Adam Boulton is shocked

Posted in Media, Sky News, TV, uk election, Uncategorized by Deputy city editor on May 11, 2010

Big Adam Boulton, with more chins than the Michelin man, is a testament to an unhealthy lifestyle. Tacking between Speaking Unto Nation and Westminster’s most fattening expense-account eating billets, Boulton has long been the softest of touches.

And now, suddenly, twice in one day, he loses it! First with Alastair Campbell, professional liar and spin minister. And then with little Ben Bradshaw, the ghastliest and minciest of Mandelson’s horrible accolytes.

Sky will now give their £800,000 a year political editor a ‘rest’ I should imagine, after the rigours of the campaign.

But just as it is called a gaffe when a politician tells the truth, it is also the case that journalists who occupy such high-profile berths as Adam must never, ever be allowed to call a spade a shovel.

There was a glimpse yesterday of Adam’s youthful jouissance, before he became a complete establishment patsy. A reporter who dares to answer back a toad like Campbell is a rare beast. I should imagine that if Adam returns he will have promised his bosses that he has learned how to control himself.

Pyschopathology of everyday life (cont.)

Posted in Freud, Media, news by Deputy city editor on April 6, 2010

Remerciement: Gawker – The Tea Party Dictionary

Nachrichten Fieber – anxiety provoked by excessive consumption of media.

Jon Stewart is often very feeble

Posted in Daily Show, Jon Stewart, journalism, Media, Yemen by Deputy city editor on January 11, 2010

Mullen can’t beat the Taliban but Stewart was a pushover

Jon Stewart’s team has done a lot to puncture the media bubble but bring in a guest and usually he turns to mush. Why is he so often timid and useless in his interviews? There is something missing.

His performance grovelling before chairman of the joint chiefs Mike Mullen was only a recent example of his tendency to slaver at important guests and refuse to confront them with really hard questions.

Stewart was completely unconvincing with Mullen from the start of this ill-fated segment. In the first 10 seconds he  swallowed entire Mullen’s brush-off of the American role in Yemen and threw away the story of the week in America’s endless war.  The interview proceeded to degenerate into a love-fest for the fighting men and women of America – and leave everything else out of it. This could have been Fox.

Stewart may make jokes about Yemen but maybe he could find in himself a higher comedic purpose.  Stewart is quick to pillory Fox and its bubble head discourse. This has been his greatest achievement.  Fox is ridiculous and dangerous. And the Pentagon is not?

Stewart’s cringing deference to powerful people from Washington and Hollywood is the worst part of his show. Sometimes, he gets the better of his guests. But usually he doesn’t even try.

It is no defense for Stewart to answer that this is ‘just’ comedy. This is his usual cop-out. I remember Stewart going on CNN to tell them they were broadcasting crap. Pots, kettles and the colour black come to mind. Stewart can read a script but can he hold a brief?

Sadly, Stewart has plenty of previous. He has recently been indecently chummy with Janet Napolitano, the secretary in charge of America’s homeland security theatre. The less said about the frequent appearances on Stewart’s podium of  John McCain and Bill Kristol the better.

Letting guests push their books, movies and spin is fine – but only if Stewart pushes back. Otherwise he’s hardly different from all the other dripping wets on the telly. Stewart has done a reasonable job going after the media side of the media-industrial-military complex but he needs to grow some balls.  Stewart has to prove he is at least as good as his writers and more than a mere performer.

Meanwhile, demonstrating further contempt for his UK audience, it is no longer possible to watch The Daily Show online in the UK, so Britons will at least be spared the embarrassment of reviewing Stewart’s feeble performance. Or Mullen’s bizarre attention to his crotch as he walked onto the set.

Many days later. Is this fair? I am reminded of JS evisceration of CNBC’s manic-depressive Cramer. But Cramer wanted to debase himself and regretted it only later. I still Jonathan Stewart needs discipline and must establish himself as someone reliable in an interview and not just a heap of mush.

In Wapping did Rupert Murdoch declare a stately pleasure dome – look on his works and despair

Posted in Afghanistan, journalism, Media, Murdoch by Deputy city editor on January 9, 2010

The Greatest Empire the World has ever Known

Today’s Times newspaper speaks of British forces handing ‘control’ of Helmand to the Americans in March. This is dishonest so many ways. In a story that is transparently briefed by the MoD and informed by the usual suspects, we are asked to believe that the British are in control of anything at all, when it is obvious the British Army is not in control, but has been soundly defeated.

Britain has already previously suffered imperial defeat in Afghanistan so it takes a government of special genius to come back for a second helping and an especially stupid and/or craven media not to notice when a tiny little event comes along to ruin the good war narrative  – like we lost.

The full stupidity and horror of British Army operations in Afghanistan has yet to be fully documented but it began with promises from the government that maybe not a shot would be fired. Then, a million bullets later, British officers were boasting how many Afghans they were killing. Then, the British were unable to move, because Gordon Brown had cancelled the helicopters, as the Taliban drove the soldiers back to bases from which they would emerge only to be immediately killed and maimed by mines.

A number that must now be close to 2,000 British soliders have been maimed, killed and driven mad and thousands and thousands of Afghans have also been killed, maimed and ruined in Helmand. Only for the situation to be worse. Thanks to us.

With at times no helicopters at all, the vainglorious, counter-productive operations of the Bitish army are entirely consistent with the press-on-regardless, even if it’s not working tradition of a fighting force that has been entirely incompetent for much of the past century, and with a long-time proven track record of failure against Muslims. That brave young lives have been wasted is to the shame of not just the politicians but also the senior leadership of the forces who value their careers over candour.

The result of the Bitish operations in Helmand is a place where far from there being any evident progress, everything is measurably worse, and a military-media-industrial complex has emerged to ensure that the truth about this is concealed. I am not reading about this in The Times.

The big stories like Afghanistan show how the important media in Britain and the United States are now almost entirely unreliable. The Times, a flagship of the Murdoch empire, a global media brand, is merely one example of  the institutions that have become ethically and professionally diseased, their pages given over to stories invented by people whose motives and agendas are undisclosed.

Media studies is derided but every young person must be taught that they are being lied to. Academic media studies normally ignore this point.

Content analysis of media always fails because it neglects the problem of what isn’t published. It is what is not said that is really important. What is not said is what counts.

As it was not said in The Times that Obama’s insane re-launch of the failed Afghan War is not even being delivered – because after capitulating to his generals, the Pentagon is finding it not so easy to deploy 30,000 soliders to Afghanistan, where every drop of fuel must be flown in, or fought for.

Surging all these soldiers into Sanguin by March! The Times as usual is sourced from Whitehall and so none of this seems to have occured to anyone, unless I have missed it. Doubtless someone at the Times could point me to various sceptical comments but it is the position of The Times, consistent with all Murdoch media, to support the extension of wars.

The Times has refused to report that the British Army has lost its bloody war in Helmand and is now getting ready to leave while buglers sound the advance, as they did in Basra. In Iraq, too, the Times pretended a false narrative. It was obvious for months or a year that the British had been defeated – but in The Times, they pretended that we were handing ‘control’ of the City to the Iraquis!

Spasmodic efforts by the Times that might have revealed the truth have been systematically gutted as with Anthony Lloyd’s series in which a lot of this was hinted at before the conclusion was reached that with one more heave everything might be alright. So there are passages of passable journalism – but with a conclusion that is consistently perverse.

The Times failed in Iraq and it is failing again in Afghanistan.

It is not just the Times – Sky and the BBC broadcast fantasy stories from the war zones every day. The Guardian is hated most of all by its own readers. The American mainstream media is equally psychotic. But the Times, where I once briefly worked, a long time ago, is a special disgrace. If it is not Rupert’s exclusiveplaything, it is only because it is now also the sandpit for James.

Why cannot journalists tell the truth?  I intend to explore this question further.

Journalists are dangerous and unscrupulous foes. I know because I was/am one. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes in the past but what I do not ‘get’ is how a newspaper that ought to be kicking down the doors (as Murdoch would have done, when he was young), has now become a satrap of government and corporate spin doctors. Murdoch is losing money on this paper and who can be surprised.

The dead hand of the print unions has been replaced by the almost-dead hand of a Rupert Murdoch and his gruesome minions building a palace to a dead religion by the Thames.

Does Rupert have the balls to kill the BBC licence fee?

Posted in BBC, journalism, Media, Rupert Murdoch by Deputy city editor on September 14, 2009

Rupert Murdoch – Wimp?

For many years Rupert Murdoch has been content to tolerate the BBC licence fee, never permitting any of his newspapers to campaign against it. I cannot recall a single editorial in any of his papers unequivocally calling for an end to the licence fee, never mind any sustained campaign on this subject. Rupert’s reason is quite cynical. Sky’s UK pay-TV platform monopoly is intact only as long as the BBC stays out of the subscription business. He is quite happy to accept the incoherence of the licence fee as long as it keeps the BBC off his lawn. James Murdoch did not attack the licence fee in Edinburgh. Neither did his father before him.

I would argue the Murdoch position is no longer sustainable. The disaster facing Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain is about to get worse as we exit the recession without a recovery to bubble-era advertsing revenues for the papers. BSkyB is wobbly, too, and no longer a coherent business.

Ultimately, the Sky platform will probably have to be sold off to raise cash and the channels will have to fend for themselves. The shareholders have been abused for years; separating these businesses would be a pay day for them, as well as releasing some necessary competition in a monopolised pay-TV marketplace.

The newspapers are a more immediate problem. There is a fin de siecle feeling about Wapping as the old man fades and the obituary writers look for rosebud analogies. It looks like a cathedral to a dead religion. As for the future: I like James, too. But the odds of him keeping this leaking ship afloat after the old man pops his clogs are akin to those of Arthur Sulzberger’s emerging as a triumphant leader of the New York Times. (I like Arthur, too.)

I am not sure anyone has absorbed the scale of disaster in Wapping. The top monkeys there actually believe that the patient will get better. This is like checking your 80-year-old mother out of the hospital and expecting her to be fifty again. Putting the editor of the Sun in charge is surely a joke.

The Sunday Times made a million pounds profit a week when I was there. It now loses that much. The Times has never made money. Many advertisers have gone permanently to Craig’s list and ten thousand other alternatives. Readers are treating news as a commodity (and with increasing cynicism). They’re spending their time reading Facebook, not the Sun’s website. Now Rupert claims he can make us pay to read his struggling papers online. You read it here first (maybe). Murdoch’s plan to charge for web content is a fantasy, in the United States for one set of reasons, and in Britain for another. As long as the BBC and others are giving away commodity news, nobody is going to pay Rupert, just to read Matthew Parris.

Maybe the plan has a slight chance if the BBC can be persuaded to stop giving away what Rupert wants to charge for. But charging UK web users to read the Sun is impossible as long as the BBC  extorts £3 billion a year from its captive fee-payers and gives away equivalent drivel for nothing.

What will it take to bring down the Ministry of Truth? Rupert could do it, if he set his editors to a sharp campaign. It only remains to point out the facts. The BBC is an enormous con which is providing services people do not want at a price they are forced to pay. It’s not independent. Or good value for money. Or honest. It is, in truth, a hideous, giant kraken, enveloping and smothering everything it touches.

It is also irredeemably 20th century. Nobody who has listened to Last FM or Spotify can imagine for a minute that we listen to  Wogan, Ross or Evans for any reason than that the BBC monopolises the airwaves. The BBC monopolised medium wave then VHF TV and then UHF TV; they continue to monopolise FM; they have set up a dreadful incompatible-with-everything digital radio service that they also monopolise. And then they have the nerve to tell us we love them, and threaten to send us to prison if we do not pay.

Only their technical monopoly sustains what is now a wasteful, duplicative analogue media stream of pure drivel. Were the technical assets hogged by the BBC to be vacated, we could live in a digital media cloud and have whatever we wanted.

Murdoch can perform a final service to the media should he turn his editors against this monster and create the level playing field he always claimed he wanted. Although News Corp is doomed in any case.

Full disclosure: Rupert used to pay for my advice, but has not for many years.  To this one can attribute the decline of his empire.

Our useless media – a series wearily continued

Posted in cars, journalism, Media, newspapers, The English by Deputy city editor on September 12, 2009

Doubtless the Phoenix Four are as repellant as Mandelson would have us believe. It takes one to know one.

That the government should issue a completely dishonest report into the crash of Britain’s last domestic mass-volume car company, a testament to the years of government industrial policies that pushed it to the brink, is not surprising.

That the media should swallow it whole is also not surprising.

The journalists are so lazy, they cannot even be bothered to read their own clippings, and remind us of what happened.

When BMW decided to get shot of Rover, there were two bids on the table. One was from the Phoenix Four, who pretended that Rover could be revived as a going concern, and the other from Alchemy, a company with a proven track record of restructuring failed business, which proposed that by discarding all the useless bits, and focusing on MG, that something might be salvaged from the wreckage.

Alchemy were too straightforward. they didn’t pretend that redundancies could be avoided. They constructed what might have been a viable business plan. The Phoenix boys, who never looked like anything other than asset strippers, offered the government an electorally-convenient fantasy. Phoenix were given the company for essentially nothing and the government kept its rust-belt marginals as the BBC broadcast Pravda-like bulletins from Longbridge announcing that the government had saved thousands of jobs..

Wind forward. Rover is gone. The millions are gone. More millions have now been spent on an investigation. Labour is still in charge. As usual, nothing criminal seems to have happened.

What we see is Lord Mandelson touting his report touring the studios pronouncing himself outraged – not at his own cynicism and dishonesty, but at the cynicism and dishonesty of the Phoenix Four.

Like the inspector in Casablanca, Mandelson is evidently shocked to have discovered what was going on.

Shameless Mandelson, guardian of public morals, millionaire public servant, who cheated on his own mortgage form, demands that the Phoenix Four apologise and threatens to ban them as company directors (although not to revieve them of the scores of millions which they made from the deal).

This is not just theatre it is demented. Will nobody say that the man on the telly is spouting a fountain of bollocks? Did any of the journalists interviewing Mandelson yesterday suggest that he might like to apologise?  But of course not. Our hacks are too polite or lazy or stupid or ignorant – or perhaps all of these.

When will we have regime change at the Guardian?

Posted in journalism, Media, news by Deputy city editor on June 4, 2009


A desperate, discredited, failed regime

A failed, discredited newspaper

Who will pay for Xanadu?

Posted in advertising, BBC, Media by Deputy city editor on December 16, 2008


Learn. Understand. Accept.

Greg Dyke,  brutally terminated as BBC director-general after foolishly imagining that the BBC was independent enough to call out Tony Blair on his delusional Iraq dossier, nevertheless left two great legacies. 

Dyke, who was against the BBC licence fee before he was for it, although it seems he may now be against it again, is the man who  saw to it that the so-called* freeview specification used for digital terrestrial services in the UK  would not be compatible with subscription television. This, he later boasted, was to make it harder to abolish the licence fee, because with millions of incapable boxes in the field it would be “impossible” to convert viewers to subscriptions.

This was a deft move in defence of the licence fee, but a disaster for viewers and public broadcasting. Viewers are entitled to public broadcasting  directly accountable to the public. The BBC is not a public broadcaster – it is a state broadcaster, answerable to ministers. The licence fee is the worst solution to guaranteeing the independence of the BBC. A subscription would be the best. A public broadcaster, not for profit, that could draw a mandate from thousands or millions of subscribers, each free to cancel at will – now that would be accountable public broadcasting.

So Dyke by his own boast admits that he sneakily, without any public debate, least of all one including his blessed fee payers, abused a technical standard for a purely political motive. His intention was nakedly  to sabotage any possibility that the BBC could break free of  the licence fee and establish a respectable relationship with the viewers. The beautiful irony is that the slippery Dyke was hoist by his own petard. Having ensured that the BBC would be 100% dependent on government more or less forever, the government promptly sacked him!

Now Dyke is boasting of a second pillar to his BBC legacy. This is equally dubious and sneaky. Dyke claims that he secured a secret deal from Tessa Jowel, then the culture minister, and one of the most venal and stupid government ministers in a crowded field, to financially guarantee the BBC’s massive, and shady property developments on Portland Place and elsewhere. This tookthe form of an understanding the government would retain the licence fee for 30 more years, to pay off the BBC’s mortgages!

Not that licence fee payers should presume themselves to inquire too deeply into the extraordinary machinations of the BBC property empire. It is at Portland Place, on the banks of the holy West End, that the BBC is building a corporate headquarters that would make Kubla Kahn blush. Those staff not exiled to Manchester will here enjoy a stately pleasure dome, just minutes from the best restaurants in town. The building will also be the new headquarters of BBC News, which naturally will have the biggest and most costly newsroom in the world. All this is costing well more than £1 billion although the numbers released by the BBC are less and admit to being a mere £20 million over budget. I doubt very much BBC candor on this point. Anyway, according to Dyke, we are all on the hook for this. Or at least, those who continue to pay the fee are on the hook.

How much worse this gets is open to dispute. The extent of the cost-overuns for the Manchester development and the move of thousands of staff there is equally  opaque, as to be expected from the BBC.  How these deals are being financed, what covenents are in place, and what the current credit conditions might mean for these deals, or the BBC generally, or the government as the supposed guarantor, we do not know. These are the BBC’s darkest secrets.

Getting to the bottom of this financial tale ought to be a job ab initio for the media correspondents of the national media.  As Andrew Neil noticed some time ago, these are “the dross of Fleet Street.”  They do not present an inspiring example to the profession of journalism. One of the stoutest hack defenders of the BBC even got an MBE (and got a TV show, on the BBC). One can understand why these journalists are mostly useless: they are entirely dependent for their stories on the BBC press office.

Don’t expect anything from the the BBC Trust. This successor to the governors  supposedly represents the licence payers but actually answers to the government which appoints all of its members.

And least of all do not expect much from the House of Commons select committee on media, chaired by the affable but so-far useless John Wittingdale.

C. Northcote Parkinson remarked that when organisations move themselves into lavish headquarters, they are already in decline. The BBC reaffirms this astute observation. But will the BBC implode? The government, pace Dyke, apparently has promised that it won’t. But the viewers could still do the job if they showed enough spine and cancelled their direct debits. Yet another poll this week shows two-thirds of us are against the fee. Consent for the television tax is lost. No surprise the politicians and the BBC find it convenient to ignore this.


* Freeview it goes without saying is not free – you are still required to buy a TV licence “or get done” by the BBC’s private police.

Tagged with: ,

13 things you need to know about the TV licence (or maybe 130)

Posted in Media by Deputy city editor on November 18, 2008

Despite the widespread mistrust of the BBC by those who pay for it, the corporation enjoys strong political and media support . After an extravagant expansion during the epoch of Blair and Brown, the BBC licence fee is temporarily frozen and if the BBC is no longer the subject of universal admiration, it remains powerful and dangerous.  Reform of this self-obsessed monopolistic provider of so-called public broadcasting is long overdue. The establishment will, however, wish to maintain its control of this ideological enterprise. There are already huge numbers of reluctant licence fee payers and also many who outright refuse to pay. But given the interests of the deep British establishment versus the people paying the bills, the abolition of the licence fee, and the transformation of public broadcasting into a medium actually accountable to the public, seems to be still very distant. That the licence fee is the worst of all possible methods for funding public broadcasting seems to matter not a twitter.

Australians got rid of their TV licence by mass refusal  to pay – the Brits are a more obedient lot, it seems.

Polls (except those rigged by the BBC) pretty consistently show 60 per cent of the public annoyed that they are paying the fee.  After recent scandals, the BBC is now widely mistrusted and even hated for reasons that go well beyond its typically craven journalism (BBC political news), frequent populist vulgarity (countless examples), vast waste, stupid salaries, left-wing trade unions and generalised contempt for viewers. Then there is the corporation’s role running its own contracted force of investigators who launch 17% of all prosecutions in the nation’s magistrate’s courts. The defendants are mainly female and poor – single mums at home during the day when the inspectors call. These women are too polite/intimidated to shut the door on the BBC tax farmers and they are processed through the magistrates’ courts, in order that the chattering classes might enjoy Radio Four.

Despite creating a hideous relationship between the BBC and its viewers, the licence fee has enormous political support. Politicians like the BBC because they are drawn to TV cameras and the BBC has a lot of them. The BBC is conscientious mirroring the Westminster debate. Politicians set the annual rise in the licence fee and appoint the Trust that claims to represent the licence-payer. Nobody opposed to the licence has ever been appointed to the Trust.  The thought that there might be an alternative is never discussed in Parliament, or much mentioned in the media.

Even Murdoch likes the licence fee, for fear that a truly independent BBC, financed by subscriptions, could build a platform to rival his own BSkyB structural subscription broadcasting monopoly.

Then, there is a large public constituency of people who listen to e.g. The Archers, and firmly believe that everyone must contribute to their listening pleasure. Even magistrates like the BBC, which helps finances their house magazine and whose prosecutions provide much of the cash-flow the courts reap from fines. The BBC works hard to keep various interest groups on-side. There is even a legion of rinse-haired fogeys who promote the BBC while styling themselves the ‘voice’ of the viewer and listener. Needless to say, the ‘voice’ gets a BBC subvention.

The BBC has constructed a careful mythology of its own greatness. This, with its £3 billion in licence-fee cash, and a disproportionate share of electromagnetic spectrum, especially in the radio band, the BBC is an institution of influence without equal in Britain.  The licence fee keeps a lot of the chattering classes on the payroll – from Andrew Neil to Ian Hislop via Polly Toynbee. The BBC’s cheques are very useful when it comes to the upkeep on the Provençal (Neil) or Tuscan (Toynbee)  villa.

As of April 2010, the TV licence costs £145.50 and roughly 20 million households pay it. It is illegal to watch ANY television without a licence. The BBC claims this includes computers and games consoles. Where does the money go? Propping up the Groucho Club accounts for only a tiny share, notwithstanding the publicity given to the notorious millions paid in salaries to various celebrities. It is actully hard to say where all the money goes because the BBC’s acounts are a bit like Enron’s. There is known to be a £2 billion pension deficit. Presumably, the licence-fee payers will be asked to pay for this, too. Although there is no risk to the corporation’s top executives, whose pensions are among the richest ever known in the so-called public sector.

This is possibly a lesser black hole than the BBC’s exposure to risky property developments, which focus on the construction of palaces for itself. In addition to the rebuild of Broadcasting House at immense expense in London, whose cost-overrun is certainly not fully revealed by the BBC’s opaque accounts, the BBC,  at an even vaster expense, is currently decanting thousands of its dazed and confused worker ants to a new media city in Manchester.

They are leaving the capital with the grace of the san coulottes departing Paris. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the plight of the BBC apparachniks told they must live in the North of England. But the BBC sees this as a crucial step in the defence of the fee after 2013. As for the credit crunch – who knows?The BBC is  engaged in colossally expensive property developments Manchester, too, although the exposure of these is hard to divine.  Billions seem to be at stake. You can read more about BBC corruption here.

As the BBC knows, I have not had a TV licence for many years. It has even been several years since I have received one of their charmless letters.  For the moment they leave me alone. I think I am possibly on the list of political refuseniks. Do I have a TV? How might I use it?  I consider these questions none of the BBC’s business. I avoid their programmes. I find their relationship with the viewers to be obnoxious and their journalism to be mediocre, tendentious,  but mainly tedious, narrow and self-obsessed. Fighting this ministry of truth in the courts has been a mug’s game (see below). At the local level, they practically own the courts. But they have to be nervous. The BBC is a gigantic contradiction, very close to implosion.  I’d love to see their books. I reckon they are probably bankrupt. And they certainly will be if viewers stop sending them cheques.

Opting out of the TV tax is not as hard as it seems. There are probably a million hard-core resisters and the number appears to be growing. These people are a diverse group ranging from EU-phobes, to people who simply can pay and won’t because the programming is so miserable, as well as others who may ethically object to the ransoms paid to the BBC’s personalities.  Still others detest the patronising drone of its programmes, and then there are those (like me) who simply consider the BBC’s demands unlawful and  impertinent. There are lots of reasons to be a conscientious objector to a scheme that is the worst option on every level.  Can you really get away with not paying? The BBC spends heavily to make you think not. The truth is more subtle.

Those who simply ignore the BBC will, for the most part, get away with it. Even at the best, the BBC manages to proecute only a tiny percentage of evaders – and these are always those who are prepared to admit the crime!

If convicted, it’s not so terrible – maybe more a badge of honour. The fine (usually £150) is hardly more than the price of a licence  and is about as much a badge of shame as a parking ticket. But here’s the key point:  you’ll only get convicted  if you admit it.  The key tactic of resistance is to throw away all the mailed demands, ignore the pathetic threats,  and in the unlikely event that one of the BBC’s hired goons shows up at your doorstep, say absolutely nothing.  What about the detector van? Worry not (read on).

If you are new to BBC resistance, or simply considering overcoming your fears of getting done and joining one of the several announced boycotts, you’ll have plenty of questions. There’s a bit to know. For those new to this fray, I am pleased to present the ‘need to know’ points – 13 of them naturally, pace Proust, although revised and extended, due to the requirements of the material.

1. Know thine enemy. TV Licensing is not an entity or a registered company but a trademark owned by the BBC. The BBC does not wish to be directly associated with the collection of the TV licence so it contracts out the collection to the Capita group, which has a billion pound contract with the corporation. Capita employs a small army of tax farmers (styled TV licence “inspectors”) who visit those who can’t or won’t pay. Unless, of course, they are a high-profile refusenik. Needless to say, those willing to make admissions to these inspectors tend to be the weakest and most vulnerable. So  if you attend the BBC prosecutions at your local magistrates’ court, the people you’ll see prosecuted are single mothers.

2.TV detection is all a Big Lie. There is no evidence that the detector van really exists, other than as a photo-op van filled with scary-looking bits of electronics. The legality of warrentless electronic surveillance by the BBC has never been tested because no detector van evidence has ever been used in court. Privacy and proportionality are merely two of the reasons why it never will be.  The BBC relies for convictions on the admissions extracted on the doorstep by its army of monitors, who get a bonus for every prosecution they bring (though this is not disclosed to the court).

3. The prosecutions depend on confessions. If you do not confess, you will not get done. BBC/TVL prosecutes more than 150,000 people annually but even the BBC admits that a hard core of maybe a million households puts up a finger and get away with it. While most of those who get done are women and on benefits, most of those who don’t are the people the BBC’s inspectors don’t fancy tangling with. One of the highest rates of evasion is in Northern ireland. Wonder why? Only a handful are imprisoned after being unable or unwilling to pay the fine. Typically, the twin-setted, Archers-listening magistrates punish TV Licence evasion more harshly than they do assault. (Visit their courts – and weep.)  The cases are processed by rote and the BBC is represented by a prosecutor employed by Capita. Legal aid is not available. This is British Justice – uncut.

4. Intimidation is believed by the BBC to be the only effective tactic against people termed ‘evaders’ hence the expenditure of millions each year on threatening advertising campaigns claiming (falsely) “TV detector vans can quickly find you.” In one advertisement, a ‘license-cheat’ is seen swinging from the gallows at Tyburn as the mob cheer and spit at the corpse. This passes for humour. The BBC also advertises straightforwardly: ‘Get one or get done’ and promises to know where you live and whether you are licensed because of its all-knowing database. Is there any other organisation that treats its customers in such a manner? But of course these are not consumers in a traditional sense. They can send no meaniningful economic signal to the BBC, as they can to Murdoch, by cancelling Sky.  They are captive ratepayers –  victims, not viewers.  Many people think it is just and proper that those who not not appreciate the BBC, nevertheless must pay for it. They will not explain why if the BBC is loved and respected, it should not be the case that those who love and respect it can choose to pay for it.

5. No alternative to the licence fee has ever been seriously considered by the BBC or governments of either political stripe. With the consequence that the licence fee keeps the BBC entirely dependent on government, for money and governance. The BBC trust is headed by a Labour placeman. All members of the Trust are appointed by the government. The size of the fee and its periodic renewal are matters for the prime minister. The claim that the licence makes the BBC independent is a Big Lie. The BBC in return for the licence validates the British polity by mirroring the parliamentay debate, sucking up to those in power, over-promoting celebrities and above all, defending itself. Politicians of all parties rather like the idea of a broadcaster so firmly under the thumb of politicians, hence tend to defend the fee. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow media secretary, and my own MP, is utterly useless, having advocated only cosmetic changes, in order to perpetuate the fee.  Cameron is worse, slavering on like some demented Archers fan.  Just notice:  Nobody opposed to the licence fee is ever appointed to the Trust. Discussion of the fee itself is simply avoided. Debate is shut down. The BBC even pays a subvention to the Voice of the Listener! Never mind that  polls consistently show a growing majority of the population objects to the fee and that popular consent for it has vanished.

6. The fee is contradictory to the stated right in the European Convention on Human Rights (adapted  by the UK) to receive information without interference. It also arguably contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a meaningless document which the UK has also signed.) The collection of the licence fee, which is essentially a poll tax, uses disproportionate methods that invade personal privacy.  The taxation of television contradicts the television without frontiers directives by making it illegal to watch foreign satellite broadcasts without a permit. Profoundly illiberal, the BBC is entirely driven by the insane and self-defeating wish to retain the licence fee. In the BBC newsrooms are NUJ posters with the demand: “Defend the licence fee.” Now the BBC even wishes to extend the licence fee to networked computers.  TV licence fees are not an exclusively British problem, although we invented them. These so-called public broadcasters (really state broadcasters) are political playthings everywhere. Made absurd by an infinite digital media diversity that makes their entire rational absurd, they demand exemption from normal human rights laws to protect their licence fees. But there are plenty of reasons to challenge these fees nonetheless – with the proviso that it will take years and enrich only the lawyers. The much better way to sweep these fees away is a mass refusal to pay them. There is precedent for this.

7. So, with unlimited legal resources, the BBC can expose any litigant-challenger to enormous and continuing costs. Resisters and conscientious objectors have preferred to use defensive techniques – not exactly pouring boiling oil over the BBC’s inquiry agents, but not making incriminatory statements, either. This technique of passive resistance is highly effective. it involves ignoring all the threatening correspondence from invented people at the licence bureau; ensuring that TV sets cannot be seen or heard from the front door, and responding to any inquiry by men with clipboards with the words, “I cannot help you,” and closing the door. Some say you should write to them withdrawing their right of implied access even to approach your door. But simply ignoring them avoid entering into correspondence with these people, and the waste of a perfectly good stamp. The so-called inspectors for all of their blue fluorescent costumes have no right of entry and one is not obliged to even reveal one’s name to them (indeed it is strongly advised not to do so).  Those who employ this entirely legal stonewall tactic report that the BBC’s thugs (who have only rarely been known to physically assault recalcitrant television owners) invariably move on to lusher pastures (usually deprived areas and council estates, where single women are easily intimidated into signing the “witness statement” that the BBC’s inquiry agents will subsequently triumphantly produce in court, for the benefit of the credulous magistrates). This has been descrbed as the criminalisation of female poverty. The BBC is unabashed.

8. BBC prosecutions amount to 17 per cent of all the business conducted in the magistrates courts according to Sarah Lyall in the New York Times and those prosecuted are never fined the £1,000 threatened but usually £150 plus of course prosecution and court costs and also a special fee used to sustain the victim counselling scheme. It seems that much of the cost of the magistrates courts (when they are not hearing prosecutions for wheelie-bin violations)  is paid for by the aseembly-line of fines for TV licence evasion.  A court can raise several thousand pounds for a TVL docket – and they all do. Magistrates are kept ‘on side’ to TVL through a specific PR campaign aimed just at them. TVL advertises lavishly in the glossy magistrates’ magazine.  Magistrates are an odd lot. It is sad to see why people would seek this work. If you want to test the oxymoron “British justice” just drop in and see your local magistrates deal with TV licences in batches of 100 at a time.  Failure to buy a TV licence is a conviction that does not need to be disclosed on a US visa waiver!

9. The BBC will not allow serious or continued discussion of the licence fee on its own airwaves nor is there any evidence that the trustees or governors before them have ever seriously considered an alternative. Despite clear evidence that most of the BBC’s fee-payers would like to be offered an alternative, nobody advocating one has ever been appointed to the governors or trustees.  The House of Commons media select committee has never held a hearing on whether there should be a licence fee.  The commentariat defend it while never disclosing their own BBC earnings.

10. BBC/Guardian propaganda notwithstanding, Rupert Murdoch is the licence fee’s biggest fan. Although he knows perfectly well that the licence fee is a ridiculous, self-deafeating and unfair tax to the benefit of a competitor, it suits him that Sky is the only national subscription TV platform (cable is very regionalised), and it terrifies him that the BBC could produce a competitive terrestrial subscription platform, to compete with his electronic programme guide and conditional access monopoly. One might have thought the BBC would seize the  opportunity of subscrptions (Murdoch has proven it works) and liberate itself finally from a detested fee and a sordid relationship with its viewers. The BBC would have a chance to establish a  powerful and profitable platform business, by itself or in partnership with others, should they have introduced a free view box capable of conditional access. But Greg Dyke (who was against the licence fee before he was for it; he may now be against it again) boasted that the BBC sabotaged this idea at the Department of Media. Dyke and the BBC engineers ensured that a crippled box was offered to the public, with no possibility of conditional access. In other words: there was an a priori exclusion of even the possibility of subscription televisionin which viewers could make their own choices. What a fool he was. The BBC cut itself off from the future and boasted about it!  BBC manipulation of technical standards to inhibit competition is nothing new, of course, as the disaster of digital radio has reaffirmed.  (Dyke was sacked because proving doubly that he is a fool, he’d actually believed the BBC was independent and could challenge the government on the war in Iraq.)

11. Other than the uniquitous BBC services, public broadcasting meanwhile hardly exists in the UK (unless you count Big Brother) and there is no access or money or even frequencies for anyone who wants to compete with the BBC. The BBC has ahieved the status of a secular religion (maybe a little like the NHS) where it has successfully confused its own identity with something the public understands to be desirable. Unfortunately, the BBC has long been an obstacle to a diverse public broadcasting culture in the UK, through its monopoly of the funds not to mention its monopoly of the frequency spectrum (half the VHF band) (and obstruction of competition).

12. The BBC tells us frequently that it is a beloved British institution – so why is it so terrified of asking viewers and listeners to pay voluntarily, like every other media company? Murdoch has persuaded almost 10m people to pay for Sky. Could not the BBC do at least as well offering subscriptions. If the argument is universality, there is nothing to stop them giving away some of their programs. Or they take a few ads (which the BBC already does – in America.) The BBC has never explained why it needs to be so big, so imperial, so obsessed with itself – or even for that matter why it publishes Hello magazine in India.  Why shouldn’t we have real public broadcasting, accountable to the public?

13. The BBC was the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 and in 2008 it really has become a Big Auntie but with a vicious temper and gutter tastes. They claim to be loved, but don’t trust that their output is saleable.  In Australia, public revulsion with the ABC led to a boycott of the licence fee, which politicians were forced to repeal. Subsequently, ABC seems neither much better nor worse, although the media choices available to all have expoloded, with the Internet and digital wireless, satellite and cable.  When will the British say enough and refuse en masse to pay? It would probably not take much to make the entire licence fee edifice crumble. If the BBC wants to become part of a diverse public broadcasting sector, good luck to them. But the argument for the licence fee is a tissue of lies, wrapped in hypocrisy.  But will anything change? You gotta ask yourself the question: are the British willing to stand up to the bullying BBC, or when the Inspector calls, will they revert to the customary reflexive cringe?

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The top of the morning…

Molière, Blair: not to be confused

I tune in France Inter to hear the unwelcome voice of Tony Blair, ignoring Wodehouse*, speaking French. One is very pleased by the poverty of his accent. Nevertheless, Blair is now firmly out of the closet as an aspiring francophone and his vanity and the thirst of French television producers for the absurd suggest that this is a distressing foretaste of future Blairite discourses in the tongue of Molière.

Update, 18 December: Alastair Campbell was plugging his book on Ce soir ou jamais (FR3) last night and I am furious to admit that his French was excellent, fluent if sometimes approximative, and much more cromulent than that of his erstwhile boss. Campbell is as slippery in French as he is in English. 

Conspiracy theorists will feast on Irwin Stelzer’s splash in The Sunday Times which was a glorious salvo at Gordon Brown. Presumably the days of intimate tête-à-tête between Gordon and Irwin are now over. I take this piece as affirmation that the affair between Rupert Murdoch and Gordon Brown is certainly over. It is unusual if not unprecedented for Irwin’s name to go on a splash. The link above does not do justice to the dramatic treatment on the printed page:

Normally this is the sort of material Irwin might confide to Rupert over dinner so to share it with the rest of us is bound to have some significance, to those of a high enough pay grade to appreciate it.

There is return fire from the Treasury in The Telegraph.

The sting of Irwin’s piece is that Gordon and Darling are paralysed by the bank/banking crisis and the Bank’s advice for an exit from the crisis is ignored. The Telegraph/Treasury says that Mervyn King lost the plot and has landed everyone in a fine mess. Either way, nobody is forecasting that it will be five more years for the governor. I think they should put Irwin in charge, provided he stops taking orders from Murdoch.


* Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

-The Luck of the Bodkins, 1935