Party politics 

16 April 2010

You’re not, I’d assume, going to vote based on broadcasting policy. The fact you’re reading this suggest you’re interested in the subject, but I’ll assume that you’ll vote based on other criteria – generally the economy, if I’m not mistaken.


Still, it’s worth having a look at what the mainstream parties have to say about broadcasting. Don’t let me try to persuade you what to vote: I’m not even going to try. But do go out and vote on the day. Even if you’re not sure. Even if you don’t actually care. People died to get you the right to vote. Use it. End of preaching.

Mentions in the manifestos

Labour Party Conservative Party Liberal Democrats The Green Party of England and Wales SNP Plaid Cymru
BBC 9 1 3 1 4 0
ITV 1 0 0 0 0 0
Channel 4 1 0 0 0 0 0
S4C 0 0 0 0 0 1
Sky 0 0 0 0 0 0

I include this mainly as an excuse to use an HTML table, something I haven’t used in about 6 years.

The Labour Party

Labour has been very vocal about cutting the BBC down to size in the last year, with Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, ever eager to see any criticism of his government as “BBC bias”. Their manifesto makes nine references to the BBC, with one each to ITV and Channel 4. They charge the BBC (along with “other broadcasting providers”) with the job of increasing “take-up of broadband and [ensuring] Britain becomes a leading digital economy”.

Despite the attacks of late, they have a bullet point in big, bold letters under the heading “The next stage of national renewal” saying “The BBC’s independence upheld” (promise 35 in a list of 50), which is positive if a bit meaningless.

They go on to say that “[t]he BBC is the most admired and trusted broadcaster in the world: respected internationally for its objectivity and its creative excellence, and here in Britain as a pillar of our cultural life. We support an independent and world-class BBC at the heart of a vibrant public broadcasting system. Our strong support for its editorial independence and the licence fee that finances the BBC’s programmes and activities will continue. The BBC Trust should fully involve the public in decision-making. The licence-fee is guaranteed for the ten-year Royal Charter that took effect on 1 January 2007”. Now, that is much more promising. It seems, without actually saying it, to be taking privatisation off the agenda and certainly removes the threat of advertising (a threat that ITV fears more than the BBC does). The bit about the involving the public is back in the meaningless realm, but it seems, despite suggestions that they’d be reforming the structure again, that the BBC Trust is safe.

Channel 4 gets a nod, being kept as “a public-service broadcaster providing distinctive competition” – note the silence on privatisation or merging with BBC Worldwide, suggesting that the channel’s future structure is still ripe for “reform”.

The Conservative Party

In previous elections, the party has stood on a manifesto policy of privatising Channel 4 and general hostility to the BBC. This times things are different. Despite the open threats the party has made to the BBC in the past year, the single mention of the BBC in the manifesto is to “ensure that the National Audit Office has full access to the BBC’s accounts”.

This policy is slightly a threat to the BBC: it opens the talent contracts to public scrutiny, so we’ll know exactly how much they’re paying for their presenters and actors. This is likely to cause wage inflation in the industry, whilst making the BBC more cautious about paying for famous names.

Other than that, the only broadcasting reference is a promise to “…create a new network of local television stations”. This is interestingly uncosted: do they mean simply selling a frequency in each area, or actually creating a network a la the old ITV, or do they mean a subsidised system (since, as Channel M and Solent TV have shown, there’s no money in local TV). Selling frequencies, with licence conditions on locality, seems unlikely to work. Creating a network, with a sustaining service to reduce costs, would be more likely to work, but when last in power, the Tories did their level best to destroy, erm, deregulate the existing system that did that. The subsidised option should strike fear into the BBC: the subsidy would obviously, but unfortunately, come straight from the licence fee, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats surprised many people by joining the chorus of criticism of the BBC over the past year, with spokesman Don Foster calling for the Corporation to be “trimmed”.

The manifesto says the LibDems will “ensure that the BBC remains strong, free from interference and securely funded, not least to provide impartial news, independent of political and commercial pressures. We will also ensure that the BBC does not undermine the viability of other media providers through unfair competition based on its public funding and dominant position”.

The first point is positive, the second is clearly back in the “trimming” camp. It’s also quite meaningless: you can’t have both a BBC free from interference and then interfere in the BBC.

The Green Party of England and Wales

The Green’s interestingly mainstream-left (to the left of Labour, anyway) manifesto has its highs (rail nationalisation) and its lows (proportional representation but by the inferior AMS method). On broadcasting, they join the other parties in saying the BBC would be maintained “as the primary public service broadcaster, free of Government interference”.

But they shoot a tracer across the good ship Murdoch, promising to tighten the “rules on cross-media ownership” – something the other parties run scared of (more particularly, scared of Murdochs Senior and Junior). They also plan to strengthen “controls on advertising directed at children” – something we’re fairly relaxed about in the UK, compared to a number of EEA countries, some of which actually ban advertising in children’s programmes.

The nationalists

The SNP have previously talked about creating, or hiving off from the BBC, a new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation. In their 2010 manifesto, they seem to have dropped this.

They want broadcasting powers, currently reserved to Westminster, to be devolved to Holyrood. They also believe that 8.8% of the licence fee is collected in Scotland, but only 5.7% of it is spent there and would seek to ensure that BBC Scotland got to keep that 8.8% for its own use.

That said, they’re seeking a Scottish news service. They don’t say whether that this would be a BBC News 24 Scotland or a replacement of the 1, 6, 10 and Newsnight with Reporting Scotland, assuming, from context, that they want the BBC to provide it. They also seek to get BBC Alba (referred to as “the Gaelic digital channel”) on to Freeview, seemingly forgetting TeleG, already on Freeview.

Plaid Cymru is the only mainstream party to not mention the BBC at all. They’re also, unsurprisingly, the only one to mention S4C. They say they will campaign to increase S4C’s funding “to support the development of digital services”, which suggests that the money would not be for programming.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Joseph Gallant 16 April 2010 at 7:24 pm

Here on the other side of the Atlantic, the April 15 debate between the heads of the three major British parties is being compared to the 1960 televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon.

Andrew Bowden 17 April 2010 at 10:13 am

They’re not the only ones to forget TeleG. Didn’t even know it was still going! I just had a look on Wikipedia and even found out it’s owned by SDN and therefore owned by ITV plc. You could probably say something ironic about that. But I won’t…

Comments are closed.

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