When do we get a say over BBC Worldwide?

There’s a big privatisation about to happen that you might not know about.

There’s a big privatisation about to happen that you might not know about

In a move that was unearthed yesterday, BBC America is, according to Bloomberg, about to sell itself to AMC, the Breaking Bad broadcaster, handing over ‘about’ 50 per cent in return for access to AMC networks.

But here’s where it gets complicated. BBC America is currently owned wholly by BBC Worldwide, a for-profit company. But BBC Worldwide is itself owned wholly by the BBC – obviously a public sector organisation.

It makes sense for BBC Worldwide to be a separate organisation. After all, the British public can’t be expected to fund an equivalent ad-free public service broadcaster in nearly every country of the world.

But being owned by the British public (albeit at arms-length), it would be reasonable to expect that the public get some say over what happens. Particularly when ‘BBC Worldwide exists to support the BBC public service mission and to maximise profits on its behalf’, operates under the BBC’s Charter, Agreement and ethics, and aims to help keep the Licence Fee as low as possible. All this according to its own website.

So when a significant division of a body that aims, at core, to serve the British public, is half-privatised, why is there no consultation?

The ramifications, after all, could be significant. Sell-offs can often emerge in the long-term as being incredibly short-sighted. They can lead to a lack of independence, accountability and public-service ethos. AMC does not have the interests of the BBC at heart. BBC Worldwide, ostensibly, does. So this matters.

If this acquisition by AMC eventually results in a loss for BBC America, it will result in a loss for the BBC as a whole – that is, British broadcasting (and therefore UK viewers) will notably lose out. There may be cuts, or there may be a license fee hike. This alone warrants discussion with BBC Worldwide’s core stakeholders – the British public.

This isn’t a lone case, either. BBC Worldwide has in recent years been selling off significant chunks of its own operations to private companies.

In 2005, the BBC sold Eve magazine to Haymarket. Then, in 2006, Random House bought out BBC Books. So the entire publishing division of our national broadcaster became privately owned.

Acquisitions matter, too. In 2007, the Beeb bought 75 per cent of Lonely Planet, the tourism guide, for £130m. Big money. Just six years later, they sold it for £51m at an astonishing £80m loss. Taxpayers lost out.

Then, in 2011, BBC Worldwide sold all its non-BBC branded magazines to Exponent, a private equity firm. It also handed over the licenses to run all the BBC branded mags, too, effectively sub-contracting the work, and moved all its magazine staff over to the private company. At the same time, the broadcaster offloaded its subscription fulfilment service.

What we have therefore is a history of semi-secret quasi-privatisations, none of which have public approval except for that of the BBC Trust. In the case of the Lonely Planet sale, it resulted in a massive bill for the taxpayer (indirectly, through losses).

It’s time for some accountability in BBC Worldwide. It may be a company, but it’s one that’s owned by all of us and it says it exists for all of us. Perhaps then, we should get a say when our assets are flogged off.

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25 Responses to “When do we get a say over BBC Worldwide?”

  1. itdoesntaddup

    It’s a strange company that instead of paying dividends to shareholders requires them to pay dividends to itself. The real solution to this is to sell the BBC lock, stock and barrel. Internally, it already consists of myriad companies – some purely personal “Presenter Tax Avoider Ltd.”, and some “independent” production companies dedicated to particular programmes. It’s been a long while since the BBC adhered to Reithian values and was accountable to viewers and listeners. Time to end the charade, recognise where modern technology is leading us, and ensure that our talent hones itself by competing instead of troughing on licence fees.

  2. jay

    You are quite right to point out the shadiness here. The BBC brand is going into private, foreign hands. But the British are expert at asset-stripping to pay current expenses. We sell our companies, our land and our buildings to keep paying the bills. And Left Foot Forward and other organisations have ten thousand reasons we should increase spending on this or that service but not one clue about how we should increase the wealth of the country through investment and production.

    The recent Labour Party Policy Review looked exactly like what it was – a report by service providers and service users bent on taking care of themselves. No mention of investment, of new industries, new technologies.

  3. Liam Fairley

    The problem is, as I see it, is that the Right believe the BBC is utterly biased and left-wing, and have been calling for it to be broken up for years. The left – or the far-left, at least – also believe the British Biased Corporation (there words, not mine) is the voice of the establishment and exists solely to serve the need of those in power. In short, both camps will not be prepared to fight for it

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    There’s that study showing that it’s the voice of the government.

    You might not be prepared to fight for it, I am – as long as it becomes truly independent.

  5. Guest

    Oh, so you want investment and production without actually, you know, spending money. Or having high multiple spending.

    You bitterly oppose change, I get it, as you think a right wing party’s neoliberal agenda…

  6. Guest

    Ah yes, asset strip, asset strip!

    Make sure the talent works elsewhere, right. You’d destroy a massive ecosystem of companies, not just the BBC, but you don’t care about that – you’d rather have people working in minimum wage (until you get that abolished) factories.

  7. jay

    I want Labour to bring in a national investment bank and enter into joint ventures with UK and EU companies and invest in new start-ups. I have no idea what you are raving on about. Maybe you do…

  8. itdoesntaddup

    So you support the massive salaries and tax avoiding antics of BBC bosses. You’re not one of them are you?

  9. Liam Fairley

    And what study might this be? Care to enlighten us? And how exactly do you intend to fight for the BBC? With some strong words on a comment is free section?

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    I don’t do anything for Tories with multiple personalities who yell abuse at me for free.

    And see, unlike you I’m not just a loud mouthed forum warrior.

  11. Guest

    Oh, “borrow” from the poor (i.e. raise tax) to invest in the rich. Well.

    And it’s called English, a foreign language. For you. See, it’s your rich who are good at asset stripping, as you condemn LFF for thinking we should invest rather than spend it on useful things. Or hey, not asset strip at all and borrow.

    But no, you’re dead set against useful borrowing.

  12. Guest

    I don’t support you. I am not after your job. Get over it.

  13. PoundInYourPocket

    “Cardiff University , Mike Berry
    BBC Breadth of Opinion Review Content Analysis
    Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies”

  14. Liam Fairley

    You’ve still not shown me this ‘study’, Wolfey. Loud mouth forum warrior: you just described yourself better than I ever could! Save me the job. You really are a silly boy, calling me a Tory. And if you think this is abuse then I genuinely feel for you.

  15. Liam Fairley

    You call it multiple personality; I call it having an open mind, independent thought and refusal to tow the party line. (That’s the Labour party line, of which I am a fully paid up member, so save your lazy, ignorant accusations of being a Tory)

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    I’m sure you make excuses for your multiple personality, with completely irrelevant excuses. You had no cause other than that to say “we”, and you’re flailing.

    And as I said, I evidently was being too kind. Is it the NF party line you’re towing? BFP? Another of the small parties? The lie about Labour is getting old on your part.

    Well done, you’ve worked hard to change my view of you to something that negative.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    I have not worked for you for free, Fairley!

    “Loud mouth forum warrior:”

    Yes, you are. And thanks for agreeing that my self-description of myself is accurate, before you then contradict yourself. And I see, I’ve been too kind – the Tories are too leftist for you, I get it now!

    And what would you see as abuse? Killing me? Far right nuts like you…

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re nicer than I am. Thanks…he’s not going to read your post or respond to it positively though.

  19. Liam Fairley

    It’s clear I’ll never get a sensible and coherent reply from you, Wolfey, so shall in future make no comments towards you and instead concentrate on sane, rational and openminded people.

  20. Guest

    No, I’ll never be your kind of far right winger, and you’ll only talk to people just like you, as you spew garbage about how hate is the only “sane, rational and openminded” option. Plus, no doubt you’re lying. As usual.

    Between your attempts to “feel” me of course.

  21. blarg1987

    Tax and spend does encourage start ups, if we look after the war, money spent on infrastructure such as new roads, towns, airports etc fed through into technology to create better more efficient products and services.
    Governments are good at setting a direction, industry is good at innovating and feeding of the technologies created into things we can consume.

  22. jay

    Your final sentence would create consternation and amazement in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and Japan. In these countries government is an active participant in start-ups, long-term planning, industrial investment and finance provision.

    This is today’s Labour Party:-
    Let’s have a mansion tax! Shall we use the receipts to invest in industry? No. To build social housing perhaps? No. We will use it to lower taxation at the lower end of the scale. In other words we will place it directly into consumption. Let’s buy some votes. To hell with the country.

  23. blarg1987

    Well it is true, Germany and Japan became powerhouses after the second world war because the Government set the general direction of rebuilding and exporting and so they are success stories today.

    South Korea, Japan and Singapore have clauses in their contracts that have technology transfer or components to be assembled locally mainly in military contracts.

    I am not saying it is the be all and end all but the key point is that they keep money in their economies so that start ups can thrive.

  24. jay

    I want the mansion tax to be used for social housing and investment. The Labour Leadership has decided it should be used to lower taxes at the lower end of the scale so it will go straight to consumption.

    Where do you get off jumping to ridiculous conclusions? Do you read my comments or just impose your preconceptions?

  25. Guest

    Oh right, you want it to go to “social” housing at the Tory scale of “housing for young rich kids”, which is what the new rent policies are turning it into.

    We don’t need to lower taxes, we need to restore high-multiple spending. And borrow to do so. And invest. And borrow to do so. Borrowing is at record low levels…lower than even the government’s crookedly low inflation levels!

    How dare I read your posts! Your problem is I am.

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