BRIGHTON, United Kingdom – Speaking at the Labour Party conference Chris Bryant MP outlined his vision for the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): a worker-owned co-operative.
Recently demoted Bryant, former Anglican priest and BBC man, who was shadow culture secretary until Jeremy Corbyn swept to power appears keen to ingratiate himself with his new boss. Responding to questions from the floor at an event discussing the future of his former employer, he found time to float some unconventional ideas about what the BBC could look like in 2025.
Cutting through a turgid discussion about the minutiae of BBC licensing and the future of its studios business, Bryant expressed regret that the “craftsmen” who contribute to the shows, such as set designers, receive a wage but not shares. He said he wanted to see a BBC where members of the production team, right down to the carpenters could expect to see their share of the profits when shows were sold abroad for millions – raising the prospect of a Co-operative BBC.
That was, of course, when he was able to remember which former employer precisely they were discussing. Recounting an anecdote from his time working at the BBC, Bryant declared “I remember when I was working in the Labour Party…” before correcting himself, with a knowing smile “No! I mean the BBC. They aren’t the same thing, honest. Sorry Farage…”
Insisting, mantra-like, that the BBC isn’t a left-wing institution was a key theme of the meeting. One speaker from the floor’s assertion that “the Tories think the BBC is full of lefties and spend money badly… we need to tell Tories they are wrong” was met by enthusiastic applause. Panel member James Heath, the BBC’s director of policy was inclined to agree:
“If you look at staffers working for the Tory party, working in Conservative Central Office, the Mayor, there are lots of former BBC people. I don’t recognise the claim that the BBC is a left wing organisation”. He appeared unaware of the left-ward drift of the Conservative Party ever since those very same BBC-types began taking up the jobs at Tory HQ.
In the same breath as denying the behemoth BBC was crowding out other producers in the market, Heath boasted that the Corporation was Britain’s largest spender in the cultural sector, and the nation’s “greatest asset”.
Although there was some dissent on the panel over the exact future course for the BBC, and angry voices in the audience from union members concerned the changes were going to affect their working conditions, all were united on one important point: the licence fee is out of date, and needs modernising.
The future is apparently the German model, where every house is required to pay a licence fee whether they own a television or receive any sort of programming or not – a convenient end to the era of television detector vans and licence fee protesters throwing away their televisions. Every house, flat, student set in the country will pay – or face the consequences.
It’s all worth it though, opined Bryant. The Tories just don’t understand the BBC and what it’s for: “they don’t buy into the idea of the BBC being something everyone pays into and everyone gets something out of… the poorest in society should be able to get the best content at a low price”.
Besides – “broadcasting East Enders is just as much a public service as Opera is”.