According to The Times, the BBC is to undertake a process of cutbacks in a move to re-size and surrender ground to commercial competitors. Apparently there will be a renewed focus on “quality over quantity”, yet the axe will fall most notably on BBC 6 Music (a minority-interest digital radio station run on a shoestring) while Radio 1 will remain largely untouched. Talk about inconsistent. Also due for the chop is Asian Network (again a digital radio station servicing a niche audience) and the website will see substantial cutbacks in content and staff. This is no doubt the first step in a series of reforms that we can expect in the coming years (although possibly subject to who wins the election) to change the shape, scope and size of our national broadcaster.
It goes without saying that the BBC is a national treasure and we would be immensely poorer without it. Meanwhile, the voices that clamour the most for the scrapping or restructuring of the licence fee are the very same voices that would benefit most from doing so: the Murdoch press and media empire, the Daily Mail, commercial television and radio stations. The enemies of all that is good, in other words.
Do not listen to a word they say. The TV licence fee represents extraordinary value for money. For £142.50 a year (or 39p a day. 39p!!!) we get a uniquely comprehensive suite of television, radio and internet coverage. I would pay double this amount for Radio 4, Radio 5 and the website alone. In no other aspect of our lives do we get so much for such little expenditure. Yet there are those who would have us believe that this cost is extortionate. Lies! We get the best news service in the world (this is beyond argument and don’t start yammering on about BBC ‘bias’ either – if anything the BBC is too impartial), innovative and intelligent radio, ground-breaking natural history programmes, first class comedy, drama and the amazing BBC website for less than the cost of a pint of milk. To be sure, the BBC also produces an awful lot of dross: EastEnders, Casualty, Top Gear, Radio 1, dreadful period dramas, etc, but they’re catering for a lot of different tastes. Personally I’d rather eat my own teeth than watch or listen to any of the aforementioned, but that’s just me.
You want to imagine life without the BBC? You’ll have an extra 39p a day at your disposal. What would you do with yours? Perhaps you could buy 39% of an issue of The Daily Telegraph? Television shows would be almost exclusively cheap, tawdry and aimed at the lowest common denominator (in other words, ITV). And the radio? Music will be provided by Absolute, Heart and Capital and if you want something more hard hitting and topical, well, there’s always LBC.
George Orwell couldn’t have come up with a more dystopian vision of the future for this country.
The BBC is one of the very few things that this country can still be very proud of, one that is internationally known for its quality of broadcasting. We tamper with this formula at our peril. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best there is. Now leave it alone.