Professional Proposition, or Political Publicity Stunt?

Date: Wednesday the 17th of June, 2009

Castrate the BBC, Tax the Poor, Force People to adopt new, unwanted technology.
Digital Britain: a way forward into the gutter?

The government’s announced plans for a digital society may appear glamorous and exciting to some, but it leaves open some serious social and economic questions. As a fledgling film and TV producer in the North of England I have had to face the issues that most in the media seem to be unwilling to address other than a dependency on tax payer’s handouts.

Whereas I will have to raise my own venture finance, form the organisation and establish both the markets for and production of all my works, the current UK broadcast industry, facing a major crisis of funding in a declining market, appear to rely more on government handouts courtesy of the tax payer, than facing up to the need for change and improvement in their core business practices.

In the middle of a deep recession why are the public to be forced to pay for the inability of ITV, Channel 4 and others to manage their businesses professionally and profitably?

Here are a few points everyone should be questioning in the government’s strategy for a new digital society:-

The Broadband Telephone Tax

The government propose a levy on all telephone landlines to pay for upgrades to meet their political targets. Why are we to pay a tax to the private companies to upgrade landline services, when they refuse to make such investments on their own? This is not a public service we all accept as part of the compact of society, but a private matter between the public and their service providers.

If the government want higher internet bandwidths for their own fantasy targets let them use tax incentives on investment in the technology. Certainly they should not be enforcing yet another tax on the people merely to upgrade the landlines of private companies, unless the public are to be guaranteed privileged access rights, large discounts on new services, or other rewards?

The Digital Radio Tax

Does anyone in the government appreciate the burden on poor home from their eager rush to convert all radio listeners into digital radio audiences? It may appear a simple move to switch from analogue to digital reception, until you take into account the cost of buying new radios. Have the government seen the prices for digital radios? A little cheap transistor radio can cost less than £5, but a good digital one can cost over £50.

How many poor, elderly and unemployed homes are going to be happy with throwing away all their old radios and replacing them with new, very expensive digital ones?

This appears to be yet another fad adopted by the government to show the world how modern this country is without appreciating the practical cost on people’s lives. Another indirect tax burden on a public already burdened with a national economic crisis.

Castrating The BBC

Two important proposals being discussed in the government’s Digital Britain strategy for the BBC are the stripping of BBC Worldwide and the reduction of the BBC license by diverting some to ITV.

I wonder how many businessmen would permit an outsider to come into their company and strip away one of the more profitable arms of the business and give it to the competition. The removal of BBC Worldwide is a simple greedy asset-stripping exercise to reduce the BBC’s income. BBC Worldwide contributes much to the overall prosperity of the BBC and the cultural and artistic diversity of the country. So why are the government proposing to hand it over to the management of Channel 4, who have proven their inability to manage their own establishment profitably?

Give a profitable branch of your company to an ineffectual competitor? Madness, and grossly incompetent., any board of directors would be sacked for making such a proposal.

And that leads to the other madness, stripping the BBC of some of its license money to subsidies private companies who are seemingly incapable of managing their own commercial affairs.

The BBC has its own guaranteed stream of funding, the licence fee, supplemented and made richer by the rewards of such commercial branches as BBC Worldwide. This sets the standard for British culture and stimulates other’s to rise to that standard. By drastically limiting and weakening the BBC the government will achieve the dream of a castrated corporation no longer able to play a critical role in the freedom of expression in this country, no longer able to cover the broader diversity such as children’s entertainment or good news and documentary programming, and reduced to a narrow speciality niche market of politically-correct and approved activities.

Crippled and castrated the BBC and the country will suffer as a result of this madness.

New Models

New business models are certainly needed in the entertainment industry, but I fear they will not come from the established order or government handouts. The independent TV sector certainly has no incentive to innovate when it can hold the begging bowl out to the government or asset-strip the BBC.

This is why I have had to devise a new model for the launch of my own work in the UK, a new way to raise the funding, a new way to generate income and a new way to produce good work. I only hope there will be a credible industry to join when the time comes and we are not all driven to the lowest common denominator of the gutter of Digital Britain.