The Blog

A Note From the Owner of the BBC

Without the license fee, the BBC wouldn't have been able to establish the web services leaving other broadcasters in the shade - my service users would consider that a reason for keeping the fee, not abolishing it, and like any business owner I should put them first, surely?

I own a television network. And a radio network. And one of the most trusted, technically advanced websites on earth. I can claim part credit for some of the world's most beloved programmes, a raft of publications and study aids, global news coverage that is held up as a standard for others to aspire to.

But before you start wondering why I've never mentioned this over a Wetherspoons lunch; you own all of this too. Oh right, you say as the penny drops - we're talking about the BBC. I thought you meant you actually owned a television network.

But it's not a riddle, or a play on words. It's a fact. And one we might like to keep in mind as the topic of BBC funding resurfaces; If the BBC is forced to reduce the quality or quantity of its output we don't just suffer as consumers, we're reducing the value of a property we, collectively, own.

Yes, at the moment we're only officially discussing the form that the license fee may take in the future. The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee isn't discussing the option of abolishing it altogether - yet. But that hasn't stopped bloggers and newspaper commentators tagging it on to their coverage of the 'official' recommendations.

That this is our business being discussed, attacked and questioned is not only a reason to pay attention to the debate. It's a point in and of itself. It's a fact that is often forgotten or deliberately ignored, putting us in the role of spectators as opposed to stakeholders. But we have a right to question some of the 'facts' on the table. Actually, we have a responsibility.

What about the assertion that 'Competition Is A Good Thing'? It's a statement that you've probably been ordered to swallow by the naturally athletic, academically gifted and socially privileged throughout your life. Competition Is A Good Thing - regardless of which industry we are discussing, what outcome we're trying to achieve or what circumstances we're playing the game in.

But what if, on this occasion, we don't want others to be able to compete? Yes, thanks to the way the BBC is funded, it does have a competitive advantage over other broadcasters. It can put the start-up money into ventures like its website and its digital services. It can plan programming years in advance.

But this is your business we're discussing. I doubt whether the Murdoch family have ever worried because something worked in their favour. Indeed, private media owners are expected to be mercenary in increasing their competitive advantage. Why should I be worried that the service my media company is providing is consistently rated top, or that the business model I am a part of reaps rewards?

Why are we the only business owners expected to level the playing field? And even if we accept that, why does it have to be our priority, whatever the cost? Other businesses can put their commercial success ahead of morality, social responsibility and even tax law, but I'm told to give up the advantages that this 'competitive edge' offers the entire world, simply to give others a better shot at charging me for a worse service. Without the license fee, the BBC wouldn't have been able to establish the web services leaving other broadcasters in the shade - my service users would consider that a reason for keeping the fee, not abolishing it, and like any business owner I should put them first, surely?

Then there is the assertion that the BBC is no longer relevant in the digital age. After all, we all have a platform these days. We no longer need the BBC to raise minority issues or run experimental programming, because we can do that ourselves via twitter or Youtube.

Consider this argument from the point of view of a business owner. Consider you were part owner of ITN, and with that you had some say over programming, values and priorities. The boss comes in and tells you that they want to buy you out, take all rights from you as an owner to demand transparency and accountability, remove your vote on upcoming projects and your platform to raise ideas. What price would you expect to be offered? A blog and a Youtube account? Really? You think part stake in the BBC is of the same commercial, social and political value as a Facebook page? A Facebook page you could have had anyway, I should point out, as well as. If so, you want to take some business advice - the board at ITN wouldn't have been bought off so cheaply.

I worry that we, the real Board of the BBC, have become a soft touch. We've accepted that we have no right to a competitive edge precisely because it infringes the rights of other to compete. We're believing that it is unquestionably better to have fewer, lower quality services, so as to allow for more low quality services. Because someone else said so.

I can't imagine Murdoch losing sleep because small media outlets have less money or influence than his. I can't imagine him dropping a good service so that someone else could try running it. I can't imagine him giving too much thought to whether he really needs several newspapers and television stations, or whether he could achieve as much with a twitter account. And if he's too important and too powerful to worry about these things, then I'm sure as hell not going to -

After all, my network is way better than his.