Erm, Really Polly?

The media is not like other markets: lack of competition has often been the guarantee of media quality. Radio 4, Radio 3, BBC4, CBBC and CBeebies, programmes like Newsnight and the Today programme, flourish in competition-free zones. American newspapers often follow the same pattern where one-newspaper cities sustain the quality of a Washington Post or a San Francisco Chronicle. In the UK, since the Beaverbrook-Northcliffe battles, too many newspapers have fought each other downhill, shouting ever louder to be heard on overcrowded newstands. The BBC needs competition, say the Tories, but that is dogma, not an honest evaluation of what competition has historically done to BBC quality.

My flabber is ghasted I\’m afraid.

There\’s a simple way to actually test this thesis, that media is a market where competition doesn\’t in fact increase quality.

Look at the US newspapers, still, as Polly says, largely one city monopolies, and the UK newspaper market, one which has been a national (and highly competitive one) for going on for a century (apologies, I don\’t actually know whether national distribution via the train system was pre-WWI or interwar: anyone know?).

Which market produces the better read? Which produces more diversity of output, of views? Which, in fact, produces the better newspapers?

Which, in fact, informs readers more on the matter at hand, the news?

Anyone who has ever actually lived in those deserts which are the one paper towns in the US will tell you: it\’s the highly competetive UK market.

Thus the contention is refuted: competition might indeed produce The Star and The Sun: it also produces the FT, The Guardian, The Times and the Torygraph. None are perfect but compared with the US press they are beacons of hope, bright shining lights of journalistic excellence.

the BBC: there is strong support for paying the licence fee, with a majority willing to pay more than the present £2.60 a week.

Excellent: allow those who wish to do so to do so: allow those who do not not to.

11 thoughts on “Erm, Really Polly?”

  1. Maybe that was Pol’s attempt at an April Fool’s scam?

    Does anyone remember BBC TV before ITV? “And it is 9:30pm and BBC is closing down. Goodnight” cue National Anthem.
    Or radio before the pirates?

  2. The BBC ran a poll asking people if they would subscribe to the BBC if it was optional – 60% said no. Polly has a odd definition of “strong support”.

  3. Really Tim, this is glass half full empty

    The media is not like other markets: lack of competition has often been the guarantee of media quality.

    That being so, the logical corollary is that “Except for the media, markets are the best guarantors of quality.”

    Reading it that way she now agrees with you 99% of the time. Glass half full!!!

  4. ” lack of competition has often been the guarantee of media quality”: is that an attempt to justify Guardianistas ensuring that their sprogs get cosy berths there too?

  5. There is an argument that competition between advertiser-funded media leads to a reduction in quality – I can’t remember where I read it – it’s to do with each broadcaster trying to be the lowest common denominator. Subscription or cover-price funded media being a different kettle.

  6. As an aside, I once heard a speech by John Stossel on the role of consumer watchdogs on commercial television stations in the States.

    He said, historically speaking, once consumer journalists began reporting against their own sponsors in the 70s and 80s, those spots became very popular, and thus, the advertising income went up.

    On the other hand, tax-payer and donor-funded Public Broadcasting does not do any significant consumer reporting.

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