In this week’s Observer Peter Preston writes about the issue of plurality. He makes some remarks about the BBC that are relevant to people interested in media reform:
[…] talk, at very elevated levels, to the great and good of the BBC and they will admit that the corporation couldn’t have done the hacking story for itself, could not have followed it every allegation of the way, and couldn’t have investigated it as prober of first resort.
Why not? Because of the statutory thing. Because of the rules on “impartiality”, on fairness and balance. Because the BBC would have been too exposed to counter-attack under those headings. And , since we’re into other stories where the BBC could only follow, we can add in MPs expenses. Why? Because the rules mean you can’t pay for stolen goods.
I’ve written about the BBC over at Our Kingdom. There’s no point talking about media reform unless we are clear-eyed about the strengths and weaknesses of existing public service provision. Given that the BBC controls all revenues from the TV license fee and its senior executives admit it can’t do constitutionally important investigations, it is at least worth asking if some other device for commissioning journalism with public funds might be desirable.
We could call it public commissioning.