With the government flailing about on the sinking ship of the UK right now, the BBC joins the line of public treasures — alongside the beloved NHS — which are set to be cast aside by the unabashedly hostile Conservative leadership. The intense vulnerability of the corporation was brought into the spotlight this week when Director-General, Tony Hall, unexpectedly announced he will step down this summer. He leaves the BBC at a point when its future seems somewhat uncertain, facing as it does multiple challenges which demand significant transformation to their services.
The BBC is facing a fierce double whammy: significant changes to the media sector as a whole and a powerful right-wing government. How we consume content is changing considerably, with new media altering viewing patterns and subscription services gaining greater audiences than ever before. Not only does this create challenges to the creative development of the BBC — with the need to keep up with changing platforms — it also heightens concerns about current funding mechanisms.
During a brief lull from raging about Brexit during the election campaign, Boris Johnson announced his willingness to abolish the licence fee system which is currently the source of 75% of BBC revenue. Discussions continued by Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan suggested the introduction of a subscription style charge for the BBC instead. Not only would this broaden inaccessibility to the service, including vital community resources such as local radio, it would also fundamentally alter one of the BBC’s biggest assets. That is that it remains one of the few organisations not entirely governed by profit. License fees mean that it remains free of adverts, of dubious shareholders and political interests, instead allowing it to fulfil its commitment to universal public service content for all. We shouldn’t wait until this is lost, before we realise how valuable it really is.
Certainly the BBC requires radical changes, which will have to occur in the face of large political and public criticism. Internally, they must take a more head on approach to expunging gendered pay inequality and to broadening diversity in their output. They also need to adapt to new patterns of consumption and engage with a younger audience if they are going to stand a chance of securing a more certain position in the future.
More immediately, they must adapt to the politically polarised nature of the UK currently. In his resignation letter, Hall urged that they must remain the “gold standard of impartiality and truth”. Although, in truth, the BBC don’t always get it right. Too often they fall short of the aim for impartiality and neutrality, and this has attracted opposition from both sides of political debates.
However, despite its clear flaws, the aspiration of this impartiality remains at the core of the BBCs principles and has allowed for the establishment of trusted facts at a time where fake news is rife. The need to protect this is made greater by the large Tory majority and the current weakness of the opposition, which means we need the BBC to be working harder to hold the government to account.
Certainly, the BBC faces an incredibly vulnerable transition period, during which it must confront its internal faults, whilst also providing journalistic integrity in the face of significant hostility. Ultimately however, it is a huge asset to our country, which deserves protection and the opportunity to develop.
Image: Elliot Brown via Flickr