How Can We Save The BBC?

It’s a question that may appear alarmist, but it’s surely a valid one to ask given recent developments affecting the future of Britain’s national broadcaster. Fresh from imposing a new licence fee settlement (with no public debate or consultation) on the corporation requiring it to shoulder the substantial cost of free television licences for over-75’s, the UK government has now launched a major review of the BBC’s entire operations.

New Culture secretary John Whittingdale has appointed an advisory panel of grandees to examine the BBC’s purpose, services and content, funding, governance and regulation. Quite a list. Cue a worried response from the corporation’s supporters and (finally, after that rather-too-accommodating acceptance of the new licence fee deal) an outspoken response from the corporation itself. The BBC can’t always be relied upon to stand up for itself, however, as evidenced by its tendency to lapse into self-recrimination and cravenly apologetic tone whenever it becomes subject to another bout of criticism from whatever quarter.

Others have been quick to jump to the corporation’s defence, suspecting that the motives of the newly elected majority Conservative government lie less in ensuring that the BBC is fit-for-purpose in the twenty-first century broadcasting landscape and more in cutting down to size what they view as an old-style, publicly run corporation which impedes the free market and embodies the outdated nanny state. Steven Moffat has joined other well-known names from the worlds of film and television to sign a letter to the Prime Minister defending the BBC and ‘place on record… our concern that nothing should be done to diminish the BBC or turn it into a narrowly focused market-failure broadcaster’. The letter, also signed by former Doctor Who alumni Brian Cox and Richard Curtis, goes on to argue that ‘a diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain’.

Broadcasting union BECTU have added their voice to the debate, launching a ‘Love it or lose it’ petition calling on the government scrap the new funding deal, arguing it will mean cuts in services, programmes being dropped and many job losses.

Steven Moffat makes his living from the BBC, of course, as do many members of BECTU but it would surely be a mistake to dismiss all of this as simply a case of vested interests speaking out when they see the prospect of their livelihoods being threatened. The BBC, for all its faults, still enjoys widespread public support and the fact that some of those who have spoken out to voice concern about the review hail from Conservative-leaning backgrounds demonstrates that this isn’t just a partisan issue. This is way too important for that.

So what is to be done? Letters and petitions are tried and tested campaign methods but is it time for something a bit more innovative, more public, more modern? There has been no shortage of campaigns in recent years which have used new technology to get their message across – maybe there are some lessons for the BBC’s champions to learn? There has to be a political dimension to this, naturally, and UK opposition parties, still bruised and wounded by the general election defeat, will want to seize the opportunity presented by an issue which puts them in tune with public opinion against the government.

But the BBC belongs to the public, not to the politicians or the government or the people who work for it. It surely has to be the public who decide what they want from the BBC. So what do you think? What should those who are worried by recent events concerning the BBC be doing about it? How do we save the BBC?

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42 Responses

  1. Rick714 says:

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard exactly how it’s laid out but it’s a mandatory cost that everyone in the UK is charged each month or year? Or is it all or mostly donations? I know your tax system over there is crazy but I’m curious just how precarious the situation is regarding the stability and continued existence of the BBC. Also, just how hard is the government coming down on the institution? What exactly are the odds that the Beeb could get wiped out?

  2. Grumpy The Unicorn says:

    no idea… but I wish America had license fees instead of what we do, as we would have no commercials, yes? sadly, captains of commerce are too greedy, it seems, on either side of the pond, to do what they should in most situations. 😉 I toast the probability of the best possible outcome, and hope it comes true and not rue.

    • Allison Wanamaker says:

      well, the big difference is that the BBC studios are entirely government owned. Our media is entirely privatized. There are no government channels.

      • Grumpy The Unicorn says:

        but what does that mean? does the majority favor this, or not? 😉 And thank you for replying! ;)) I, as an American, am wholeheartedly against commercials taking up one more picosecond of my time.

        • Remmy says:

          Depends on whose side you belong, if you’re a rabid Daily Mail commenter (i.e. Tory or deluded) the BBC is full of perverted left wing liberals intent on destroying the BBC while simultaneously growing fat on bloated salaries.
          If you’re normal, its a bad thing.

        • Allison Wanamaker says:

          in american media, all of our networks are owned by 6 corporations. Those corporations make their money directly from those advertisers. That’s why they measure their ratings. A program that gets higher ratings can charge more per slot for ad time. The network that airs the superbowl gets $4.5 million for each 30 second slot. The BBC has no advertising revenue. They are a government program. They are not even allowed to solicit donations like PBS does here.

  3. Rick714 says:

    Wow, that’s an amazing deal. Most people here in the states, myself included usually pay about $200 a month for cable or dish satellite TV and we get a ton of commercials. I am envious! And yeah, the more TVs you have here, the more you pay.

    • Nikarl says:

      Yeah but $200 is just ridiculous.. I mean even Sky is less than 10£

      • itsonlythesoaps says:

        Regular radio is free. The only time US people pay for radio is if they have to get Satellite radio. (Most people don’t need satellite radio, so it really isn’t an issue.)

        • Nikarl says:

          ok, Thank you! Would be crazy to even pay for radio nowadays..

          • Mark North says:

            In the States, regular radio is privately owned, but regulated by the government. Satellite radio is subscribed to and is also regulated by the government. There are some programs available on satellite radio that are not available on public radio….

  4. Mark North says:

    I live in the US. Keep in mind that the $200/mo being referred to is the ultimate TV or satellite cost. That would be if you got EVERYTHING being offered. There are much less costly cable or satellite packages, but then you have less channels to watch. This is instead of the license fee/mo or/yr. in the UK. You can choose not to have either cable or satellite. The only cost then would be the cost of the digital adapter…(About $15/mo).

    • Nikarl says:

      Sorry, I don’t understand this digital adapter ? What is it ? What do you get with it ? A channel for news and stuff ? Radio and everything?

      • bar says:

        It confuses us and we grow up with it.

        the license fee is only asked for those with a telly, so anyone who doesn’t watch telly – through a normal telly, online or whatever – gets radio free.

        A digital adapter makes your old analogue telly able to receive digital signal.
        The analogue radio signal is patchy, so digital radio through the telly (new digital or old with adapter) SHOULD be better, but it’s been overloaded so is also patchy.

        Digital radio online is a help, but where I live the broadband is so poor that everything glitches. iPlayer video is practically impossible.
        The ads on Kasterborous have reduced me to screaming, as their video stuff demands more than my broadband can handle. whole page freezes.

        let’s go back to smoke signals!

        • James Guthrie says:

          Yes, that must be irritating. And your quite right – free radio if no telly. Though the licence still pays for it.

        • K Doctor Who News says:

          Feel free to email me with video ads that do that, we don’t want video ads, but it can be tricky blocking them from our inventory.

          • bar says:

            Don’t worry; I consider neolithic broadband a small price to pay for the privilege of living in such a wonderful spot.

      • Allison Wanamaker says:

        TV stations in the US transmit in a digital format now, and the analog televisions cannot interpret the signal, so in order to keep an analog television, we were required to buy a digital converter box, and new antennas. Otherwise the tv’s just give snow. Once you buy the antenna, if the weather is good, you get the basic big 4 network channels, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox. With commercials.

        • Nikarl says:

          So basicaly, the TV networks wanted some money so they forced everyone to buy those stupid adapters.. Nice

          • Allison Wanamaker says:

            No, it’s worse than that. Congress made it illegal to transmit in the old analog format, so everyone was forced to either buy a new television, or buy an adapter. The new tv’s still don’t worth without a digital antenna, but you don’t have to buy the adapter for them.

    • James Guthrie says:

      Oh, I see, that’s the premium rate. But $15 a month is only a bit less than the licence fee, and I assume you still get adverts?

  5. Nikarl says:

    You are great thank you for this awesome perspective 🙂

    • James Guthrie says:

      You’re welcome! I’m a huge fan of the BBC and am constantly proselytising at work, at home … Oh, I can be a bore on the subject!

      • Nikarl says:

        Haha, I don’t live in the UK so I get the BBC for free as i use VPN’s but frankly I would be happy to give money for those great channels ! Heard they had some kind of subscriptions in some CommonWealth States for the iPlayer but never came to France sadly :/

  6. Doctor Moo says:

    Why can’t the government just leave it the […] alone?! It’s doing fine!

  7. bar says:

    Absolutely brilliant (or should that be fabulous?), thanks – but you missed CBeebies, which the kids I know love.

  8. Doct-Her Who says:

    Ban the BBC for forcing us to pay for its content. Our nation’s media is one step short of a one-party dictatorship. Oppose it!

    • Aidan Lunn says:

      The BBC don’t force you to pay for it, the Government do, as the government decide how it is funded.

      • Doct-Her Who says:


  9. Allison Wanamaker says:

    They could cover the shortfall entirely by allowing Americans to subscribe to online services. I pay $8 a month for Hulu, and it still has commercials.

    • K Doctor Who News says:

      Probably the most sensible suggestion on this page.

      • Allison Wanamaker says:

        It’s frustrating because we see youtube clips from shows on BBC1, but we’re not allowed to watch those shows online, at all. If you’re IP identifies you as american, the iplayer blocks you.

  10. Simon Spencer says:

    John Whittingdale is a complete ass – on the one hand the Government wants to increase revenue in an effort to curb austerity, and on the other they’re pretty much planning to axe the BBC that’s earning a sizeable portion of that revenue.

    Some politicians simply don’t deserve to stand.

    • K Doctor Who News says:

      It would be great to keep things as balanced as possible; the government isn’t planning to axe the BBC.

      While I sympathise with your frustration, name calling and conclusion jumping doesn’t help matters. This is a pro-BBC minister who believes the corporation could be run more efficiently. Until the green paper is concluded, it seems churlish to look at worse-case scenarios as facts.

      (I’m still trying to work out how 20-odd years ago the BBC was instructed to be more competitive, and now is being suggested it stop chasing ratings – both by Conservative governments!)

      • Nick Dickens says:

        Actually he’s pretty much against the BBC. To say Whittingdale is pro BBC is like saying Vince Cable loved Murdoch.

  11. Ranger says:

    Have to declare that I work for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and I cannot comment on this subject, except to say that I urge everyone to read the public consultation and send comments to the Department. It would also be interesting to receive comments from people outside the UK as to how the BBC is viewed.

    • kwijino says:

      I’m in the US, and I can tell you, what you have is amazing. In the US, we went from four networks to hundreds on cable, and instead of record shops recording record sales, computers do it. The net result was the loss of mass culture in America. We are now a very Balkanized place. It’s not good, because rather than get to the place Dr. King wanted, where we are judged by the content of our character, we focus on which identity group you are part of, and then your politics. The loss of civility and unity is a bad thing, and people are more worried about the past than the future.

      England still has a fairly unified culture, from what I know, and the BBC has been at the forefront of maintaining it. I sincerely hope that the BBC continues.

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