The past year has presented some of the toughest times for our national broadcaster with shit hitting the fan from all directions; the public, the internet and voices straight from the front steps of Downing Street. The first issue is the lack of toilet roll left to clean it up. Problems have arisen from a supposed review of the licence fee by the Government, the stepping down of current Director General Lord Tony Hall, proposed cuts and, of course, the perpetual debates over impartiality, most of which take place between fiery Twitter keyboard warriors. Yet the BBC has had to put on its own armour in these difficult and uncertain times and there is no denying that recent events have really launched the broadcaster into a worrying state of instability.
Being the world’s oldest national broadcaster – and largest in respect of the number of staff that it maintains – the British Broadcasting Corporation has demonstrated its many talents over the years. From rigorous political scrutiny, national and world news coverage, its whole host of radio stations and the production of some of the most prolific programmes and films. Eastenders must be mentioned here. In a way, the BBC is one of those annoying all-rounders we all knew from school days. Despite its dedicated, world-class service to the British public, the BBC has still encountered strong opposition from lefties, right wingers and even the apoliticals, speculating its supposed commitment to impartiality. This was especially prominent around the time of the 2019 December election (sorry if you’d tried to forget), where there were accusations that political reporters/coverage/media were demonstrating an element of bias towards various parties in order to promote certain political views. It seems stupidly ironic that a public broadcaster does not fully have the support of the very public that it serves.
Whether there is substance to these arguments or not, they joined forces recently with pesky politicians over the nature of the licence fee; whether it should still be a criminal offence, whether the price is fair and whether we should get rid of it all-together. Baroness Nicky Morgan, the former Culture Secretary before the latest reshuffle, admitted alongside Boris Johnson that the fee needed “looking at”, comparing the corporation to the now fossilised Blockbuster franchise. This was a reference to the fact that the BBC is struggling to recruit younger viewers in an era dominated by Netflix. The BBC has stated that rescinding the non-payment of the licence fee as an offence, let alone abolishing the fee, would seriously affect its output from a severe loss of revenue. The fee, which was set to rise by £3 to £157.50 per year in April, is now being postponed until later in the summer, the BBC has confirmed, due to the current pandemic, in which the BBC feels people will need to be able to fully access all of its content. A good move on the political chessboard, but this does not give the BBC any kind of special immunity. And we’re not talking about coronavirus.
In these extraordinarily unexpected times, the BBC has been a lifeline for this country. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic we have been subject to a constant plethora of updates, advice and headlines. As the situation has become progressively worse over recent weeks, with the enforced closure of many businesses and a lockdown underway, our BBC has worked tirelessly to deliver an outstanding quality of news coverage. This has spanned from daily updates of both the UK and global situation to dedicated guidance pages on medical advice, visual guides to the pandemic and ways to protect mental health.
For this, rightly so, it has reaped lots of praise. Not to mention the comebacks of old favourites like Miranda that we all pretend we aren’t watching for the twentieth time. As well as providing essential coverage of this unprecedented situation, they are entertaining our nation at a time when it needs it most. The picture is hazy when anticipating a post-corona world but, despite the fantastic work of our BBC, this unfortunately does not grant it immortality. The cards are still on the table, behind the smokescreen. Safe until its Royal Charter is due to be renewed in 2027, we must now get behind our broadcaster in this upcoming war to determine its future. If you’re on the fence over this, pick a side, but choose carefully.
Image: Tim Loudon via Flickr