Wednesday 17 August 2005

BBC bias.

People argue back and forth about whether the BBC are politically biased, but there's another area in which their bias is infallible and undeniable. What was the main headline on Radio One's awful Newsbeat yesterday? Can you guess? Bear in mind that we're at war, that there have been two plane crashes in the last few days, and that a major strike has just crippled one of the world's busiest airports.

That's right, their top story was the disastrous news that copies of the latest episode of Ricky Gervais's new BBC comedy, Extras, were available to download from the Internet two days before they were broadcast. Some people, apparently, watched this flagship BBC show before the BBC wanted them to. And that's stealing. This sort of theft costs "the industry" gazillions of pounds, they told us. They even interviewed Ricky Gervais, who explained to them in a wide variety of ways just how much of a shit he didn't give, and also pointed out to them that it's not his copyright, it's the BBC's, so why the hell were they asking him about it?

Copies of TV shows get downloaded every day. It's never been the BBC's top news story before. When it's one of their shows that gets nicked, it's clearly far more important.

But hang on. While there's a debate to be had about the pros and cons of illegal downloading, and it's certainly true that it constitutes theft in most cases (though there's a strong argument that it is a type of non-harmful theft that no-one should get upset about), this is a BBC show. Newsbeat's reporter earnestly told us about how much damage illegal downloading does to the profits of broadcasting firms, but it seemed not to occur to her that the BBC is not actually a profit-making company. At least, it's not supposed to be. In fact, thanks to the unique way in which the BCC is funded, they are effectively immune to any damage that could be done to their profits in this way. If enough people get the show off the Web instead of watching it on BBC2, the BBC's ratings go down slightly when they broadcast it, which leads to... well, what? If they had adverts, the ratings dip would make the advertising slots cheaper, reducing the BBC's revenue. But they don't. The only way they can demonstrate that any theft has occurred here is by proving that the people who've downloaded the show have then viewed it in houses that don't have TV licenses. Anyone who does have a license has paid for the show and is therefore entitled to watch it. Anyone who lives outside the UK is exempt from the BBC's funding mechanism, and is therefore entitled to watch it for free.

If the BBC don't like this arrangement, there is an alternative.

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