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.