In October of this year, the BBC will turn one hundred. World wars, global pandemics, and everything between has been seen by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Radio productions and news reports established the broadcaster, and these parts attract ire from people across the political spectrum. It’s true that the editorial direction of the BBC, especially with regards to news, leaves a lot to be desired. Complaints about political bias (from both the left and the right), as well as the clear transphobia imbued in BBC News, are common.
Back in January, as part of Operation Red Meat’s efforts to reignite support for Boris Johnson, changes to the licence fee were announced. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries revealed via Twitter that new ‘discussions and debates’ were now on the table with regards to how the BBC is funded. It potentially opens up the BBC to private advertising – as suggested in this 2010 House of Commons report – or a mass reduction of services to save money. This is seen by the government as a policy popular across the spectrum, as the result of a decade-long denigration of public trust in the BBC’s news reporting. BBC News, and related programming such as Panorama, are just one part of the broadcaster though.
The BBC is a hothouse for British culture, one of the nation’s only major exports. Eastenders, dramas including Killing Eve and Doctor Who, comedies like The Thick of It and Coupling are all (co-)produced by the BBC. Coupling, for example, was one of the first shows by Steven Moffat, who went on to write Sherlock and Dracula for the broadcaster. Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, later wrote and directed The Death of Stalin, which received 16 award nominations. The UK iteration of RuPaul’s Drag Race is shown on BBC Three. Without the BBC as we know it, the country would have a lot less artistic standing in the world.
Calls for a subscription-based system of funding, like Netflix or similar streaming companies, miss the basic function of the BBC as a national broadcaster. With fiction and non-fiction programming (Louis Theroux’s documentaries are BBC productions), radio and music productions, all of this at the local, national, and international level, the BBC collates more culture than streaming platforms ever could. That means it costs more, sure, but these services don’t run for free. ‘Defund the BBC’ is a campaign which demands, clearly, a defunding of the BBC. Whatever the political or economic reasons for it, the movement has attracted a number of people across the country. These calls tend to centre around the bias in the news and political reporting, which is a definite problem – but when GB News slates itself as the alternative, even that argument falls flat. BBC News is respected around the world, which should act like an opiate for the patriotic.
Regardless of news reporting, if you’ve ever watched Happy Valley, Strictly Come Dancing, or Gavin and Stacey, you’ve benefitted from the BBC. Fleabag, Line of Duty, and Peaky Blinders are watched and loved worldwide. Doctor Who holds multiple world records, and Only Fools and Horses is one of the most watched shows in the country. Artists such as Florence + The Machine and George Ezra have the BBC to thank for their careers. Dorries claims that the BBC ‘threatens the elderly with prison sentences’ for not paying the license fee that funds dozens of media services, but the introduction of payments for pensioners only came about because of decreases in government funding since 2010. This has been a long game on the part of the Conservatives, and it should be fought.