This week’s cover story on the future of television advertising has seen the BBC take a bold stance against advertisers, the latest in a series of actions that it has taken against media companies.
In January, the BBC said it would cut off advertising revenue from its top three news channels in the UK and Ireland, and from its biggest online network, BBC World News, in retaliation for the UK government’s decision to remove its licence to use the word ‘bastard’.
“It is a move that is going to make advertisers very nervous,” said BBC Scotland’s Chief Executive, Ian Black, in February.
“We are looking at the future with the BBC as a way of delivering our journalism, not just for our own business, but for the future for the world.”
Now, in April, the government has announced plans to end the licence fee, effectively ending the BBC’s ability to use that word in the same way as its main competitors.
“This is an incredibly complex issue, with a lot of different interests and competing interests,” said Black.
“So it’s a decision that needs to be made with the full support of the Government, the business community and the industry.
We’ll be working with the Government and other stakeholders to get this right.”
The BBC’s stance on advertising has been under review by the BBC Trust since last November, when a new director general was appointed, David Cunliffe, following a five-year review of the BBC News website.
The move has seen a series, including a report on advertising from the BBC Media Group, which describes itself as “the BBC’s advertising agency”.
The Trust has argued that it is “a fundamental part of our business”, that it’s “the cornerstone of our editorial content” and that it “provides a reliable source of funding for our news”.
But the BBC says it needs more money for its news programmes, and that “advertising is vital for a robust journalism ecosystem”.
It has also argued that the BBC should “continue to be the voice of the media in Scotland”.
“The BBC will continue to be Scotland’s media and news agency in full force and vigour,” a BBC spokesperson said.
“The licence fee is being replaced with a new licence fee for all of BBC Scotland, with new powers for news, sports and arts.”
“Achieving a more balanced and sustainable future for our audiences will require the BBC to make greater use of the resources available to us, and we will continue working closely with the Trust and the Scottish Government to do so.”
A new report from the Media Group concluded that the licence fees “will continue to affect the BBC in a way that will affect the independence of the broadcaster, including its ability to deliver its own news and information.”
It also said that “the current licence fee structure and current state of funding arrangements do not reflect a fair, transparent and balanced approach to the news licence fee and that the current model risks having a negative impact on the BBC.”
However, the Media Association of Scotland has argued against the move, claiming that “it will have no impact on advertising revenues, and will simply make it harder for the BBC, and for other broadcasters, to attract new audiences.”
In a statement, the Association’s Director of Media, Mark Taylor, said the licence renewal process is “fundamentally different from the current system”, adding: “The BBC has the ability to choose to make changes to its news, sport and arts programmes, but it is not the right organisation to make that choice in the public interest.”
A licence renewal is a decision made by the Board of Directors and is not a decision by the Government.
The Government should ensure that the UK licence fee remains the most transparent and efficient form of funding.”
BBC Scotland has been the subject of criticism from the media, with former news director Mark Harris describing the licence change as “somewhat of a travesty” and claiming the organisation had been “lose[ed] its moral compass”.
In his statement, Harris said the BBC “has been losing its moral and moral compass” and the BBC has been “an institution that does not take its own interests or those of its staff seriously”.”
We have no interest in protecting ourselves from political pressures or the pressures of our clients,” he added.
It’s been a busy few weeks for the corporation, with the latest report on the licence to be published by the Media Trust.
Media and Culture Director, Andrew Harker, said that the report’s “long-term recommendations are critical to ensuring the BBC remains a credible broadcaster in Scotland.”
As well as looking at advertising, the report recommends that “there should be an independent statutory watchdog to oversee the BBC” and “that a new public service body should be created to oversee and control the BBC”.