After the release of the British Government’s Green Paper on the future of BBC, there is a clear decision.
On the one hand, we find the traditional view on public broadcasting that is offered by the BBC and its supporters, which is based upon the principle of universality. The BBC is for everyone and should provide quality programming for all audiences. This includes comedy, entertainment, drama, news, and high-arts programming.
Huw Wheldon said that this view of the BBC is about “making popular the good and making the good popular.” The BBC is a voice that has a growing role in an increasingly crowded market. It is a voice that is accountable and focused on public interests, not commercial or political ones. It is a voice that aims to bring the nation together by fostering national debate and sharing experiences. The BBC is the UK’s sole global media brand. It must have the resources and mandate to continue innovating in an international market that is dynamic and fast-paced.
The way governments stifle public broadcasters around the globe is the same. Supporters in Canada are protesting against the revenue and governance arrangements imposed on the CBC by the conservative Government, which they claim puts it at serious risk of being wiped out forever.
A government-sponsored review of efficiency led to major cuts in ABC’s budget in Australia. This was in response to politicians’ complaints regarding bias and inadequate support “for the local team.”
In Britain, a similar attack is now underway. Lord Fowler, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, led a brief debate on BBC this week. Lord Fowler told his peers:
I will have to warn those who are in support of the BBC about a possible fight. The cards have been marked against us and are stacked. The group that advises the Secretary of State is a tangle of special interests and old opinions. The charter process also leaves the decisions to the Government who make much use of their Green Paper. But the truth is, they don’t have to listen to anyone.
There is a crucial paradox. In an atmosphere rich in discussion of public accountability and the rights of licence fee payers, as well as fit-for-purpose governance and transparency, a deal can be rushed at night, and even the more lengthy and fundamental debates can be decided without or despite the views of citizens.
Tony Hall, the BBC Director General, fought at the launch of its Annual Report. He spoke about :
There is a clash of two different visions for the future. There is another view, which prefers a BBC that’s much smaller. This is a view often promoted by those with narrow commercial or ideological interests. This is not my view. The British public does not either. Neither do the producers of creative programs in all sectors.
While right-wing politicians, newspapers, and other media, who are ideologically opposed to large government intervention in the marketplace, fuel discontent towards the BBC, the majority of opinion surveys show that the public likes and trusts this organization, and they see the PS145 license fee as a good value.
There is a lack of hard evidence in the debate. What does the public think of the license fee, as opposed to the media? What contribution does the BBC make to the UK’s creative economy? What is the real impact of the BBC on newspapers? The majority of discussion is driven by opinion rather than fact.
Tony Hall stated in his speech that the BBC belongs to the people, not to the staff or any government. Many people believe that the BBC Trust’s arrangements to represent them have failed. We have now had a period of three months of public consultation, and we are not afraid to act upon what has been said.
The BBC has a love/hate relationship in Britain. The BBC is a love-hate relationship for the British public. They enjoy the programs but dislike the infrastructure needed to make them. A recent PWC report shows that the BBC is one of the most efficient organizations in the UK. But its critics will quickly step around this inconvenience. I told staff that felt they were under attack by a barrage of political and newspaper criticisms, as a senior manager at the BBC. That is what matters. For ideological or commercial purposes, its critics want it to be diminished and less important.
The people of Britain must make their position clear if they do not wish to see one of Britain’s most successful institutions eroded and destroyed. What kind of BBC would you like?