Stephen Fry and the future of Public Sector Broadcasting

Stephen Fry

Last week Stephen Fry has made a passionate, clever and insightful lecture on the future of Public Sector Broadcasting and the specifically the future of, and dangers faced by the BBC.

broadcasting is a special case, that the rules of the market place don’t apply. As in the armed forces, coastal defence, policing and other fields, capitalism red in tooth and claw cannot be unleashed here. If we stopped husbanding the Yorkshire Moors or the Lake District the result would be weeds, scrub or desertification, not more efficient productive landscapes from Germany or South Korea providing consumer choice and real competition. If innovative, cutting-edge, new and risky programming is not subsidised, the weeds will blow in too.

One of his many anecdotes also hits the point on the head

Private competition meanwhile continued to hammer home its counter-message. ‘Actually the market does work, it only doesn’t work when it’s unfairly dominated by subsidised monoliths like the BBC. Take away their distorting effect on the market and all will be well. Choice and diversity will reign.’ I remember Hugh and I wrote a sketch in which I played a waiter who recognised a diner in my restaurant as a Tory broadcasting minister. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him how much I admired his policies of choice, consumer choice, freedom of choice. I then was horrified to notice that he had only a silver knife and fork for cutlery at his table. ‘No, no, they’re fine,’ said the puzzled politician. But my character the waiter raced off and soon returned with an enormous bin liner which I emptied over his table. It contained thousands and thousands of those white plastic coffee-stirrers. ‘There you are,’ I screamed dementedly at him, virtually rubbing his face in the heap of white plastic, ‘now you’ve got choice. Look at all that choice. They may all be shit, but look at the choice!’ The sketch ends with me trying to strangle him. Heavy handed satire perhaps, but that was how it looked to me we were in danger of going: thirty or forty channels but all filled with drek.

The transcript of the speech is available online along with an audio and video presentation.

Fry also wrote in the Financial Times the day after the presentation.