Israel maintains its military occupation of the West Bank, an area which is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel claims the wall is essential to protect its people and says terrorist attacks have fallen by 90%. They’re reluctant to demolish the wall.”

Using a clear Christmas reference Dafis then turns her attention to Bethlehem.

[08:26] Dafis: “South of Jerusalem, in the little town of Bethlehem, the wall is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. It snakes through the town, separating people from schools, work, families and hospitals.”

As the B’tselem map below shows, the anti-terrorist fence (marked in red, with planned construction in purple) does not ‘snake through’ Bethlehem at all – that claim is a complete falsehood.

Nevertheless, Dafis later repeats that falsehood and adds a new one: the claim that Bethlehem is “surrounded” by “settlements”.

[22:06] Dafis: “Pilgrims flock to the holy city of Bethlehem from all over the world to visit the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem lies within Area A but the city still suffers the effects of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Tourist numbers are down and it has the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank. Bethlehem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the wall snakes through the centre of the city.”

Viewers are again inaccurately told that the 1949 armistice line is a “border” and hear a partisan version of ‘international law’:

[09:30] Dafis: “Only a fifth of the wall follows the green line – the internationally accepted border between Israel and the West Bank. Around 80% of the wall’s route cuts into Palestinian land. In some places it encircles Jewish settlements built by Israel on Palestinian land. For generations Jewish and Arab people had lived side-by-side in these lands. Following the Six Day war of 1967 more than a million Palestinians came under Israeli control. This was the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories which continues today. For religious Jews, their victory was a miracle from God. Their dream of returning home to the holy land had been realised. They started to build settlements on the occupied land in defiance of international law. These are a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Today there are over 150 settlements in the West Bank with over half a million residents. But Gush Etzion was the first to be built after Israel occupied the land in 1967.”

Viewers are not informed that Jews had purchased lands in Gush Etzion long before the Jordanian invasion and ethnic cleansing and that the “first” community “to be built” – Kfar Etzion – was actually established in 1943, depopulated in 1948 and rebuilt in 1967.

Dafis’ portrayal of the Oslo Accords – signed by the PLO rather than “Palestine” as she claims – fails to inform viewers of the reasons for the failure to reach final status negotiations.

[19:48] Dafis: “In 1993 Israel and Palestine signed an agreement to bring the conflict to an end. But Palestine paid the price. The West Bank was split into three administrative divisions. […] Area C accounts for 60% of the West Bank. It was intended as a temporary arrangement. 25 years on it’s still in place.”

At 22:35 viewers hear of a “partition” that never took place.

Dafis: “On the outskirts of Bethlehem is the Aida refugee camp. This was created after the 1948 partition. The camp is overcrowded and living conditions are appalling.”

Viewers are of course given no explanation of the political reasons behind the existence of a ‘refugee camp’ in a place which has been under full Palestinian control for well over two decades.

At 28:31 Dafis comes up with the following claim:

Dafis: “In the West Bank, there are 500 checkpoints along the wall where Israeli soldiers guard the border. Israel maintains they’re essential to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. For Palestinians they represent yet another way in which the Israeli military control their lives.”

In addition to the fact that the route of the anti-terrorist fence is not a “border” and that final status negotiations to define the route of any border between Israel and a potential Palestinian state have never taken place, it is unclear where Dafis gets the conveniently round number of 500. There are in fact 14 crossings serving vehicles and/or pedestrians.

As noted in part one of this post, throughout the whole 48-minute programme viewers hear the entire anti-terrorist fence exclusively described as a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate. Viewers also hear extensive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’ throughout the programme despite the fact that no such state exists at this point.

[30:35] Dafis: “The wall doesn’t only separate Israel from Palestine. It also separates Palestinians from one another.”

It is difficult to recall a more blatantly one-sided and factually inaccurate programme being aired on British television and promoted on the BBC’s On Demand Programme Services (ODPS). Obviously this publicly funded production was motivated by purely political intentions rather than the aim of informing British Welsh-speaking audiences.

Related articles: 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

Accuracy and impartiality fails in Welsh language show on BBC iPlayer – part one

Among the channels offered to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer is one called S4C.

While S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru – Channel Four Wales) is not a BBC channel, it does get some of its programming from the BBC under what the director of BBC Wales has called “a partnership”. S4C receives most of its funding from the obligatory licence fee paid by UK households and currently also gets funding from the UK government. Its content, as seen above, is available on BBC iPlayer which is subject to OFCOM regulation.

Among the Welsh-language programmes produced by that media organisation which are currently available to users of BBC iPlayer are three episodes of a series called ‘Y Wal’ (‘The Wall’). One of those episodes is described as follows in Welsh:

“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

And in English:

“Presenter Ffion Dafis visits the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”

Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.

According to the credits at the end of the programme – which is one of the least impartial pieces of content that we have seen aired on any British channel for a long time – it was made with the cooperation of the Welsh government. The person presenting this programme – Ffion Dafis – is apparently an actress (rather than a journalist) on her first visit to the region and she makes no effort whatsoever to present audiences with an accurate and impartial account of its subject matter.

As readers are no doubt aware, the anti-terrorist fence constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers is mostly – over 90% – a metal fence. Viewers of this programme, however, do not see even one camera shot of those parts of the fence: throughout the entire 48 minute programme they are exclusively shown dozens of images of the minority part of the structure that, due to danger from snipers, is made out of concrete. Throughout the whole programme viewers also hear the entire structure called a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate.

Another feature of this programme is its exclusive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s style guide instructs journalists that “There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel” and hence “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.

The programme begins with an airbrushed account of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada.

Dafis: “The year 2000 – and once again there was increasing tension between Palestine and Israel. A wave of terror attacks swept through Israel. Israel responded with the full force of its military might. In 2002, Israel decided to build a wall. A wall to stop the killings and restore peace. But the wall has bred hatred on both sides. I’m going to visit one of the world’s most controversial walls. I want to understand why it was built and see the effect it has had on life in Palestine. As we meet brave individuals who dare to challenge the system, what are the chances of us seeing this wall coming down?”

After the Welsh actress on her first visit to the region has told viewers that Jerusalem “is a familiar sight to me even though I’m looking at it for the first time” because she “went to Sunday School as a child and I suppose it’s part of my history”, she goes on:

Dafis: “But people have fought over this holy land for generations. While some have tried to build bridges, others have fuelled the conflict.”

Viewers then [02:05] see an image of the US flag and hear a recording of the US president saying “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” So much for media impartiality.

Additional commentary that does not meet any definition of journalistic ‘due impartiality’ (and concurrently promotes inaccuracies) is seen throughout the entire film.

[04:30] Dafis: “What goes through my mind as I stand here is the audacity of the wall. Just the way it ploughs through villages, through streets, through rivers and orchards. The devastation it leaves in its wake is plain for all to see. But according to the Israelis, it is here for a purpose [shrugs].”

[15:23] Dafis: “This wall has been built on foundations of fear and a need to protect. But the major question I have is where is the respect? This isn’t a cute white picket fence in a garden but a huge monstrosity knocked into the front room of a neighbour. Maybe one side feels safe but the other side definitely feels like it’s being suffocated.”

[19: 04] Dafis: “It’s clear that I’m standing in one of Palestine’s most fertile valleys. That much is evident. What’s also clear is that there’s a monstrosity being built on both sides of this valley. But the truth is that until you sit with an 84 year-old [Palestinian] woman who could be my grandmother, until you look into those eyes and realise the pain and the injustice then I don’t think people will ever understand one another. Maybe that is fundamentally the problem. I don’t know.”

[25:36] Dafis: “I think it’s extremely important for them [children in Aida refugee camp] to realise that growing up like this, without rights and surrounded by a high wall, is not right. It’s not normal for any child.”

[30:03] Dafis: “Imprisonment is the only word to describe what Palestinians go through here. Going through the checkpoints is like being in a big livestock mart. The wall is ludicrous. There is no other word.”

[46:58] Dafis: “The horrors taking place here can no longer be denied. Names like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Jericho are part of a great silent war. These are not peaceful places at all. I’ve touched and met people in these places and if something like this doesn’t alter me then I don’t think my heart is actually beating.”

One possible clue as to why this film is so one-sided comes at 31:37 when Dafis tells the camera that “our sound man, our driver and our fixer are Palestinian” while claiming that “they could end up being detained overnight”.

Referring to a non-incident in which she and her crew could not proceed along a particular road due to maintenance work being carried out, Dafis told viewers: “That experience with the Israeli army really shook me” and viewers then saw the unidentified fixer launch into a long monologue which provides some context to the backdrop to this film.

Fixer: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? To die? Many people have died before us for Palestine. We are not more precious than they are or than their life. You just say ‘OK, whatever, let it happen how it is or let it come’. Many people start to think OK only God protects me and others say what if I die now? Nothing will happen. So that’s why we lose the sense of life. No-one cares and then we face fear, we face…we see our rights being smashed on the floor and that we are treated as if we weren’t even human beings with soul and feelings and emotions. It’s like creatures or insects anyone can step on then and just walk. So when you feel that you stop caring.”

Part of a fixer’s job is to set up interviews and in this film viewers see twice as many Palestinian participants as Israelis. In addition to three farmers with unsubstantiated stories, a resident of al Walajah and Ahmad Sukar, head of the Wadi Fukin village council, viewers hear from representatives of assorted NGOs without any explanation being given of the political agenda of organisations including the Society of St Yves, al Rowwad, Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle Families Forum.

Among the four Israeli interviewees one is a staff member at a Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and two are members of an NGO which self-describes as “a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative”. The only Israeli interviewee to have lost a family member in a Palestinian terror attack is also co-director of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. Despite Palestinian terror being the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence which is supposedly this programme’s subject matter, that information is only revealed to viewers three-quarters of the way into the programme, just after Elhanan has told viewers:

[34:02] Elhanan: “The Palestinians live in their cages unable to go out in any way. The Israelis are sitting in their coffee houses, drinking coffee. They don’t want to know what is going on down [under] their noses, 200 meters behind their backs. They prefer not to know. The Israeli media is cooperating with this and the whole situation is like a false paradise. A bubble if you like.”

As the above examples show, this S4C programme does not even pretend to present its subject matter in an impartial fashion. In part two of this post we will review the programme’s accuracy.  

Related articles: 

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder

Resources:

S4C complaints

BBC complaints

 

 

 

 

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Towards the end of last month, one of our readers referred in the comments section to an article by Peter Hitchens concerning the BBC’s complaints system:

“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.

I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”

For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announced that Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.

“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.

The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.

After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.

The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.

The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]

According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.

The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.

Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.

The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.

With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.

 

 

BBC licence fee payers fund more charter review PR

It was difficult to miss the BBC’s latest charter review PR efforts on social media on August 25th.

Deprivation study tweet 1

Deprivation study tweet 2

Deprivation study tweet 3

Unfortunately, despite the claims in those Tweets, the link provided does not lead to the ‘full study’ but to a press release put out by the BBC which was also amplified in the Radio Times and through video.

In that press release we learn that:

“Nationally, seven in 10 households say that they are content to pay the current level of the licence fee or more in order to receive BBC services. This study mainly focused on the minority who say the licence fee is too high or, if it was down to them, they would forgo the BBC.”

However, it later emerges that over 31% of those who took part in the exercise (and no information is provided regarding how they were identified or recruited) were not among “the minority who say the licence fee is too high” at all.

“Of those taking part,

24 households originally said they would prefer to pay nothing and not receive the BBC;

24 households originally said that they would be willing to pay less than the current licence fee for the current BBC;

22 households originally said that they would be willing to pay the licence fee or more.” [emphasis added]

Notably, the BBC’s promotion of the results of this study focuses on specific messaging:

“Thirty-three out of the 48 households who originally said they would prefer to not pay at all and not receive the BBC, or who wanted to pay a lower licence fee, changed their minds and said they were now willing to pay the full licence fee for the BBC.

Twenty-one out of the 22 households who originally said that they were happy to pay the licence fee or more still held this view, and 15 of these households believed this even more strongly than at the beginning of the study.”

No graphics were promoted on BBC Twitter accounts quoting the 15 households who did not change their minds and the BBC’s press release reveals nothing about the household who originally supported the licence fee and apparently had a change of heart.

In 2013/14 there were 25,419,296 licences in force in the UK and trends would suggest that the number would have risen since then. If, as the BBC claims, 70% of households are content with the current arrangement, that places well over seven million households in the category termed “the minority who say the licence fee is too high”. The sample size of this BBC commissioned study is obviously therefore far too small to provide results with any statistical relevance. 

It is once again unlikely that the people who paid for this study will be able to find out how much it cost. But if the BBC is keen to persuade its funding public that they are getting value for money, then surely a very basic step would be to avoid wasting resources on ‘studies’ which fail to meet the minimum standards of statistical credibility.

Funders of BBC advert can’t find out how much it cost

Long-time BBC Watch readers will be familiar with the phrase “for the purposes of journalism, art or literature”. It is the clause cited by the BBC to justify its refusal to release the Balen Report and it was used when a member of the public submitted a Freedom of Information Act request concerning the number of complaints made to the BBC.

Now that phrase has cropped up again in relation to a two-minute filmed advert promoting the BBC – made by the BBC. The ‘Media Guido’ blog explains:for all of us BBC

“Last month the BBC produced a cinematic advert to “celebrate the unique role that the BBC plays in all of our lives”. […] Guido fired off a Freedom of Information request to the notoriously opaque Beeb, asking how much licence fee payers stumped up for the very expensive looking advert. To our complete lack of surprise, the BBC are refusing to reveal the cost:

“The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion.””

The upcoming once-in-a-decade BBC charter review would suggest that the timing of the appearance of this advert is not coincidental. In fact, readers may recall that back in 2013, the Telegraph reported that the BBC’s Director General raised the possibility of using funds provided by the obligatory licence fee to persuade the public to carry on paying it.

“The BBC must “get aggressive” about selling its virtues to the nation, director-general Lord Hall has argued, as he disclosed the corporation will be using its own airwaves to convince viewers it is good value.

Lord Hall has said the BBC must be “less British” about telling the public the £145.50 licence fee is worth paying, as he insisted it is “quite wrong” to accuse the corporation of dominating the media.

His statement raises the possibility that the BBC could place advertisements or trailers on its own channels in the run-up to the licence fee being considered in 2016, spelling out its benefits to viewers.”

Apparently though the BBC – which purports “to operate as transparently as possible” – does not believe that the people who funded this advert are entitled to know how much it (or the rest of the corporation’s considerable efforts relating to charter renewal) cost.

 

DCMS chair says BBC licence fee unsustainable

Towards the end of last week several UK media outlets reported on remarks made by John Whittingdale MP concerning the future of the compulsory licence fee.TV Licence

The Guardian, for example, reported that:

“The BBC licence fee is “worse than the poll tax” with non-payment “almost certain” to be decriminalised, according to the chair of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. […]

“I don’t think there is any serious possibility of the licence fee going this charter renewal,” he said. “I think in the longer term we are potentially looking at reducing at least a proportion of the licence fee that is compulsory and introducing an element of choice.”

Whittingdale added: “In the long term it is unsustainable. When I say unsustainable in the long term, I’m talking about over 20, 50 years … I don’t like the idea of a licence fee, I would prefer to link it perhaps to some other tax, and I think decriminalisation is almost certain to happen.

“Most people already accept that the licence fee as it is currently structured needs some tweaking to deal with anomalies, like the fact on catch-up you don’t need a licence fee, whereas live streaming you do. People’s viewing habits have changed and we need to reflect that.”

Broadcast‘ added:

“The DCMS chair had been “disappointed” by comments made last week by newly appointed BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead that the licence fee “does not need fixing.”

Appearing before the DCMS select committee, Fairhead said she assumed that the licence fee works, is effective and “the public broadly supports it”.”

So where did the new head of the BBC Trust get that idea? The Telegraph may have provided some insight into that question in its report on the topic.

“He [Mr Whittingdale] added BBC-commissioned research showing the public overwhelmingly support the licence fee had been the result of the corporation setting its own questions, as he called for a wider “package” of options to be presented to viewers.” [emphasis added]

Can we presume that the apparently problematic BBC-commissioned research showing ‘overwhelming’ public support for the licence fee which is now being used to promote the case for the continuation of the compulsory licence fee was funded by none other than the people who are obliged to pay the licence fee? 

 

BBC Two’s ‘Daily Politics’ airs an alternative view on the licence fee

Credit where credit is due: on April 2nd the BBC finally came up with an alternative view on the subject of the licence fee.

Appearing on BBC’s Two’s ‘Daily Politics Show’, Nick Ross said:

“Risk aversion is driving the BBC into a dead end… Replacing this poll tax with subscription would liberate the BBC. […]

“If we were honest, said Ross, “my view is we could get more revenue freely without sending people to prison or court because they do not pay their licence fee.”

BBC presenter Jo Coburn challenged Ross’s claims. She said: “The BBC is convinced it would lose money on the evidence and the polls they have done, people would not pay if they were not forced to”.

But Ross, best known for presenting the BBC’s Crimewatch programme, maintains that there is a bias in favour of the licence fee from within the BBC.

“The people commissioning this research will cling to the licence fee. They are cherry-picking evidence which sustains their own view,” he said.

“I understand where they are coming from. They are frightened and timid and they do not want the BBC to be challenged. 

“The uptake will be enormous, if the BBC does good programming. That is what this is about.”

Readers in the UK can view that programme for a limited period of time on BBC iPlayer here.

Nick Ross also made a short film on the subject which was posted on the BBC News website and can be seen here.

Nick Ross licence fee

 

In praise of the BBC licence fee, by…the BBC

March 31st saw the appearance of a rather thinly-veiled ‘you’ve never had it so good’ article on the subject of the licence fee on the ‘Entertainment & Arts’ page of the BBC News website. Licence fee art

Written by BBC News’ entertainment and arts correspondent Tim Masters and titled “How is TV funded around the world?“, the article actually failed to answer that question with regard to countries which do not employ some version of the TV licence fee or a tax for the same purpose, but did go into detail regarding mostly European states which do.

Readers were not informed how television is funded in countries which have abolished the licence fee such as Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, Holland or New Zealand or in countries (with one exception) which never had such a system such as Spain, Luxembourg, Canada or the United States.

The article opened with a presentation of the BBC’s own stance on the licence fee but no alternative viewpoint was provided.

“The debate over the future of the licence fee in the United Kingdom is set to build ahead of the licence fee and royal charter renewals in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Last week MPs backed plans to give the government power to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee.

Meanwhile, last month, the BBC rejected calls to introduce a voluntary subscription fee for its services.

Responding to a government inquiry into the future of the BBC, it argued the £145.50 licence fee was the “most effective way” to fund the corporation.”

Once again this article raises issues relating to the use of publicly-funded BBC resources to promote the corporation’s own campaign to keep – or even extend – the licence fee. It also again prompts the question of whether BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality will at some point result in its funding public hearing or reading any alternative views to those on the topic which are currently being vigorously promoted by the BBC itself. 

Related Articles:

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

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. 

The looming battle for the BBC licence fee

The run up to the next review of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016 is already showing signs of being dominated by public debate on the subject of the obligatory licence fee. The BBC itself is of course keen to perpetuate that guaranteed source of income and, according to a recent report in the Daily Telegraph, may even begin to use those funds to produce advertising to persuade the British public why it should continue to provide them.

“The BBC must “get aggressive” about selling its virtues to the nation, director-general Lord Hall has argued, as he disclosed the corporation will be using its own airwaves to convince viewers it is good value.

Lord Hall has said the BBC must be “less British” about telling the public the £145.50 licence fee is worth paying, as he insisted it is “quite wrong” to accuse the corporation of dominating the media.

His statement raises the possibility that the BBC could place advertisements or trailers on its own channels in the run-up to the licence fee being considered in 2016, spelling out its benefits to viewers.”

The opposing case for the abolition of the licence fee and its replacement with voluntary subscription was recently made in an interesting article in The Commentator by Tim Congdon.

“Time and technology wait for no organisation, no matter how revered. The next two years will see a lively debate over the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation, with the current Royal Charter due to run out at the end of 2016. The early talk is of an extension of the licence fee for a further decade to 2026, but of possible reductions in its value and certainly of freezing it in real terms.

According to an ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph last month, 70 per cent of voters believe that the licence fee should be abolished or cut.”

What do BBC Watch readers think? Can the case for payment enforced by law still be made in the digital age and how would you feel about your licence fee being used to create adverts to persuade you to continue paying it? Tell us in the comments below. 

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