The BBC isn’t perfect – but it still has an important role in the life of the country
- Credit: BBC/Rachel Butler
Anyone who has heard, or read, what Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has been saying over the last few months will not have been surprised at his broadside at the BBC over the weekend.
I understand some of the points he made, and I do think the BBC has a very tough job on its hands to find a funding formula that is fair and relevant to the modern world. I’m not convinced by Mr Hunt’s argument that the BBC is no longer fit to the national broadcaster.
I’ve always held the view that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy, the licence fee is the worst possible way of funding the BBC . . . except for all the other potential methods.
That does not mean to say that other methods of funding should not be examined, and I don’t think that in the third decade of the 21st century it is right that non-payment of a television licence should be criminal offence.
Where I do take issue with the BBC’s critics is when they say that because they don’t like some of its editorial policies on news or current affairs programmes, the licence fee should be scrapped and the whole organisation should be dismantled.
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To be fair these calls have come from the left as much as they have from the right. I suspect there has always been grumbling about the BBC (certainly Churchill wasn’t happy with its coverage of appeasement in the 1930s) but the internet and social media has given people a platform to express these grumbles and they have become more visible.
Because to just abolish the licence fee without putting any other form of funding in place would destroy the BBC as a national broadcaster and, whatever you think of it, would pull down a major cultural pillar of this country.
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It might be The Six o’clock News, Panorama and Question Time that irritates you – but it would be the end of Eastenders, Strictly Come Dancing, Casualty and the Blue Planet as well, certainly in their present form and delivery.
They might end up being picked up by a television production company and then sold to either a subscription service like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Or they could be bought by a service dominated by advertising like ITV. If you’re really lucky they might be bought by a company that charges you a subscription AND shoves adverts down your throat every five minutes like Sky.
Is that really better for the average viewer than the current BBC funding model?
I know the row over the cost of licences for over-75s has damaged the standing of the BBC in some people’s eyes, but really in this case it has been the victim of extortion by the government which withdrew its funding for the licences in 2015.
That decision was rather like telling a bus driver that they were to get a pay rise – but they’d be expected to pay the fares of all their passengers entitled to a free bus pass out of their increased salary!
Those who reckon that row justifies getting rid of the licence fee really do need to be careful what they wish for. How else should the BBC be paid for? And is there any scenario in which those would still get free licences get them? Here’s a clue – no commercial broadcaster offers free subscriptions to millions of people on benefit!
And the debate about whether a solo singer should belt out the words of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia to an empty Royal Albert Hall for the last night of the proms really did have all the ingredients of Jim Hacker’s Euro-sausage row which propelled him into Downing Street in 1984 (Yes Minister, Party Games, Christmas special)!
The BBC isn’t perfect. It sometimes get things wrong. Some programmes make me mad. If I ever catch a glimpse of Mrs Brown’s Boys it makes me want to rip my licence up there and then!
And it’s made some dodgy decisions recently. Cutting back on regional broadcasting by cancelling breakfast bulletins, and having fewer East-West splits so we’re getting more and more from Wellingborough and Milton Keynes on Look East doesn’t look good.
But without the BBC we would not have Radio Suffolk giving a voice to the county. Ipswich 102 plays nice enough music and community radio stations provide a voice for specific groups – but commercial radio doesn’t really have any interest in building community cohesion. Radio Orwell and Town 102 have been through a number of metamorphoses to become Heart FM and Greatest Hits Radio playing local adverts on national programming.
My one fear about the BBC is that it is struggling to attract the younger audience it has always had. I grew up with Blue Peter and Junior Choice, graduated to Radio One, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and have now become a fan of Casualty and Murder in Paradise.
The news at six and ten are the bookends for my evening’s viewing. But for younger people, especially younger adults, this is not the case. How you can justify having a licence fee for those who mainly watch Netflix and other streaming channels (even if they do sometimes look at the news website) is problematic. For that reason, and that reason alone, a new funding plan for BBC needs to be sought.
But to suggest scrapping the BBC as we know it because you don’t like the current editor of Newsnight really does sound like a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater!