EDITOR’S COMMENT: Be very afraid: it’s Kaufman’s ’facile’ vision for the BBC

Gerald Kaufman. A name to send children screaming behind the sofa.

Gerald Kaufman. A name to send children screaming behind the


You almost felt sorry for him when he was in opposition, such was the

abuse he got. A lot was based on how he looked (think Laurence Olivier

in Marathon Man). Now, it turns out, we were right to be afraid.

Kaufman is now chair of the Commons select committee on media. He has

some pretty radical views - which is the charitable way of putting


Last Saturday on Channel 4’s Right to Reply (arguably the best media

show on telly), he shared some of them with the public. He was part of a

panel comprising the BBC’s director of TV, Alan Yentob, and a viewer.

They discussed the licence fee and Rupert Murdoch’s attack on the


Repeating the Murdoch mantra that the licence fee amounted to a poll

tax, Kaufman was asked repeatedly for an alternative solution. After his

suggestion, Right to Reply’s splendid presenter, Roger Bolton, asked him

to repeat it. Bolton thought he had misunderstood. He was not alone.

As a mere viewer, my precis of it runs like this. The BBC should be

privatised but still remain ’free’ to viewers. There would not, repeat

not, be any advertising. Nor would it be pay-per-view. This was getting

good. A seminal media moment was in the offing. Kaufman had discovered

the Holy Grail: commercial television without recourse to grubby


And how would BBC plc achieve this? On Planet Kaufman the Beeb would

link up with a major company, like BT. BT would stump up pounds 800

million to fund the Beeb’s programming (no ads, remember!) and the

licence-fee burden would be lifted from all those poor pensioners. Don’t

you just love politicians?

Of course, there’s the small matter of 99 per cent of other advertisers

complaining immediately to the Office of Fair Trading about a breach of

fair competition rules. Then there is the problem of the Independent

Television Commission’s regulations prohibiting programmes about the

sponsor’s product. The programme that came closest to ever doing this -

ironically, the BT-sponsored Now We’re Talking in December 1996 - was

subsequently criticised by the ITC. May the Lord preserve us from pounds

800 million-worth of new viewer phone-in shows.

There’s also the tiny problem of BT’s marketing budget. True, it’s

become the country’s largest advertiser, but there’s a big difference

between pounds 100 million-ish and pounds 800 million-ish. I suppose it

would ease ITV airtime inflation a smidgen.

A bemused Yentob played Po to Kaufman’s Laa-Laa. As a well-educated,

liberal member of the chattering classes taking part in a C4 debate, he

described the suggestion as ’facile’. What he meant was ’bollocks’.

Gerald Kaufman - a man in need of a few big hugs.


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