My in-tray is filled with diatribes and petition sites calling for the BBC to be ‘saved’. Polar arguments are fought online; the one saying we must keep the licence fee and the other saying the BBC must be licence free. In the middle (if, frankly, the middle is where Auntie sits any more) the BBC states and restates its position as the Public Broadcaster and the National Voice (even as I type that phrase it feels a bit jackboot, and that’s not the emotion being attempted).
The nation does need a national broadcaster. In times of crisis, and when were we not in times of crisis, the population needs a place they can trust to spell out the situation. Yes, that’s authoritarian and yes, the BBC has been a propaganda tool for various governments over the years. But the idea of having a national voice that is interspersed with adverts and ‘a word from our sponsor’ has to be anathema.
On the other hand, we don’t pay a licence fee for ambulances (yet). Somethings are deemed to be so necessary that they are paid from central taxation. Oh, but wait, we pay for water by the litre and electricity by the kiloWatthour. Rashly, Labour proposed a national broadband supply in the last election. So either pay for usage or paid for centrally, they both work in various scenarios.
If the BBC were paid for entirely through the public purse, ie through income tax, it might accentuate the fears of those who would see it now as a tool of government, and the BBC has (weakly) resisted being seen as that. It would require a transparently independent mode of governance to ensure it was seen to be free to speak on any and all issues. But hey, that’s feasible.
I’ve rather lost faith in the current BBC. Post EU referendum it felt like the BBC was fearful of the very threats now being made by Cummings and his Prime Minister (ah, but who’s behind Cummings?), and was pandering too much to right wing nationalists. The other evening I unfortunately caught a bit of Question Time where rabid frothing nationalists were again in the majority of the ‘randomly selected members of the public’ called to speak.
Others who think differently about politics and perhaps about the EU will tell me that the BBC is a leftie organisation fighting against well run government, so I guess I have to lean towards the BBC is generally neutral. But to me it feels, with some exceptions of course, like auntie has been lobotomised with cheap gameshows and reality tv that surely belongs on the advertising supported stations.
Yes, I’d like to see the BBC set free of the licence fee. Funded centrally through taxation, for television and radio and online services. With an independent governance and a mission to provide balanced, considered, politically neutral news and ‘infotainment’ via TV and radio, and online, free at the point of use. Ok, we might lose Dr Who, but that seems no big deal nowadays.
What do you think? Is the licence fee a benefit or a means of exclusion for those unable to pay? Would you prefer free BBC with adverts, taking on the other sponsored channels on a level playing field but with no requirement to promote a national agenda? Should we licence radio separately? Have paywalls? Remove the online services? Close down local BBC radio? What would you have us do with Auntie?