Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Fox and the BBC

One of the oldest tricks used by powerful commercial interests to undermine any public service institution which gets in their way is to accuse the latter of being over-bearing, costly, and harmful. Their propaganda has one not-so-subtle core message: if you dismantle, or at least considerably weaken, such institutions, then the kindly free market will look after everyone much more effectively.

That’s what private health care and insurance companies have tried to do in undermining the NHS in the UK, and blocking the development of anything remotely resembling it in the US. And where have they been given the platform to give utterly distorted views about public health provisions? None other than Fox News of course. Here, with the generous backing of rich corporations, you can always count on ‘experts’ being lined up to criticise any individual or organisation working for the public good. Typically, when Obama was running for President, Fox would routinely have a panel of exclusively pro-Republican commentators to help viewers understand the ‘flaws’ in the Democrats’ arguments. On any contested issue, the views of those more in tune with corporate interests would be presented in a better light, given a more favourable hearing.

In the UK, Fox could not so easily get away with such blatant plutocratic bias. Standing in the way of Fox’s owners are the British requirement on balanced reporting in broadcasting, and the existence of a publicly funded, impartial provider of news, the BBC. So it is hardly surprising that we are being lectured by the Fox-News Corporation junta about the terrible inadequacies of the British broadcasting system.

What would the cunning fox have us do? First of all, as usual, we should cut back on the ‘excessive’ regulations. The requirement on balanced broadcast reporting unhelpfully prevents corporate interests from using commercial channels to dominate the airwaves with pro-corporate messages and shut out everything else. Without such a requirement, we would have broadcast news as fair and instructive as we already get with the Sun and the News of the World, with their fearless reporting digging into the private lives of anyone, except for those running large and irresponsible businesses.

Secondly, we are asked to stop getting in the way of Sky’s attempt to secure a monopoly over coverage of popular sports events. This is very upsetting because the consumer may end up having to pay more to get all the coverage when it is divided between different providers. But we shouldn’t forget that before Sky came along to bid and charge people for their exclusive coverage, the consumer did not have to pay anything extra at all to view all the main sports events on terrestrial channels.

Thirdly, the BBC should be reprimanded for its ability to invest in new technology, its programming to reach a wide audience, and its world-respected quality because these all make it very difficult for those who want to squeeze more profit out of the public by giving them plutocratically soaked news and cheaper programmes. Yet if the BBC were to lack innovations, cater only for a small minority, or have low quality output, you know who would be first in line to lambast them for not offering value for money.

It doesn’t take Aesop to tell us that when the fox pleas with us to follow it into the jungle of deregulated competition, the last thing we should do is to mistake its deceit for sincerity.

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