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BBC – Time to Reform

 5 min read / 

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia, where 30 Britons died, the government invited MPs to consider the possibility of an enhanced role in tackling the Islamic State in Syria. However while MPs were divided over what Britain’s role in the region should be, there was an area of agreement across the political spectrum: namely condemnation of the BBC’s decision to refer to the group as ‘Islamic State’. Both prior to and after the attacks the BBC has come under sustained pressure to choose an alternative name, with politicians as ideologically opposed as David Cameron and Alex Salmond demanding a different approach.

Such hostility will continue as the government and BBC enter negotiations to renew the BBC charter. Many MPs within the Conservative Party have heavily criticised the BBC for leftward bias, most notably during the 2015 General Election. This has led to calls for fundamental reform of the organisation, such as through decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC license fee.

The BBC itself received £5.166bn in income during the 2013-14 financial year, with over £3.726bn received in license fee payments. These cost approximately £145.50 pear year for a family who has one, and is required in order to watch live TV in the UK, although catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer can be watched without one. In the 2013-14 financial year approximately 25,419,296 people paid this. However this is less than had initially been predicted by the corporation. Recent increase in costs and fall in revenue has forced the organisation to cut 1,000 jobs, in an attempt to make up a £150m budget shortfall. This is expected to save £50m per year. These challenges are expected to increase in the future, particularly as more television content becomes viewable online. While only 2% of viewers watch television exclusively online at present, there is expected to be a significant increase over the next decade.

The corporation also faces criticisms for its perceived monopoly of the telecommunications industry. Many newspapers have criticised the perceived scope of the BBC website, which offers sections dedicated to areas as diverse as cooking, science and travel. This means that it is more difficult for other organisations to reach a wider audience so easily. Similarly the news website, which remains free to view, is disliked by newspapers, who have recently introduced online subscription fees in order to offset revenue losses from lower print circulation. In an attempt to address some concerns of its monopoly in the television sector, the BBC has forced some channels to move to an online platform. Most notably BBC Three, which specializes in comedy, will only be viewable on iPlayer by late 2015. This has partly been justified as increasing competition between the BBC and other channels such as ITV and Channel 4. Similarly executives are also understood to be exploring the possibility of the BBC News Channel transferring to an online-only platform. This would have the additional benefit of helping the corporation to achieve its long-term goal of reducing production costs.

In a further sign that the BBC may be starting to reform, on Sunday the BBC announced it had reached an agreement with the government whereby the license fee will rise in line with inflation. A license will also be required by people who watch online catch-up services such as iPlayer and ITV Player, where before a license had only been required to watch live television. This is being used to offset the increase in costs incurred by paying for over-75s to have free TV licenses, which the BBC will be expected to fully subsidies by 2021. This alone is expected to cost the organisation £650m, equivalent to one-fifth of its total budget.

However, if TV licensing revenue continues to fall short of expectations, the corporation may face pressure to also adopt more advertising. BBC World Service already uses limited advertising, with adverts for tourism in areas such as Azerbaijan and luxury watch brands showing between programs. Likewise advertising space is available on the World Service website, with the revenue generated contributing towards the service’s £245m budget. While advertising is unlikely to be included in the agreement which renews the BBC charter in 2017, there can be no doubt that the corporation faces significant challenges as it adapts to technological changes and ensures its long-term financial stability. With Tony Hall saying that the license fee only has ‘10 years left of life’ the organisation will need to consider new revenue sources. There is also likely to be sustained political pressure, both from a Conservative government that feels aggrieved by the corporation’s 2015 election coverage, and from national newspapers that believe the BBC prevents them from increasing their online readership. This will add to the scrutiny on how the corporation functions, and makes criticisms such as those demonstrated in the recent debate on the Tunisia attacks more likely.

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Companies

Uber Eats to Offer Europe Couriers Insurance

 1 min read / 

Uber Eats insurance

Uber has announced that it will be offering a free insurance package to its food couriers in nine European countries.

The company has teamed with AXA Corporate Solutions for the insurance product, which will be introduced from January 8 next year. It will cover personal accidents, cash benefits for hospitalisation, property damage and cover for third-party liability of up to a maximum of $1m. Uber eats operates in Austria, Belgium, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

If a driver is involved in an accident, they will simply need to fill in an online claim form available on the Uber Eats app.

Previously, both Uber Eats and Deliveroo have come under scrutiny over how workers are treated. In the UK, Deliveroo riders went to court to seek employment rights, including the minimum wage. The UK government has looked at whether the employment law needs to be changed to take account of modern working practices, such as the gig economy.

Keep reading |  1 min read

Companies

Google News: The Secret War Against Net Neutrality

 5 min read / 

Google Net Neutrality

Anyone watching Google News can see that mainstream news outlets are a monoculture, with 100 different outlets reporting essentially the same “big” story. That is, whatever is the top scandal of the day. With click-bait headlines the norm, mainstream news and fake news look indistinguishable. Readers struggle to tell the difference. It’s all negativity and shouting. That’s changing our culture, and not in a good way.

Google News is making the news monoculture worse by blocking independent news publishers seeking to join Google News. There’s an almost insurmountable headwind for new publishers who haven’t been “grandfathered in” to Google News. Google urges us to take action to support net neutrality while at the same time defeating net neutrality by giving favoured nations treatment to big business news organizations at Google News. Why is that a real problem? Let’s talk about what happened to news in Spain.

The Case in Spain

Spain’s repressive Google tax, and consequent Google News blackout, crippled independent news there. When that happened at the time, Google may have thought, serves Spain right for passing a stupid law. However, the suppression of independent news in Spain has had consequences. The Spanish news blackout by Google News played into the hands of the Spanish government seizing mainstream media, reducing mainstream news to official propaganda.

In its early days, Google News was a tremendous democratic influence for good. Smaller news sites you wouldn’t otherwise know about could get to the top of Google News based on merit. A colleague once wrote a story about a TV movie premiere starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. There was surprisingly big interest in this story. It was the only story that quoted Hewitt talking about her film. That story went to the top of the entertainment section of Google News on a Sunday morning and stayed at the top all day. It drove tremendous amounts of traffic to the news site that published it. They took a lesson from it.

Their success with that story on Google News changed their editorial mandate. The new marching orders? Find more stories that we can uniquely cover that will put us at the top of Google News. What Google had done, intentionally or not, was support diversity and make journalism better. For years that publication ranked on the front page of Google News almost daily. They survived on that traffic. It doesn’t work that way anymore. It isn’t how good you are. It’s how big you are that gets you into the Google News club today.

Difficulty for Small Publishers

In fairness to Google News, this publication, The Market Mogul, is carried by them, so clearly it’s not impossible for a new publisher to gain access. However, given their loud support of net neutrality, why doesn’t Google News have a program that nurtures net neutrality on their own platform? Why not help small publishers, rather than making it more difficult for them to launch and sustain themselves?

Maybe Google simply hasn’t thought about the consequences of not helping small publishers. After all, it can be more work to deal with them. They may have more questions to answer than establishment outlets. However, big mainstream publishers aren’t actually subject to the official rules. Google News isn’t about to drop the New York Times or Washington Post if they make a web template change that moves the author byline down a line or another superficial change that might confuse Google crawler robots.

A small publisher, however, is expected to play 100% by Google’s rules. A long-time Google News forum advisor talks about how things have changed at Google News:

In simple terms, the Google News guidelines have tightened up over time.  I joke that the NYTimes might not be accepted these days.  Yes, that tight.  So your goal is not to generate a marginally passable website that might get accepted into Google News, but one that is so wonderful that Google will drop all of your perceived competitors to find room for you.

Maturity.  If the site doesn’t have 6 months of strong journalism history to review, don’t bother applying.  Maybe 1 year in some niches.  And don’t be surprised to be rejected as 99% of all sites that apply will be rejected.  Think of this as a challenge and go forth and make the best possible news site in your niche.

Why should better journalism mean dropping a perceived competitor? Has the Internet run out of space?

If the above observation is correct, and it is judging from what small publishers have told me and the general feedback on the Google News forum, then Google News has changed. No longer a news democracy with room for every legitimate news publisher no matter what size, Google News has morphed into a walled garden that embraces big business. It’s the opposite of net neutrality. Google News has become a censor promoting the establishment viewpoint. Think that’s bad? It gets worse.

What billionaires think, is the establishment viewpoint. Billionaires control the mainstream press. Google News is boosting the 1%. Whether that’s Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, which continues to provide outstanding journalism, or Rupert Murdoch, owner and head of Fox News, which does not. Warren Buffet owns 31 news dailies and 50 weeklies. In the UK, five billionaires, Rupert Murdoch, Jonathon Harmsworth, Richard Desmond and the Barclay twins own 80% of the newspapers, plus TV stations, press agencies, book companies, and cinemas. None of the top UK billionaire press owners actually live in England.

Conclusion

A handful of billionaires, many tax avoiders living mostly beyond the law by bending it to their wills, has become our society’s thought overlords through their control of the press. And Google is helping them do it. Why has Google become a gatekeeper to enforce a news mono-culture? Will Google reconsider, stop suppressing small publishers and demanding they be “better” than the New York Times before allowing them a voice?

What society needs is news net neutrality.

Keep reading |  5 min read

Americas

Bulletproof Clothing: How US Fashion Is Going Ballistic

 2 min read / 

Bulletproof Clothing

As the US continues to allow civilians to carry weapons and gun violence becomes more of a concern, an increasing number of bulletproof apparel retailers are emerging across the country. Their target clients? The average Joe. Or at least those who can afford the hefty price tags associated with the “exotic” new fashion segment.

Miguel Caballero, a Colombian designer, sells his bulletproof blazers for 4,343.50 euros, and his tank tops for 2,023 euros. At a lower price, but still too high for most people, Joe Curran, who owns BulletBlocker, sells his bulletproof leather jacket for $875 and bulletproof classic two-piece suit for $1,200.

Source: Miguel Caballero

Caballero said that his clients include world leaders from South America and the Middle East, and international businessmen. Damien Ross, another manufacturer of bulletproof clothing, said that his clients are mostly college-educated, professional men, between the ages of 34 and 75.

Ross said:

“They [clients] see what’s happening on the news, and, any time they’re in a crowd or an area that can be prone to attack, they are concerned.”

Source: Bullet Blocker

Body armour manufacturing is a $465 million-a-year industry in the US, according to a report in August from Market Research. The retailers, who mostly entered the industry because of the surge in gun violence taking place around them, are presenting upscale bulletproof clothing, from blazers to tank tops.

Owning body armour is completely legal, and does not require a special permit or background check. However, guidelines vary from state-to-state, and felons are not able to purchase it.

Keep reading |  2 min read

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