What do you do about a problem like Tim?

How does one deal with the BBC? Our local wordsmith Swift explores the nature of the problem


Tim – in case you are  wondering, and Swift knows you are – is the head bureaucrat at the BBC, Tim Davie. Perfectly nice chap, of mild Tory leanings (for the BBC this is roughly the equivalent of expressing strong support for Trotsky in Stalin’s 1930s Russia. Yes, that rad.).

Also Tim has had his fingers tainted with the grubby lure of commerce, having briefly worked for an American soft drinks beverage company. No, not that one, the other one.

Thus in Broadcasting House (BBC HQ), a figure of deep suspicion.

Swift has met him once or twice, and although he doesn’t quite pass the beer down the pub test, he could manage a cocktail or two at the Groucho without boring the pants off you.

The problem with Tim is that he is a mere decorative figleaf on the monster that is the BBC.

Let us be clear here. This is not one of those ridiculous rants about the BBC being infected by Labour or Communists or whoever. Propaganda when openly expressed is fine.

Swift the First (for I am, as you know, Swift the Second) turned his pen frequently to political propaganda. Swift II refers his readers for example, to his noble predecessor’s The Conduct of the Allies and of the Late Ministry in Beginning and Carrying on the Present War of 1711, which despite its somewhat forbidding title is biting and funny by turns. But unbiased it ain’t.

The BBC is not like that. It is not THAT SORT OF propaganda. Nope, nein, nada.

Let Swift explain.

A few years ago, there was a diverse bunch of newspapers and their websites, expressing a wide variety of opinion. Perfectly sound piece of the democratic pie. Or it used to be.

Because, dear readers, it will not have escaped your attention that the commercial news media is in a whole bunch of trouble, not only here but in other countries, because their advertising revenue has disappeared into the gullets of Google and Meta and the consequence is the sad departure of aged journalists clutching their cardboard boxes of possessions, awards etc by the back door. Farewell, Henry Winter etc.

Those of a sunny disposition are wont to say: ‘Well. It doesn’t matter because we have the BBC’. What more in terms of dispassionate, detached, unbiased (insert more positive adjectives here) could one want? Also look at the other sources of news like GB News: fair competition is working. Just like the old days of newspaper circulation wars.

Not that simple.

The BBC has two problems.

Problem one is that it has too much money. Swift knows that is an odd  proposition, but in the case of the BBC it is true. Do not under any circumstances listen to the wailings and plaints of BBC-wallahs (and their numerous supporters in Parliament) about the inadequacy of the licence fee. That outfit is the Man City of UK media. It is loaded. It is flush.

Problem two is more subtle. Once upon a time Swift worked – as you know – in the civil service. What he noticed was that, far from being crudely and politically partisan, the problem was that there was a much deeper culture in which the positive nature of state intervention was simply taken as a given. Because, after, all, the taxpayers funded it. So it must be good for them. And we got paid for doing it. So it must be a GOOD THING.

The BBC is quite the same. It is a state institution, funded – on a compulsory basis - by the public, and has imbibed from the very teats of Lord Reith himself (please do not mentally explore this metaphor) the idea that it always does good. And that good means – in essence – more public spending or government intervention, or regulation on whatever BBC programme that week has identified as a pressing social, economic or political problem.

Thus, the problem with the BBC is not truly political, it is philosophical. As it is a state institution, funded by a tax, it believes in the instinctive positive force of the state.

This is why the Licence Fee must be abolished. There’s a bunch of other reasons for getting rid of it, like its unfair, compulsory, means people end up in court etc., but that’s the main one.

So, Tim Davie, over to you. There are multiple other ways to fund a decent national and international news service.  Could you please hurry up and find them?