In My Opinion: Atholl Duncan: Why the BBC should not be privatised

Atholl Duncan

AS the glorious floods of summer begin to subside, there are signs that Scottish journalism has entered the silly season a few downpours early with a piece in The Herald last week calling for the BBC to be privatised.

This is a worse idea than the Edinburgh trams. Look at what tough commercial times and declining advertising revenue have done to the Scottish newspaper industry.

Privatising the BBC would stick a dagger in the heart of the rest of the Scottish media.

STV, The Herald, The Scotsman and commercial radio, already fighting for meagre scraps of ad income, would see a big chunk of that disappear to a privatised ‘Auntie’ at a time when they can’t afford to lose a pound. The BBC’s current audiences in Scotland dwarf anything commercial media can secure.

More than 80 per cent of people in Scotland get their news from the BBC. Around 0.75 per cent buy The Scotsman.

The BBC remains the most trusted news provider, while trust in newspapers plummets with every new turn of the phone hacking scandal. The BBC has only two per cent of broadcast sport, yet attracts 40 per cent of the audience.

So, where would you place your adverts ? Then you should ask yourself whether a privatised BBC mean better or worse content for Scottish audiences?

For a start, in a privatised BBC you could kiss goodbye to BBC Radio Scotland in its current form and replace it with a pan Scotland version of Radios Forth and Clyde.

Chasing the £ would mean an end to all that rich, Scottish radio content loved by a few but not valued by marketing executives.

Then take some recent telly. Alan Yentob’s excellent ‘The Grit and the Glamour’ TV documentary on Glasgow artists would certainly never be made.

The accountant in me would assess the ‘cost versus revenue’ of making the brilliant TV documentary on Olympic cyclist, Victoria Pendleton, and that would never get out the starting blocks.

The BBC Scotland ‘investigates’ team who cast light in dark corners where no-one else in the Scottish media goes would be re-deployed finding performing dogs for Scottish reality TV shows rather than exposing crooks and villains.

Scottish content would narrow in quality in an act of irreparable cultural vandalism.

The TV licence fee is frozen at £145.50 – less than a pint of beer a week. My Sky TV package is now more than £1,200 a year and sneaking up every time I look away.

My defence of the Beeb doesn’t suggest that is should all carry on smugly as it is. The BBC under its new director-general, George Entwistle, must become smaller, more efficent, more relevant, better regulated and answer how the licence fee works in a mobile, digital world?

The commercial media is hurting as never before. While it may make those who feel that pain feel better, it would be entirely wrong to react by destroying the one piece of our media landscape which mostly works.

Atholl Duncan is a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland. He is executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.

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