BBC's new charter: A case study in denial?

RT Editorial
This blog represents a range of opinions prepared by a team of authors working at RT. It contains commentary, views, feedback and responses to various events and news media items.
People arrive and depart from Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, in London. © Paul Hackett
This weekend The Scotsman led with a front page story lifted from RT. The subject is former First Minister Alex Salmond’s revelation to our Afshin Rattansi that he believes Scotland will hold a second independence referendum within two years.

Unlike The Guardian which recently passed off a reheated RT story on pilot fatigue in the UAE as its own, without attribution (and three months later at that!), The Scotsman does credit the original exclusive to RT. However, it first adds the caveat, “the Kremlin-backed Russia Today news outlet.” Hardly a surprising formulation of a Western paper, if not entirely accurate (for reference, RT is an autonomous non-profit organization, funded from the budget of the Russian Federation).

Meanwhile, The Scotsman will write about the BBC a hundred times a week and never use the term “the Whitehall-backed British Broadcasting Corporation news outlet.” Even though the BBC is financially supported by the state, and not just through the government-mandated license fee-based financing structure, but with special payments from its military wing.

Thus, here we have a clear MSM hypocrisy that continues to ascribe different logic to the BBC and other countries' equivalent broadcasters – from Deutsche Welle to Voice of America. A British narrative where the BBC is good and benign by the virtue of being British, which competitors who don’t echo the UK establishment view are “bad” players with sinister agendas.

Forward BBC!

Last week the BBC was issued a new 11-year charter by the British government. The announcement couldn’t have been shrouded in more assertions of the Beeb’s role as an independent public utility, with no agenda. The ‘Auntie’ doth protest too much?
Take a statement by Director General, Tony Hall, for instance: “I set out my concerns regarding the new board appointments back in May and said we would continue to make the case to the government. The BBC is a public service broadcaster - not a state broadcaster.” 

Now, Hall may believe his rhetoric and insisting upon it may make him feel all warm and gooey inside. But it’s simply not true. You see, late last year the BBC accepted £289 million ($375 million) over four years from UK’s security and defense budget. This was to boost its World Service output and is on top of the £245million ($325 million) annual cash pool the global [primarily radio and digital] wing already receives.

To recap: the money is designed to enable the World Service to spread Britain’s point of view around the planet and it was announced in the government's Strategic Defence Review. Among its clearly outlined primary objectives are expanding reach “in North Korea, Russian speaking areas, the Middle East and Africa.”

As the BBC even admitted itself that “there is also another factor which may have influenced this decision to promote Britain abroad – the rapid growth of rival international news services from Russia, China and the Middle East.” We’re flattered?

The handover of extra dosh to the BBC - on top of its existing BBC World TV budget [conveniently perpetually undisclosed, as it formally falls under the BBC’s commercial arm yet enjoys resource sharing like the swanky billion pound Broadcasting House with the public ones], followed another Ministry Of Defense (MOD) initiative in 2015 – the creation of a social media troll bridge within the armed forces themselves, known as the 77th Brigade. Oh, sorry, trolls can only be Russian, and we are supposed to refer to these fine chaps only as “Facebook warriors.” Yet this 1,500 (!!!) strong unit will be dedicated to "psy-ops", which sounds more like trolling and harassment than anything else.

No Cutbacks for Beeb

It’s also worth noting how the MOD has cut its overall budget by about 8 percent over the past six years and it could lose another 10 percent under Conservative-led plans to make overall savings of around £12 billion over the term of the current parliament. With this in mind, the fact that Whitehall has found such a huge amount of cash for the BBC is remarkable.

So how is the Beeb managing to attract this level of generosity? Perhaps it’s because they seem to have copied the playbook of the American BBG, which has been successfully building up the “Russian threat” in order to obtain more-and-more cash for their endeavors. To such an extent that their annual funding is now around three times what RT gets.

Here’s an example of this process. In March, the UK parliament’s Defense Committee heard how “according to some reports, Russia spends from $600 million to $1 billion on public resources such as RT,” while Western spending in the area was quite inadequate. In realty RT’s budget is at $260 million, or around a quarter of what the committee was led to believe and smaller than that of the BBC World Service, which operates in a far less cash-intensive format (satellite broadcasting of a TV signal simply isn’t anywhere close to being in the same cost league as the radio waves). Even with Rossiya Segodnya news agency included, the figure barely reaches a third. But it never hurts the BBC and BBG to plead poverty, facts be damned.

So, at the present time the BBC is receiving hundreds of millions of pounds from the UK’s defense budget, while continuing to insist that it remains a public, not state broadcaster. As the late Dave Allen, once a star at the network, liked to say: “you are not pulling the wool over our eyes.