Everyone else has had something to say about it...

October 29, 2008 11:32 AM

...so here's a taxpayer point of view on the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross/Manuel from Fawlty Towers saga. Let's be honest: this is a ridiculous situation. The economy's in crisis, Government borrowing is going through the roof, violent crime is 22% higher than previously admitted and the Congo is exploding again but Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy talking about prank phone calls. It's absurd, and it's down to the fundamental unaccountability of the system.


At the core of this "story", no-one can really be sure if listeners care about Brand and Ross's behaviour at all - the fact that only two people complained initially, and 10,000 later came out of the woodwork after newspaper reports suggest that the listener base for Brand's show simply weren't bothered about what happened.


Due to the way the BBC is set up, though, we simply can't be sure if there is a real problem at all. If this was another broadcaster, their sponsors and advertisers would be furious because outraged listeners would be abandoning the show in protest. The management of the company would be angry because their profits would fall and their share price would follow.


With the BBC, though, listeners can't remove their custom. We're in the odd situation where if a presenter does something offensive to listeners, and the listeners were to withdraw their custom then they could end up in court. The idea is supposed to be that the BBC has a compulsory licence fee in order to provide programming that people might not otherwise buy. Is Russell Brand's show really what Auntie's creators had in mind?


Instead of the natural market-based feedback system other broadcasters have, with the BBC we have to rely on a bizarre impersonation of accountability by which complaints pile up, senior BBC managers release video apologies and the BBC News shows its contrition by running critical stories about themselves. If complaints result in a fine, then it is the complainers themselves - and other licence fee holders - who pay for it, not the presenter or producer responsible. It's bonkers, and it means big problems are never corrected whilst storms in a teacup like this are over-egged. At the end of the day, we all have to pay up regardless of the quality of the service.

...so here's a taxpayer point of view on the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross/Manuel from Fawlty Towers saga. Let's be honest: this is a ridiculous situation. The economy's in crisis, Government borrowing is going through the roof, violent crime is 22% higher than previously admitted and the Congo is exploding again but Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy talking about prank phone calls. It's absurd, and it's down to the fundamental unaccountability of the system.


At the core of this "story", no-one can really be sure if listeners care about Brand and Ross's behaviour at all - the fact that only two people complained initially, and 10,000 later came out of the woodwork after newspaper reports suggest that the listener base for Brand's show simply weren't bothered about what happened.


Due to the way the BBC is set up, though, we simply can't be sure if there is a real problem at all. If this was another broadcaster, their sponsors and advertisers would be furious because outraged listeners would be abandoning the show in protest. The management of the company would be angry because their profits would fall and their share price would follow.


With the BBC, though, listeners can't remove their custom. We're in the odd situation where if a presenter does something offensive to listeners, and the listeners were to withdraw their custom then they could end up in court. The idea is supposed to be that the BBC has a compulsory licence fee in order to provide programming that people might not otherwise buy. Is Russell Brand's show really what Auntie's creators had in mind?


Instead of the natural market-based feedback system other broadcasters have, with the BBC we have to rely on a bizarre impersonation of accountability by which complaints pile up, senior BBC managers release video apologies and the BBC News shows its contrition by running critical stories about themselves. If complaints result in a fine, then it is the complainers themselves - and other licence fee holders - who pay for it, not the presenter or producer responsible. It's bonkers, and it means big problems are never corrected whilst storms in a teacup like this are over-egged. At the end of the day, we all have to pay up regardless of the quality of the service.

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