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Reform of the BBC - by Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns for the TaxPayers Alliance and Sir John Redwood

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

James Roberts of the Tax Payers' Alliance talks to Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns about reform of the BBC, her personal experience of its institutional bias during the Brexit campaign, decriminalisation of payment of the Licence Fee and a discussion on alternative funding models.

Andrea brings typical courage and candour to a debate that is long-overdue, highlighting fundamental anomalies and unfairness in the existing system and encouraging all of us to take part in discussing its future role and funding model.

Here is also what Sir John Redwood had to say:

Time for change at the BBC

Posted: 31 Aug 2020

The BBC are their own worst opponents. Their recent cancellation of a couple of much loved old songs that are famous worldwide and have not before caused protests led many of their former BBC news/Radio 4 audience to anger or despair. They are so dominated by the fashionable global political correctness and by the briefings from the EU and international bodies that they can no longer relate to the many in the UK who like our country, are at peace with most of its past and just wish to be entertained. They are ready to run any cause which wants more government, higher taxes, more spending by the state, more submission to international treaty rules and more dependence on EU suppliers. They revel in allegations of inequality and unfairness, whilst seeking to remove their own high payments to some talent from the full public gaze. Their constant cry is government should do something. They tend to see business as a source of stories of overpayment and possible corruption, and show scorn for anyone who does not share their corporate values.

Last Saturday morning I made the mistake of listening to the Radio 4 Briefing Room programme about the EU/UK talks. For half an hour they paraded so called experts and BBC correspondents who gave us yet another tedious version of Project Fear. There was no attempt at any balance. No-one spoke for the UK and no-one spoke of the many advantages Brexit can bring. The overarching perspective was that supplied by the EU. There was no attempt to cross examine the EU position and ask about the risks to their big export trade into the UK and our opportunity to substitute UK produced product or cheaper rest of the world product with freedom from EU tariffs.

There was no attempt to explore the big upside possible for more food grown and reared in the UK , nor of the way world competition will also affect EU suppliers where we do not have a domestic industry to protect. The importance and opportunity for our fishing industry was dismissed, though they did think fishing was important totemically for French and Spanish fishermen! It was as if they had joined the EUBC and had decided not to bother about the views of a majority of the UK licence payers.

The BBC’s charter requires the BBC to be neutral and to allow a wide range of views and arguments to be put. Their news coverage does seek to give most political party representatives a hard time, and during elections in particular they are careful to observe the rules over representation. That does not make their overall output balanced. For years studies showed the BBC gave plenty of easy airtime to those who wished to make the case for the UK’s membership of the EU, but gave far less time to those who wanted to leave. Those who did get on were interrupted, heckled and often presented in an unfavourable way as if their democratic cause was unworthy or absurd.

Once the people had voted to leave the BBC would still not accept the verdict, and delighted in giving maximum exposure to the minority representing the global political establishment who wished to undermine or reverse the decision. Many of their storylines come from the Guardian and from Labour and Lib Dem research. They do not offer a similar range of stories for all those seeking to reduce taxes, expand prosperity through enterprise, query the conduct of nationalised monopolies and challenge the global consensus on major issues. To many in the BBC President Obama’s substantial bombing campaigns were fine, but some of President Trump’s tough or one sided statements designed as a substitute for military action are unacceptable.

It means reform of the BBC is in the air. This will be necessary anyway, as we thunder towards a very different media planet where people download much of their entertainment, get news from a range of worldwide instant services, and spend more time on social media than conventional media. The immediate issue is should the licence fee be a normal charge where payment is enforced by civil and not criminal means? How much longer anyway will the licence fee serve their needs, given the way many people can avoid live tv and so claim they do not need to pay it.

A simple first reform would be to decriminalise the licence fee and unclutter the courts of the licence fee criminal cases. In other guises the BBC would be against a poll tax. They should think again how best to finance their activities going forwards. What is good public service broadcasting and how much if any should be taxpayer financed? Let’s have a modern proposal. Shouldn’t some of the BBC’s current more commercial activities be paid for by the audience they can command as for other media outlets? We need a new settlement, with the majority of the country that did vote for Brexit feeling we can be included. The BBC should not offer unfair competition to other media outlets financed by their unique access to a dedicated poll tax.

See also below for a very thoughtful letter to the Director General of the BBC from Sir John Redwood in his Diary dated 30th October.

Dear Director General

Congratulations on your appointment. I am glad you are reviewing the extent to which the BBC delivers the impartiality and public service content Licence fee payers pay for.

As someone who seeks to make a contribution to the main arguments over public policy, specialising in economic and constitutional matters, I find the BBC output is often biased against discussion and thoughtful consideration of views and attitudes that disagree with the conventional wisdom of the large corporations, civil service and international quango establishment. As examples I have in the past been denied access or time to explain the case against the ERM and features of the Euro which duly went on to do considerable economic damage, the case against so called independent central banks when they were in recession creating mode, to consider the opportunities given to nationalisms by devolution or to make the case to rescue industrial and agricultural market share lost during our years in the EU single market. I have written and published on these and other themes extensively and wish to discuss them in a true Reithian spirit of independent enquiry. Instead I have to listen to a propaganda channel which just assumes the establishment view of Euro policy, thinks the single market is always a net gain which we must not lose, that Central Banks are wise and right and the errors of economic policy are all the fault of governments, and favours lop sided devolution which must be encouraged. There is a reverence towards so called independent experts who are often political in their judgements and sometimes not even good experts in their fields with poor track records at forecasting.

I do not think the BBC reveal party political bias between Labour and the Conservatives. The interviewers are usually rightly tough on both parties. There is however systematic bias against England, with many voices representing Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and liberal reporting of the devolved governments with never any consideration of the views of England where most Licence fee payers live. There is no English radio or TV channel to redress the balance, unlike the other nations in the Union which have their own channels. No-one is ever allowed to speak for England. We are endlessly told Scotland voted to stay in the EU but never told England voted decisively to leave. The BBC follows the EU agenda of trying to break England into regional and city area governments, whilst leaving Scotland whole despite the anti Edinburgh tensions in places like the Shetlands and the differences between the Highlands and the main cities. I would appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation with you about global establishment bias throughout BBC output, which has left the BBC finding it very difficult to report sensibly on Brexit or Trump or other populist movements. I think the BBC needs to do a lot more to foster intelligent debate about these economic and constitutional matters, as it misses out on many of the conversations listeners and viewers are having on social media in frustration with their state Broadcaster.

The bias is also reflected in the way so called populist politicians and parties in office overseas are reported. I am neutral on the US election, as UK politicians should stay out of foreign elections and be willing to work with any democratically elected government that emerges in an ally. Listening and watching BBC output it regularly frames the election as the Democrats would wish, concentrating plenty of hostile fire on Trump and his supporters but never doing the same to Biden and his. Coverage of continental parties in government that are sceptical of EU policy is also usually more hostile in tone than coverage of pro EU parties. I look forward to meeting.

Yours sincerely

John Redwood

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