Shoestring manifesto (3): Fair public funding of the media
The Shoestring Manifesto is all about worthwhile, cost-free projects for a Conservative government in the 'age of austerity'. On Monday we looked at transforming appreciation of Britain and its history. Yesterday we proposed ideas to improve our democracy. Today we look at delivering greater fairness in public subsidy of the media.
Two media entities in the UK receive more public subsidy than any other: the BBC and The Guardian. The BBC most of all, of course, through the licence fee. The Guardian also receives significant public subsidy via the huge public sector jobs supplements that it carries. The ideological bias of The Guardian is self-proclaimed. The biases of the BBC are hotly disputed but I direct readers to here, here and here for background reading. Even without accepting that the BBC and Guardian come from left-liberal ideological perspectives there is a strong case for ensuring greater fairness in the flow of public money to the media. The Shoestring manifesto recommends two policies:
- That the BBC is forced to share (initially) 2% of its licence fee with new start-up broadcasters. There would be little benefit in the licence fee going to Channel 4 but Peter Whitte has set out the kind of 'adversarial' form of broadcasting (more 'Moral Maze' than 'Woman's Hour') that top-slicing should fund. Top-slicing was favoured by the Tory leadership and is now supported by the Labour government but David Cameron has apparently cooled towards the policy. That is a real shame. A 2% top-slicing would be the beginning of a transformation of the way public service broadcasting is seen in this country. The BBC would no longer monopolise the licence fee and its funding of high quality journalism.
- All public sector job adverts should be put online. George Osborne has already mooted this idea but I don't think it has yet become a commitment. It is difficult to defend one newspaper receiving such a large share of government advertising and in the age of austerity we shouldn't be funding expensive newspaper advertising at all when the same advertising could be posted on a government website for next to nothing.
Within the media section of The Shoestring Manifesto there also should be much stricter regulation of the BBC's expansionary tendencies. Always wanting to occupy new areas it threatens media starts ups and, consequently, journalistic diversity.