'Break Up' BBC, Urges Tory-Commissioned Report

24 February 2004

Beyond the Charter, a report published Tuesday by Britain's Conservative Party (aka the Tory Party) recommends the dismembering of the BBC and the selloff of its TV production and commercial sales arms.

The document, assembled by a group of 'industry experts' under the baton of David Elstein (former ceo of Channel 5 and director of programmes at BSkyB) believes the interests of independent programme-makers would be better served if the BBC is forced to divert its annual network programming budget of £1.1 billion ($2.055bn; €1.63bn) entirely to the independent production sector.

Also for the axe, the report urges, should be BBC Worldwide, which licenses BBC radio and TV properties to other broadcasting organisations across the globe. It also markets BBC products (books, videos, DVDs, etc) to consumers, and is a massive income-generator for the publicly-owned corporation.

The report would like to see this income diverted to the private sector -- an objective enthusiatically endorsed by many online and hard-copy publishers [WAMN: 18-Feb-04]. The document also offers a roadmap for reform of the BBC's licence fee, governance and public service responsibilities.

One member of Elstein's drafting committee has already rushed into print on her own account. Barbara Donoghue, writing in the Financial Times' Creative Business section, says the committee saw "no evidence that licence fee payers gain any cost efficiencies from the current structure and much that it is actually damaging to the wider economy."

Donoghue, a former investment banker and corporate advisor who also sat on the now defunct Independent Television Commission, thankfully believes culture to be a Good Thing.

"Creating a BBC structure which supports rather than stifles the UK creative economy matters, because the independent television [sector] is one of the jewels of our culture. Not all producers deserve to be profitable, but if the sector as a whole is not financially healthy, our cultural life is diminished," she wrote.

However, as those with long memories will recall, 'cultural life' took something of a back seat during Elstein's reign at Channel 5, where his programming policy was summarised in media circles as 'the triple S': Sleaze, Sport and S*x [sorry about the asterix -- hopefully to elude spam filters].

But political and media observers believe it unlikely the Tory Party will adopt the Elstein report as party policy, its recommendations being a tad too radical for electoral comfort.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff