Hello. This week we’ve seen a diversionary tactic that’s reliably employed when the British government is in the midst one of its self-created controversies—discussion of reforming the BBC.
Non-British readers may have a broad understanding of the distinction between the BBC as a public service broadcaster as opposed to an overly politicised state broadcaster. They may be less aware of the way that it has achieved something approaching constitutional status, a position that transcends everyday politics similar to that of the monarchy, the Church of England, the City of London or the Bank of England. This is unarguable regardless of your opinion of the broadcaster’s merits. Funding comes from a regressive tax that is applied regardless of personal levels of viewership (imo good) or income (imo bad).
There is subtlety about its relationship with government. The BBC enjoys limited independence in the sense that the various mechanisms of influence are at least one step removed from the act of making programmes. Yet there is significant indirect influence over resource and authority, which plainly put the BBC in a weaker position and allows for the ongoing application of further political pressure. This years-long cycle somewhat explains the current predicament in which we find ourselves.
It is baffling that the Conservative party hates the BBC. This position is the opposite of conservation in any sense, and would be catastrophic for the creative sector in terms of the huge number of independent production companies who are commissioned to help make its programming. More fundamentally it fails to appreciate how useful the BBC is to the Tories: the corporation is obsessed with the agenda set by several right-wing newspapers and generally takes a very pro-establishment and pro-status quo position. Its fundamental reform ought to be a target for the left, not the right.
Such reform can only come about by cleaving the corporation from state and business. In his book about the BBC Tom Mills correctly identifies that:
one of the greatest fallacies of our contemporary period has been the association between precarity and creativity, entrepreneurialism with innovation.
The pro-business Conservative party is outwardly vocal that a different funding model is required yet has been unable to provide any concrete suggestions. Changing to a subscription model is all but impossible because you can’t put radio stations behind a paywall. Advertising revenues have been falling for years and show no signs of increasing. Direct government funding is not a viable option for the same reasons of editorial independence discussed earlier.
C+P'ing a previous take of mine from an earlier issue of Etcetera:
for a society to function democratically in any meaningful sense, citizens require accurate and impartial sources of information to inform their political judgements, or better still a public space to facilitate political deliberation, free from market forces and the state. The BBC provides this in ways no other broadcaster or content streaming service can and that the Tories will never understand.
I don’t have any new ideas about funding models. But the current plans (thankfully not yet policies) of these awful government smoothbrains amount to bizarre acts of cultural vandalism. No for-profit system can produce the diversity of programming designed for such a range of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and interests. (Not to mention that designed for the UK’s nations and regions.) The BBC has the potential to democratise British society and enrich its culture. That it has not yet done these things to the extent we would like is squarely the fault of the ghastly morons currently in charge of the country.