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Posts Tagged ‘competition’

A chip off the old fox

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

I can’t understand why people have a problem with the BBC. Well, I can, but I have no respect for the point of view. The general argument goes thus:

The BBC has a state-funded huge budget stifling the market, which is bad for competition, news, programming … (never mind that the BBC actually concentrates a lot on very high-quality, balanced programming, raising the bar for everyone else, and actually welcomes strong competition).

But James Murdoch, son of Voldemort Rupert, now head of the Murdoch media empire in UK, and probable heir to the global monolith that is NewsCorp… James Murdoch, one of the most influential media figures in the world, has just had a pop. To comment on a few choice pieces:

This year is the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. [...] It argued that the most dramatic evolutionary changes can occur through an entirely natural process. Darwin proved that evolution is unmanaged.[...]  The number who reject Darwin and cling to the concept of creationism is substantial.  And it crops up in some surprising places. For example, right here in the broadcasting sector in the UK.

I love/hate it when people misappropriate evolutionary theory. Darwin didn’t prove evolution is unmanaged, he merely examined evidence that evolution was happening and coined the theory of natural selection to explain how it happened. Below our Jimmy M displays his ignorance of what the theory of evolution says.

The consensus appears to be that creationism – the belief in a managed process with an omniscient authority -  is the only way to achieve successful outcomes.  There is general agreement that the natural operation of the market is inadequate, and that a better outcome can be achieved through the wisdom and activity of governments and regulators.

Now, Darwin said nothing about whether the results of natural selection are better than creationism (in fact, he’d maybe see it as a meaningless question), he only argued that natural selection is what happens. So whether creationism (what an absolutely absurd way for Jimmy to make his speech sound intelligent and relevant) or natural selection is the best way to manage the development of a system must be evaluated as a separate exercise, external to the system itself – defining what constitutes a good result and weighing up which method gets you closest to a good result. There is nothing in the theory of evolution that is anti-’creationism’ at all (other than that in the case of nature it dissolves the need for postulating a creator).

When I say this I feel like a crazy relative who everyone is a little embarrassed by and for sure is not to be taken too seriously.

No wonder.

Creationism penalises the poorest in our society with regressive taxes and policies – like the licence fee and digital switchover;

Still using the laughable creationism/evolution debate paradigm, J.Murd? OK – I’ll play along. There are plenty of examples (arguably most of the activity of government) where state control does the very opposite. Healthcare, education, rubbish collection – these are all examples where central control and collection of fees/taxes leads to all sorts of things being affordable by the poor. Without the licencing fee the money for the BBC’s high-quality output would need to come from somewhere, probably from subscription fees which surely would be at least about as high as the licence fee.

The study of evolution reminds us that  it is very difficult to predict the outcomes of events. [...]

Witness the international banana market.  In the 1950s the banana export industry faced a problem:  the then dominant Gros Michel – or ‘Big Mike’ – variety was being wiped out by a fungus called Panama Disease.  The industry took the decision to replace the entire world export crop with a supposedly disease-resistant variety called the Cavendish banana – the one we eat today.  Unfortunately it now appears that these bananas may themselves be vulnerable to a different kind of Panama Disease. Since Cavendish bananas are genetically identical sterile clones, they cannot build up any resistance.

There are important lessons here: attempts to manage natural diversity have unpredictable consequences and are more likely than not to fail over the long-term.

I do like the banana story, Jay-Mur. I find it whimsical. Though not entirely relevant. How’s about a better example: livestock have been bred over many, many generations to give better fleeces, milk and meat. Do you oppose that management of natural diversity? Of course not. Getting rid of all media channels in the world/UK except for the BBC I would of course oppose (though it’s no worse than having a Murdoch media monopoly), but that is not the situation being faced.

Fourth question.  Is this creationism good for investment?  No.  A heavily regulated environment with a  large public sector crowds out the opportunity for profit, hinders the creation of new jobs,  and dampens innovation in our sector.

This is far from true. The BBC contract out more and more work to independent companies, so there is still a lot of diversity. Because the investment comes from the BBC and not other largemedia conglomerates (let’s face it, the BBC isn’t the only bull in the TV shop) you could argue it protects diversity as the BBC has to spend money on innovation, minority interests, regional programming … diversity, in short.

We don’t even have the basics in place to protect creative work. Whether it’s shoplifting at HMV or pirating the same movie online, theft is theft. They are both crimes and should be treated accordingly.  The government dithers – dimly aware of what it has to do but afraid to do it.

Do you see other countries tackling it better, J-Mu?

As originally with news and sport, so now with the arts and drama.  Sky now offers four dedicated arts channels.  Original commissioning by channels that customers choose to pay for is expanding and will continue to do so, not just from Sky but from the likes of National Geographic, History, MTV and the Disney Channel, to name a few.  Sky alone now invests over £1 billion a year
in UK content.

Remind me – was your speech about how stifled the rest of the industry is by the BBC, or about how the rest of the industry is doing pretty well too? It’s begining to sound like you’re making a mountain out of an imaginary molehill. I would add to the above though that I’ve watched a fair bit of cable/satellite TV over the years and, while it’s difficult to define exactly what, they definitely don’t do some things like the BBC do them. I think subtlety is the lacking ingredient. Having a TV channel that doesn’t have to attract advertising for each programme definitely enables the production of programmes that aren’t so brazen about garbbing your attention. David Attenborough, Adam Curtis, The Royle Family, The Office – these might all have never come to light without an organisation that isn’t always searching for more bang in order to get more buck.

And now I’ll stop quoting as this post is getting ridiculously long, but you get the jist: Jammon has quite an axe to grind against a country whose citizen’s don’t mind paying a public body to produce a lot of good quality TV and other media because it’s unbalanced, stifling, power grabbing… sinister, even… nothing like his dad.