Depending on how one defines the BBC’s purpose, its licence fee income of £3.8 billion is either too much or not enough. In a world dominated by Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, it’s ever harder for the BBC to keep up. It is estimated that Netflix alone will have spent upwards of $12 billion on content in 2018. It has a global audience of more than 130 million, a figure that is increasing by more than two million each month. The problem is that, faced with such numbers, the licence fee can never provide sufficient funds to allow the BBC to compete. It’s only a matter of time before Wimbledon and other prized parts of the output go the way of the Premier League and Sir David Attenborough onto better financed channels. That’s not the only difficulty. It is generally reckoned that if the BBC is to justify being the beneficiary of a poll tax, the BBC needs to reach at least 90 per cent of the UK audience, although there is a bit of wiggle room in terms of the period over which that measurement should be made – whether they need to watch once a week, or once a month, or what. Since the BBC’s funding depends on hitting this number, it is a higher priority than the more widely proclaimed purposes of informing, educating and entertaining the audience. To reach 90 per cent the BBC needs to be everywhere: if young people are migrating from TV to YouTube, the BBC has to have a YouTube channel. And it has to work out how to collect the licence fee from YouTube users. The decreasing use of TV sets, which are being replaced by computer and phone screens, will make it harder for the BBC to charge all its viewers. These issues are pressing: from the BBC’s point of view the intensity of the competition and the difficulties of raising revenue are likely to get worse quickly.
Historians of Northern Ireland have plenty of material to work with. A book called Lost Lives (2001) records the lives and deaths of each of the 3720 people who were killed during the Troubles. Fighters, activists, officials and politicians on all sides have spoken to the media and written books themselves. Public inquiries have published hundreds of pages of hitherto secret evidence. Journalists, some of whom managed to get impressively close to the leaders of paramilitary groups, have chronicled what happened. One aspect of the conflict all these sources reveal is the extent of the British state’s confusion about how to deal with Gerry Adams. Police repeatedly raided Adams’s childhood home. When he was 23 the courts interned him for five years, beginning with a spell on a prison ship. A few months later he was released so that the RAF could fly him to London for talks at a house in Cheyne Walk with Willie Whitelaw, the then home secretary. In 1988 Mrs Thatcher banned his voice from being broadcast but a decade later Tony Blair negotiated with him as a key participant in the peace process. Today he has easy access to the top British leadership. But Adams has not been entirely rehabilitated. In 2013 the police questioned him about his failure to disclose his brother’s sex abuse and the next year they held him for four days in connection with the 1972 murder of a Belfast mother of ten, Jean McConville.
For over a decade the inaccessible and mountainous tribal area of North Waziristan was home to a swirling array of violent jihadists.
The Pakistan and Afghan Taliban movements, al-Qaeda and less well-known militant outfits such as the Haqqani Network used the area to hold hostages, train militants, store weapons and deploy suicide bombers to attack targets in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Silk letter plot
A CENTURY ago, in British-ruled Multan, the Punjab authorities detained a messenger by the name of Abdul Haq. He had travelled from Kabul with three yellow silk letters sewn into the lining of his coat.
Military and the clerics
On 4 October 1954 Pakistan’s army chief General Ayub Khan passed the hours of a sleepless night at the Dorchester Hotel in London writing ‘A Short Appreciation of Present and Future Problems of Pakistan’. It ran to 2500 words and outlined the general’s views on how best to manage a country that had existed for seven years but had been unable to agree a constitution.
The man who negotiated peace in Northern Ireland
There is a sentence in Jonathan Powell’s Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts that raises intriguing questions about how the Northern Ireland peace process got underway.＊ ‘Martin McGuinness,’ Powell writes, ‘still denies sending the message stating that “our war is over” which started the correspondence with John Major, and it is pretty clear in retrospect that one of the intermediaries in the chain between the government and the IRA did in fact embellish the message.’ The peace process, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff is suggesting, began with an exaggeration. Or what others might call a falsehood. It’s a remarkable story.
The efficacy of violence
As they fled Afghanistan after 9/11 some of bin Laden’s followers wondered whether the attacks on the US had been a mistake. Among them was one of al-Qaida’s most acerbic writers, Abu Musab al-Suri. In public he backed bin Laden: privately he described him as an obstinate egotist. And he was scathing about the consequences of 9/11: ‘The outcome, as I see it, was to put a catastrophic end to the jihadi current which started in the early 1960s.’
The murder of Benazir Bhutto
In her posthumously published book, Reconciliation, Benazir Bhutto named a man who she believed had tried to procure bombs for an unsuccessful attempt on her life in Karachi in October 2007.
Blasphemy and the Governor of Punjab
A documentary-drama set in Pakistan about the assassination of the Governor of Punjab over his stance on the blasphemy laws.