Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Time to Sell Biased State Media

One of the first and most significant appointments David Cameron has made after his landslide UK election victory was that of John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary. The reason this appointment is significant is that Whittingdale will be the minister responsible for the BBC and in his previous role as chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee he has been very critical of the BBC and the licence fee that funds it. Some are going as far to suggest that Whittingdale's appointment is the Conservative Government's payback to the BBC for its very biased (i.e. pro-Labour Party) coverage of the election.

In Britain the BBC has a dominance over broadcast media that state media outlets in former Soviet bloc countries could only dream of.  It owns nine television channels and sixteen radio stations as well as numerous digital media outlets and cultural assets such as symphony orchestras. The BBC paints itself as unbiased but it is certainly not. It is partisan, secretive and ruthless in pushing its biases, and it is incredibly arrogant in refusing to concede its errors. 

Some examples of the BBC's behaviour are its cover-up of accusations of child abuse against Jimmy Savile, its promotion of the scandalous libel against former Tory peer Lord McAlpine and its reliance on a secretive panel of so-called independent climate scientists for its coverage of climate change issues (that turned out to largely comprise non-scientists from environmental lobby groups). The BBC is, in short, a malevolent presence in British culture.

In New Zealand over the last few weeks there has been a minor furore about the likely cancellation of TV3's current affairs Campbell Live. I have written before about left-wing bias in the the coverage of politics by the New Zealand media and in particular about how partisan John Campbell is. I said that I didn't have a particular problem with Campbell Live because TV3 is a privately-owned broadcaster and that eventually the market would sort him out. The uncertain future of the show is proof I was right. The BBC and our own state broadcasters Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand are a different matter. State-owned enterprises, even those like Television New Zealand that are commercially-focused, are not subject to the economic realities of private enterprises. The market cannot sort them out.

Thomas Jefferson said that 'to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical'. State broadcasting, particularly state broadcasting that is politically biased, does exactly that.

If there were ever valid arguments for the state to own media outlets (presumably around the lack of sufficient scale in small countries to justify private sector investment and monopolistic practices of a small number of private media outlets even in larger markets) those arguments no longer exist. The internet has reduced the cost so dramatically that anyone can afford to broadcast to millions from their bedroom and there are literally millions of news and opinion outlets of every possible political persuasion. It is time for the state to get out of broadcasting. Cameron's government should break up and sell the BBC and the New Zealand government should do the same for Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand.

I'm sure Rupert Murdoch would be interested.

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