Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Four cheers for the BBC
I squirm with embarrassment whenever one of our politicians claims that this that or the other British institution or attribute is "the best in the world and the envy of the world," when it patently isn't. Candidates for this misplaced accolade are variously our justice system , our "Mother" of parliaments, our football leagues, our sense of "fair play"(sic), our inventiveness and maybe even our sense of humour.
The one institution which actually deserves the accolade is the BBC, respected throughput the world for its impartial news services and admired for its creative dramas. So why are our politicians, particularly Tories with puffed up illusions about our importance on the world stage, so keen to trash it ?
One answer in respect of the Tories is that the success of the BBC demonstrates that their central belief, that capitalist institutions motivated by the urge to maximise profits are the best and indeed only effective way to keep the wheels of the world turning, is a fake. The BBC's continued success is a constant reminder of the falsity of their core belief.
Not that I believe the BBC to be perfect. Their mistaken belief that "balance" requires that minority cranks (Normal Lamont on climate change, Patrick Minford on Economics, Nigel Farage on Europe) be given equal time along with the established views of "experts" has done considerable harm. Their interviewers are as often harassing as they are enlightening. Too much time is spent by the BBC on advertising itself. Radio 3 broadcasts as much prattle as it used to do music, presumably in order to compete with Classic FM. "The Archers" characters and their stories become more unrealistic every day, in order, I presume, to attract younger listeners. And thy pay their male stars too much in comparison to their female ones.
Of course the BBC needs to adapt in both its financing and organisation, to accommodate to developments in technology and the availability of streaming devices. But this should be done in a co-operative and friendly way, not by bullying threats to its licence fee. I note that both France and Germany finance their public service broadcasting with licence fees, You can see the details, along with other countries, here.
In my year in France I was moved by an elderly couple, fellow members of the church choir, who confided that as youngsters during the war they had crowded round their illict radio to gain the truth about what was happening from the BBC World Service. Frankly I would make that service totally independent of the Foreign Office and give it a virtually blank cheque.
As to the rest of this wonderful institution, it should negotiate necessary change in the knowledge that it is a cherished part of our national life and an invaluable source of international influence. And The Johnson government should take that on board.