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Now they are trying to silence fictional characters

I am not often found defending the BBC or its offshoots, but this is just out of order.

The Welsh Government (for so the lads with the office on the fifth floor of Tŷ Hywel have styled themselves since May 2011 – there’s posh for you) demanded that the Welsh-language TV station S4C give the government a right of reply and refrain from ever repeating an episode of the soap opera Pobol y Cwm because a fictional character said the Welsh government “doesn’t have the backbone” to cull badgers.

Quite rightly, S4C repeated the programme as scheduled.

Like anyone else, the Welsh government has the right to complain if it believes that the BBC has failed in its statutory duty of impartiality as a tax-funded broadcaster, and that includes complaining about fiction. I did so to the point of exhaustion here. But what gave the Welsh Government the impression that it could try to impose impartiality right down to the level of re-writing the script for a particular actress in a soap opera?

The Leveson Report, probably.

20 comments to Now they are trying to silence fictional characters

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    May one suggest that this might be construed as ‘welching’ on the right of free speech?


  • James Strong

    I voted against devolution to Wales because I thought it would provide opportunities for people who couldn’t get selected for a Westminster election to nevertheless interfere in people’s lives.
    A large part of the motivation of all politicians is to interfere.
    But even my prescience didn’t extend this far.

    I didn’t foresee the 5p plastic bag charge either; they are ingenious chappies in the Welsh Assembly and Government, not in a good way.

  • Lee Moore

    Yes well. S4C appears to be part of the government. I’m not convinced that one part of the government telling another part of the government what to say is a threat to free speech. The fact that these government bodies are styled as “independent” does not make them into private persons.

    Certainly dividing up the institutions of government into separate lumps may well help dilute the overall power of government a bit, so this quasi independence may not be a bad thing per se, along the lines of the separation of powers, but whether one arm of Leviathan has to clear what it says with the other arms hasn’t really got anything to do with the right of free speech.

  • Lee Moore,

    Thinking about it, my response to your comment is very similar to what I was saying in response to comments on my post of a few days ago, Support it on Earth, oppose it on Libertaria.

    In the world we actually live in, a vast proportion of all the TV watched in Britain is via the state-funded BBC. I wish it were not so but it is. If one decides that government interference in the BBC’s output is no threat to free speech because they are both limbs of Leviathan, then one has in the same act decided not to contest a radical curtailment in the diversity and independence of views that most British people get to hear.

  • bloke in spain

    “I may not agree with what you say but I would defend your right to say it”
    Can’t say I’d agree with what either the BBC or the Welsh Government (Is it a ‘government’, I thought we were supposed to call it something less pretentious, like an administration or assembly?) said if they announced the sky was blue. Not without a handy colour chart, anyway. But the BBC do have form for things like this. Badger culling is presumably considered “the right thing to do” by whoever decides the right thing to do is. (Shame the english language is limited to one word for three concepts, right being so often left & the obligations imposed contentious or illusory) So the BBC pitches in by manipulating story lines to convince Daffyd Publlic (there are 2 L’s in ‘public’ in Welsh, no?) the ‘right thing to do’ is the right thing to do. Because that’s what the BBC considers soaps are for. To drip feed propaganda into the public’s (or publlic’s) ear. Just because SC4 doesn’t make the boyos suffer, East Enders doesn’t give them a free pass. Heaven forbid anyone should make up their own mind.

    So I find myself reluctantly coming down on the side of Welsh devolved politicians, but will go out on the streets of this Spanish town & do charity as penance.

  • The problem here is with television channels being owned by the government, fundamentally. Where we are talking television channels that are funded by advertising but are still owned by the government (as here) it becomes doubly ridiculous.

  • Alisa

    You mean all of them are owned by the government? I thought it was just the BBC?

  • Alisa

    No, that can’t be – I know Sky is not…sorry.

  • Lee Moore

    Natalie : “If one decides that government interference in the BBC’s output is no threat to free speech because they are both limbs of Leviathan, then one has in the same act decided not to contest a radical curtailment in the diversity and independence of views that most British people get to hear.”

    What ? The BBC is providing diversity and independence of views ?!!! The BBC provides an unrelenting diet of progressive propaganda. If it was directly controlled by the government of the day then at least the propaganda would change a bit, when the government changed. I’d even prefer a good solid 5 years of nakedly party political pro-Labour propaganda. The smarmy, holier-than-thou, faux-impartial, High Church LibDem-Greeny propaganda has had control for a good solid half century now (or from the beginning if you believe Churchill) and even unrelenting Maoist propaganda would make a pleasant change. Better by far would be to auction the spectrum in hourly chunks, to the highest bidder, bulldoze the BBC and salt the eartth on top of it.

  • Alisa: I wrote about the history of British television a few years back.

    Roughly, though. The BBC had some experimental pre-war broadcasts but launched its permanent service in 1946. This was and is government owned and supported by the licence fee.

    In 1955, a second, advertising funded television network came into being called ITV. This was supposedly not owned by the government but had a highly complex ownership structure. Britain was divided into a large number of regions, and the local television station was franchised to a different private owner in each place. (In larger cities, different companies had the right to broadcast on different days of the week and later different times of day). Much programming was national, but a government body was set up to decide which programming was allowed to be broadcast on a national basis. Private companies’ licenses were for seven years only, after which the government held a review and could and sometimes did take their licenses away if they did not satisfy a government defined “quality” threshold. In essence, the private companies controlled the sale of advertising but did not control their own programming.

    This arrangement of two channels led to a peculiar piece of British English, in which people will talk about “switching to the other side” when they mean change the channel. TV was perceived as akin to an LP record, with the BBC on one side and ITV on another.

    In 1964, the BBC gained a second channel, which was funded by the licence fee just like the first.

    In 1982, Channel 4 (and the Welsh version S4C) were created. This channel was and is owned by the government, but is funded by advertising. The channel had an ambit not to cater to the largest audiences but to cater to audiences that were not adequately served (as defined by the government) by existing services. In order to not upset the existing ITV companies, the ITV companies got to sell the advertising for Channel 4, and if Channel 4’s advertising revenues exceeded a certain point as defined by (you guessed it) the government, the ITV companies and not Channel 4 kept the money.

    Thus Britain managed to find two largely different models by which advertising funded television networks could be created that did not compete with the BBC and which were controlled by the government.

    Rupert Murdoch launched Sky in 1989 (and almost send himself bankrupt doing it), but it only really became successful in about 1994-5 when it got going with television rights to the English Premier League soccer. This was the first genuine competition that the BBC had ever faced. This, ultimately, is why the establishment in Britain hate Rupert Murdoch so much. He had the audacity to compete with the BBC and to succeed. They will never forgive him this.

    As a brief summary of British television since. A fifth analogue terrestrial channel (Channel 5) launched in 1995, after the relevant government bureaucracy expressed great reluctance to issue the licence (refusing to do so the first time it was theoretically put out to tender). This was the first genuinely national and privately owned terrestrial television network in the UK. The various mid 1990s ITV companies were gradually allowed more control over their own businesses and to merge with each other (and the finite life of franchises eventually went away too), a process that finished with the merger of Carlton and Granada in 2004. So as of 2004, Britain had two, privately owned, national television networks, but (for various reasons) neither of them had any money. In a normal market, you would have large, well funded commercial terrestrial television networks that could compete with other companies, but the companies in Britain were so emaciated (deliberately) by the history of regulation that the only real competitor to the BBC was Sky.

    A digital terrestrial platform (OnDigital, subsequently ITV digital) was launched in 1998. This features various channels from ITV, Sky, and other commercial providers, but it went bust in 2002, due to a combination of restrictive regulation and (to be fair) terrible management. This was subsequently replaced by Freeview, which is run and controlled by the BBC, who were refused the licence to run digital terrestrial in 1998, but were allowed to do so in 2003 due to the failure of the previous private option.

    So non-BBC television is either owned by Rupert Murdoch, owned by the government, or doesn’t have any capital. such as ITV, Channel 5, and various other organisations who broadcast on Freeview.

  • Alisa

    OMG. I had no idea – thanks Michael.

  • Lee Moore,

    What ? The BBC is providing diversity and independence of views ?!!! The BBC provides an unrelenting diet of progressive propaganda.

    As I mentioned in the main post, I wrote literally hundreds of posts for Biased BBC, so I am not unaware of the BBC’s left wing agenda.

    Nonetheless you seem to be assuming that because the BBC consistently is a propagandist for “progressive” ideas that means it cannot get any worse. It could. It could provide an even worse approximation to presenting diverse views than it does now.

    (By the by, the pro-badger cull sentiments at issue are not particularly “progressive”. In fact the Guardianistas generally seem to against it on animal-rights grounds. The censorship the Welsh Government was trying to impose related to suppressing criticism of itself.)

    Better by far would be to auction the spectrum in hourly chunks, to the highest bidder, bulldoze the BBC and salt the eartth on top of it.

    Fine by me. Then nuke it from orbit, just to be sure.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – even if Mr Murdoch had been allowed to buy Sky (the fact that government has the right to refuse him permission to buy shares in the company he created, speaks volumes about the modern world) he would NOT have been allowed to make Sky News worth watching

    For Sky News to take an anti collectivist political stand is actually ILLEGAL in the United Kingdom.

    A newspaper or magazine may take a stand against collectivism (although this is being undermined by the new generation of journalists), but a radio or television station must be “unbiased” – i.e. leftist.

  • Paul Marks

    The Welsh and (even more) the Scottish governments……

    They prove that (hard though it is to believe) it is possible to be more leftist than England.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The chilling effect of Leveson has shown itself for a while.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes J.P.

    And as for the report – the thing should never have been set up in the first place.

    All Mr Cameron had to say was “hacking telephones is already a criminal offence” and STICK to that.

    But he was too much of a establishmentarian fudge person (as he is over the E.U. – and everything else) so he agreed to an “enquiry”.

    Thus this utter mess.

    And, almost needless to say, all the protests on the streets have been ones IN FAVOUR OF MORE CENSORSHIP.

    The education system has done its work.

    The people think that freedom is slavery, and slavery is freedom.

    They should for “freedom” as they demand more state control.

  • Lee Moore

    Yes Natalie, I know you know about the BBC. All I’m really whining about is the wrong use of “freedom of speech.” Which is the liberty of individual humans (or such collectives of humans as choose to combine together voluntarily) to say, and listen to, whatever they choose without being punished by the government. (Freedom not ability.)

    If everyone in society happens to have the same view, and so just one view gets expressed, freedom of speech is still doing fine. What matters is not which views get expressed, but whether everyone is entitled to express his view freely.

    A diversity of opinion appearing on state media is no better or worse, freedom of speech wise, than a single opinion appearing on state media – for in either case the point is that the opinion is expressed by state permission only.

    I agree with you that given a world in which it is necessary to get state permission to express your opinion it is nicer if the state is willing to permit a range of different opinions – but that still has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s simply a state which issues its permissions more generously. And I would certainly prefer such a state to a state that permits only one opinion. But “freedom of speech” should not be used to debate these questions of how state control should be exercised, it should be left to describe the absence of state control from the field of speech.

    Otherwise the dark side will have succeeded in forcing even those who do understand the meaning of “freedom” (ie liberty) to abandon that meaning in favour of the dark side’s preferred spoiler meaning, ie power. And when nobody uses freedom to mean liberty, and even Natalie uses it to mean power, then real freedom becomes impossible to defend.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Pobol y Cwm

    Living Welsh is the best revenge.

  • James Hargrave

    I seem to remember Welsh language ‘activists’ blowing up a TV transmitter in Mid Wales in 1980 as part of their campaign for the ghetto channel (S4C) – to give it the name used by an anglophone Welsh friend from that area – thus preventing the area’s inhabitants, not a few of them Welsh speakers, from receiving such Welsh-language broadcasting as there was (then on the main channels).

    Give people pretend parliaments and fill them with hacks and retreads (a Welsh-speaking academic friend looks over her shoulder before giving vent to her opinions on this mob; she lives in the heart of Celtic cloud cuckoo land, physically and institutionally) and then watch as the legislative urge takes hold. Small men for small measures, obviously with small minds.

    And meanwhile, in North Britain…

  • Jim Davies

    Ha ha,


    Cenureship will kill our culture….and I’m not into killing badgers BTW.