Speech given to the Emmy Board in New York
Monday 24 November 2003
four years since I became Director General I have always come up against
the same problem when visiting America. The problem is this. An awful
lot of Americans just don't get the BBC. And by get I mean understand.
explain. The BBC is a broadcaster which relies neither on advertising
nor subscription. It's publicly funded by a compulsory tax which you
have to pay if you want to have a television in your house anywhere
in the United Kingdom.
don't pay you can go to jail. As you can imagine churn is not a big
problem for the BBC.
find the way we're funded odd to say the least. But it doesn't end there.
Government sets the size of the annual licence fee, so it decides how
much money we get. Yet at the same time the BBC is totally independent
from Government in its journalism and is fiercely proud of its independence.
reports events the Government would rather it didn't report and, as
you may have read, relations between the BBC and the British Government
in recent months have, to say the least, been pretty frosty.
been largely due to our coverage of Iraq which I'll come back to later.
top of being publicly funded, while totally independent of Government,
the BBC is also a public service broadcaster which manages to be more
popular than its commercial counterparts, which in turn upsets them.
you'd agree then that in the terms of US broadcasting the BBC is something
of an oddity.
last year I was sitting at a dinner party in London next to a charming
American woman who asked me what I did. I said I run the BBC. She then
informed me she regarded the BBC as a communistic organisation.
decision time. Did I get into a detailed argument about publicly funded
broadcasting with someone who appeared culturally unable to understand
the merits of such a system, or did I just politely get back to eating
that I am, I compromised and asked her where she came from. She said
Chicago. At that I gave up and explained very politely that if you came
from Chicago, the home of the free market, you were never going to understand
the BBC and suggested we talk about something else.
A lot of
Americans who admire the BBC nonetheless find it hard to understand.
And I am sure that if anyone in Britain, let alone the US, today came
up with the idea for a publicly funded, competitive broadcaster it would
be laughed at.
the BBC works and is a much loved and respected organisation in Britain
and around the world, producing some wonderful, meaningful programmes.
just be that the free marketers have got it wrong.
a market dominated world the question now being asked in some quarters
back in Britain is, "should we keep the BBC in its present form?"
Is it worth preserving? Surely the market can provide all the radio
and television that the public want or need?
this question will become increasingly important in the months and years
ahead for two reasons.
the continuing take-up of subscription television creates a superficially
appealing argument against a broadcaster funded via compulsory charge.
just let people choose what they want and pay for it? If they are happy
with acres of soaps, reality shows and imports, why not let them have
the BBC's Royal Charter, a piece of Government legislation which allows
the BBC to exist and collect the Licence Fee, is up for review in 2006
– and whilst that may seem like a long time away the Government
is kicking off the consultation process next month.
promised a root and branch examination of what the BBC does and its
core purposes as part of that review process.
many of our commercial rivals see Charter Review as an opportunity to
cut us down to size. One or two, led by Rupert Murdoch, would probably
like to kill us off altogether. It seems Australians don't get the BBC
Now I have
no problem with the BBC being under scrutiny. Public funding is a privilege
which we, rightly, have to justify. What I constantly remind our people
is that just because the BBC has been around for a long time it doesn't
have a God-given right to exist. We have to demonstrate that we add
real public value.
question remains does the BBC - and publicly funded broadcasting in
general - have a place in our market driven 21st century?
governments of all political persuasions have always made a conscious
decision to intervene in broadcasting. This isn't because they believe
state intervention is good or that commercial enterprise is bad.
from a belief that fostering the best of both these worlds is the most
likely way of providing both the kind of TV and radio people want and
that a society needs. And I would argue the two are different.
don't tend to do this with other industries but broadcasting is special.
a crucial role in our lives, both as individuals and as members of civil
society. It tells us what's happening in the world, helps us form opinions
and informs national debates. It connects people through shared experience
and reflects our personal interests.
particular broadcasting is unique in its ability to reflect a country's
values and culture – the things which make us different.
our system has traditionally recognised these values. Successive governments
have sought to create a television system which is both high quality
and fundamentally British.
years it's given us a wide range of programmes which are enriching and
entertaining but which also reflect our culture and our values.
has played a part in creating this system but the most important influence
has been the BBC and the unique way it is funded.
funding for the BBC has resulted in British television overall spending
a lot more money than the market alone would ever justify on indigenous
programming which reflects British tastes, British values, British culture.
this point, let me share with you a fact that some here today may find
surprising. I'm sure you are all aware of America's dominance of global
broadcasting, whether in terms of gross spend or overseas market penetration.
But what you may not know is that in terms of spend per head of population
on indigenous programming, Britain spends more than America.
we spend more money per person on new, home-grown television programmes
than in any other country in the world.
As I say,
even more than in the United States where the total spend is obviously
much larger because of the much larger population; but the annual spend
per head on home-grown production in Britain is $75 per head compared
to $65 here.
of $75 per head is not simply due to the way the BBC is funded. The
other three main channels, ITV, Channel 4 and Five together account
for more than half of it.
BBC is by far the biggest single investor – responsible for 40%
of the TV production in the UK. We use public money to create a powerful
incentive for domestic investment across the board and our freedom from
commercial pressures also allows us to set the benchmark for quality
and range which the other networks must be willing to match if they
are to compete.
BBC out of the equation and a cycle of cost-cutting and reduced investment
would almost certainly follow.
is that television left to the market alone behaves like any other industry.
You spend as little on content as you can get away with to maximise
of America, that probably means importing more and making fewer programmes.
After all - why spend millions developing your own risky drama or comedy
when you can buy rights to guaranteed crowd-pleasers like Buffy or Friends
for a fraction of the cost?
be good for the profits of commercial television companies but is it
in the best interests of our society?
already said in Britain successive governments have always agreed that
broadcasting is too important to be left simply to the market. They've
always believed that market intervention has been for the benefit of
our broadcasting system.
continued commitment to indigenous programming right across the board
is one of the main reasons our biggest commercial competitor, ITV, spends
more on original production than any other channel in Europe. It has
to do this if it is to compete with the BBC.
Four, the second biggest commercial channel in the UK, is the fourth
biggest commercial spender in Europe. Again, it has to meet audience
expectations but it must also compete with BBC TWO, the BBC's second
wrong to see the BBC as a separate entity, divorced from the rest of
the UK broadcasting system. A strong, publicly-funded broadcaster at
the heart of our industry has a positive influence far beyond the confines
of our own channels and services.
the bedrock of broadcasting doesn't guarantee our survival. In fact,
the threats to the BBC have probably never been greater.
is making it harder than ever for public service broadcasting to survive.
Its influence is felt in every country around the world and every corner
of our industry.
is about importing more and making fewer programmes. It's about replacing
distinctive domestic programming with international formats and US content.
In the world of broadcasting, globalisation means Americanisation.
not America's fault. It's simply a product of the size of the American
market which produces phenomenal amounts of TV, made in the English
with the international success of the US movie industry inevitably makes
it the world's leading exporter of programmes.
becomes a problem when audiences around the world end up with most of
their television output telling them more about American society and
culture than about their own.
is accelerating. Governments everywhere are being urged to deregulate,
to liberalise, to open their media markets to international players
– which in reality is shorthand for a handful of US multi-national
Government has just passed legislation which will allow our commercial
broadcasters to be bought by American companies – even though
there is no reciprocal arrangement.
buy ITV, the UK's biggest commercial network, while we can't buy a single
station in Cincinnati.
and at the World Trade Organisation, there's pressure – again
driven by America – to liberalise the trade rules on audio visual
services further and to limit the scope of public funding.
despite the fact that European markets are already very open to American
media, that the best American shows are available on our main channels,
that digital TV is awash with US imports and that America already has
a 50% share of Europe's audience for films.
trend is heading upwards. Between 1995 and 2000, Europe's trade deficit
with America in the area of audio visual products jumped from $4.8 billion
to $8.2 billion.
anyone faces in expressing concern over these developments is that you
risk being branded as being anti-competition or anti-American.
defending the role of public funding in broadcasting can see you characterised
as an enemy of free enterprise and consumer choice.
certainly not anti-commercial, having spent my entire career before
the BBC in the private sector, and I am all in favour of choice.
see myself as a friend of America – my comments are the product
of concern rather than hostility.
But I just
don't accept that we no longer need publicly funded broadcasting.
agree with those who argue that we should leave broadcasting to the
market. And I certainly don't agree with those who say that television
is just another commodity to be marketed and sold around the world like
Starbucks or Coca Cola.
funding of broadcasting is not about protectionism or propping up inefficient
businesses. What's at stake is the kind of television people have a
right to expect in their society - TV which reflects their culture and
is only different from coffee or Coke if we recognise that fact. If
we treat TV like these things, it will become like them. We end up with
nothing more than a briefly enjoyable experience devoid of any lasting
we all have a right to television which reinforces rather than undermines
the distinctive nature of our different societies.
we face is squaring this principle with the changes we are witnessing
in broadcasting – changes which often place a premium on profitability
and market penetration above all else.
expect the market alone to take account of these concerns. In the absence
of a strong publicly funded broadcaster, the cultural, social and democratic
value of TV will always come second.
that even here in America – the largest and most dominant TV culture
in the world - concerns are growing over the way market forces dominated
by US media companies are influencing TV and radio services.
focus mainly on the impact of consolidation and particularly its impact
on the provision of unbiased and challenging news and current affairs.
the American media reported the Iraq war played into these fears. I
know there's been much debate both here and abroad about how and why
much of the American media dropped any pretence of objectivity when
covering the war.
from Walter Cronkite to Christiane Amanpour are among those who've now
put their heads above the parapet to express concerns about the media's
willingness to toe the Government line.
intend to add significantly to that debate today, other than to say
for any news organisation to act as a cheerleader for Government is
to undermine your credibility.
should be in the business of balancing their coverage, not banging the
drum for one side or the other.
something which seemed to get lost in American reporting during the
of research I read showed that of the 840 experts interviewed by US
broadcast news outlets during the war, just four were opposed to the
war. I have to tell you if that was true in Britain the BBC would have
failed in its duty.
people what they want to hear is not doing them any favours. It may
not be comfortable to challenge governments or even popular opinion
but it's what broadcasters are here to do. We have a responsibility
to broadcast a range of voice.
at the growth in demand for BBC News in the United States before and
during the Iraq war, there is clearly a demand here for reporting and
analysis which isn't afraid to reflect all sides.
last two years our global TV and radio services, BBC World and BBC World
Service, have both doubled their audiences here.
services have experienced enormous growth too and have regularly received
emails back from people here in the US saying "thank you"
for trying to explain events. Thank you for being impartial.
As I said,
I don't come to this from an anti-business or anti-American standpoint.
public funding is a privilege and that commercial companies must make
a profit if they are to survive. But the question I would pose to you
is do these things have to be mutually exclusive?
let me say this - public service broadcasters like the BBC are not,
as is sometimes suggested, a hangover from a bygone era or the last
vestige of state-subsided industry.
being a barrier to the success of commercial enterprise, we can be the
catalyst for competition, for quality and creativity.
can do many things. Its power to inform, educate and entertain has never
been greater. Its ability to explain the wider world and foster understanding
was never more needed.
we must ask ourselves is this: are we here to simply serve up that which
interests the public? Or do we believe in television which also serves
the public interest?
competitive markets and globalised economies, I believe the role of
national, publicly funded broadcasters like the BBC is more important
not less if that public interest is to be properly served.
funded gives us the freedom to take risks, to be creative and to ask
awkward questions. That is something we should all treasure and if we
lose it we do so at our peril.
given by BBC Director-General Greg Dyke on accepting the International
Emmy Directorate Award for outstanding services to broadcasting