Save the BBC!

The BBC is always under attack from somewhere. If it’s not because of a particular incident or programme it is about the way the Corporation exists in todays’ very different television landscape. Lately this debate has intensified as the government seems eager to listen more to the BBC’s critics than its defenders. It doesn’t seem to matter that many who accuse the BBC are themselves rivals eager to sink the Corporation. They have played right into the hands of a British government eager to make the BBC weaker.  At the heart of the current debate is the BBC’s commercial aspirations.
It has been suggested that they sell off their online operation and commercial operations (basically the BBC website and BBC Worldwide) and stop making programmes that are obviously competing for ratings like The Voice or Strictly Come Dancing. This argument is clever in a way because if this were to happen the BBC’s ratings certainly would fall, it would be seen as less important and the next round of arguments would be along the lines of the decline of the BBC. How to revive it? Oh why not sell off the whole thing?

If we look at it in a detached manner the real argument is about the importance or otherwise of culture and providing a wide range of programming. It seems ridiculous to have a public service broadcaster that tries not to be popular. However it also seems wrong to say that only programmes with high ratings deserve to survive. At the end of the day who is qualified to say what culture is anyway?
The licence fee is also in the firing line and this is a trickier one. No doubt it’s rivals would prefer the BBC to take advertising and therefore compete the same way for programme making money as ITV or Sky have to. Yet if this were to happen the BBC’s range of programming would inevitably narrow as it competed for ratings far more than it does now and in the end we’d all be worse off. Scrap the licence fee and that would virtually force both the BBC and ITV to become subscription channels and as anyone who has Sky knows this is an expensive business and certainly far worse value for money than the license fee. That would be the end of all free television of course.
There probably is something in the argument about the BBC’s website which is a comprehensive news service far better than many other rivals. While you could argue that this is essential these days, when it comes to broadcasting the BBC also has a 24 hour news channel as well as longer bulletins than other channels so does it need a website with such detail? One thing it needs to do is keep the detail in its programmes instead of constantly saying to viewers if you want more look at the website.
There’s a flaw in the anti BBC argument too. If the critics of the Corporation believe it should not be making ratings chasing shows yet they should be entertaining as large a proportion of the public as possible then surely the aim is higher ratings? They cite The Great British Bake Off yet that was not an immediate ratings hit, it started off quietly on BBC2 and built a following over three seasons. Are people seriously suggesting that there should be a ratings threshold whereby if a BBC show gets more than say 5 million viewers it should be sold to another channel or cancelled? This seems like bad business. Yes the BBC should make qualilty shows and if they are successful then even better, because that might help other shows. The other aspect is that you can’t even make niche programming for little money. Anyway if the BBC did stop making it’s biggest shows people would not be willing to pay the license fee or subscribe. Perhaps that’s the idea the BBC’s enemies have to destroy it?

If Sky thinks that a wounded BBC would help them gain more subscribers then they could be wrong. I would rather pay a subscription for a continuing BBC than the inevitably larger subscription for Sky, As the end of all schedule television channels in favour of the iPlayer model draws closer perhaps these other channels should be watching their backs too.
If you value the BBC then now is the time to speak up and defend it because you might be surprised how much you’d miss it if it wasn't there.

1 comment:

  1. If rivals favour an advertising model, they should be careful what they wish for. That would just mean a share of their own potential revenue will be taken. The big concerns as I see it are around an independent voice, vital for our democracy. The government openly voiced a dislike of the BBC giving them unfavourable coverage (though I didn't see it in the recent election - they followed the news agenda set by newspapers rather too well) and have already transferred a large slice of the licence fee to bring the BBC into the benefits system. Almost all other conventional media have private ownership and private editorial influence. I believe a genuinely non-governmental trust should govern the BBC (like the Scott Trust that runs the Guardian/Observer); the income should be set as a fraction of GDP and paid as now.