But ‘can’ is not the same as ‘should’. I believe that the principle of the BBC is something worth defending. The problem here is that in law, logic, media, business and indeed just about every sector: one must apply cold and hard facts. The principle is not enough, though is worth exploring, as follows:
1: Every nation needs a public broadcaster. FACT.
2: Yes, sometimes that means a gradual diminution in quality, inversely correlated to a begging drive for more cash.
3: Granted, politicised and ideological propaganda may result from the broadcaster’s specific existence, by its very nature.
4: In addition? Bloated bureaucracy and constitutional complacency are inevitable symptoms of institutionalised power.
5: BBC is both a victim of and villain in points 1-4, above.
Therefore? It becomes very tempting to just scrap the licence fee. I get it. Truly, I do. But I also believe that to be syllogistic and defeatist. It plays to the same divisive populism as Brexit. And yes, I am ‘going there’. We did not need to leave the EU.
The UK just needed to make very clear that it could ignore any spurious attempts at encroachment on our actual territory, defence policy or sovereignty. We failed to do that.
Cue lazy cultural war via social media, that will run and run, regardless of our post Brexit, mid pandemic success. Saving BBC is the same idea, in a differing context.
And that’s just it. See, we COULD survive without a BBC, same as without EU. Seriously. Streaming services PROVE this point. I-Player now clones the ‘box set’ format (despite many shows not, in fact, being a..box set..but anyway).
Netflix, BritBox, Amazon..even Disney Plus USE BBC content now. Which inevitably begs a question..WHY pay separately FOR BBC SERVICES?
That IS a fair point. Neglected in haste by many actors, directors and the like now frantically scrambling to defend an organisation that is but one of their many collaborators.
Very few of those speaking out are ‘company men’: as in yes, they take the Beeb pound. But they also do same with Audible, Amazon and co.
Hugh Grant: I love you. But you made what, ONE programme with BBC in the last five years? (Question Time does not count). You are an unlikely champion, surely?
In short: IF BBC is to continue, then it must evolve. Or it WILL die. Question is how? Well, allow me to provide some gratuitous advice..
1: REMIND PEOPLE WHY IT IS WORTH SAVING! Radio. History (wartime, pandemic, Soviet era coup of early 1990s, COUNTLESS examples of one organisation helping to save the world).
2: REDUCE THAT FEE! AND STOP PROSECUTING THOSE VULNERABLE PEOPLE WHO SIMPLY CANNOT PAY. MAKE IT FREE TO THE ELDERLY/INFIRM! And create a tier system (ie: pay one flat fee, with option on extension, per individual services and product?).
3: FIRE ANYONE NON ESSENTIAL. You do not need teams of people sat on their arses talking over coffee about how to promote ‘Strictly’ on radio. Equally, if a show or one of its key contributors simply FAIL in bringing both critical and commercial power? END THE CONTRACT!
4: INVEST MORE in new talent. Sponsor every local and national contest for writing, acting, singing. The works. Turn the BBC into both farm and factory for the next generation of quality content!
5: WORK WITH, Not AGAINST the TORY GOVERNMENT. Conservatives exist to enable free enterprise and competition. It’s what they DO. And they saved your bacon, before, in the 1990s. Instead of scrapping you back then, they insisted on your collaboration with independent companies who now make a LOT of your content. So be honest in that and work to build on its foundations for a future survival. Identity politics and bias = bad.
There are no easy answers on this one. It’s a debate that must be faced and will run and run. Part of that is at least acknowledging that yes, scrapping the licence fee IS indeed an option on the table. It could be gone by 2027, via this new freeze. Ticking clock. But it is also a nuclear button, to be pressed only as last resort.
Freezing the fee is a wake up call to urgent, remedial, pastoral action and a kick in the arse toward commercial innovation. Dear BBC: PLEASE use it. If only because I do love you, for all your flaws.
Tough love. But love, nonetheless. Too may childhood memories. And the essential lifelines that you do still provide, worldwide, from world service onwards. B-e/B-etter/C-ommunicators.