Backing Our BBC

Tomorrow the Government will release its Green Paper on the future of the BBC, here I want to write why we should keep it strong and independent.

The British Broadcasting Corporation was founded on the principals to “inform, educate and entertain”, in October 1922. Since its early days it has pushed forward the mediums of radio, television and developed new technology, blazing a trail for others to follow. As the World’s oldest national broadcaster it has now taken on almost mythical status, and often seen as a beacon of the creative freedoms that come with a educated and informed society. About 97% of UK adults use the BBC each week.

I do not believe that I would be the person I am today without “Auntie”, the affectionate name that call the BBC. The programming hooked me at an early age, especially the scientific and cultural programmes, often produced in association with the Open University. These kinds of shows gave me an appreciation and understanding of the wider world around me, and outside of my own borders. I often think I learnt more from watching these programmes than I did from studying the textbooks at school. I am sure the similar passions that the BBC’s factual programming fuelled me with were shared by many others who may have gone on to study science, engineering and technology.

My passions became media and the arts, which I went on to study and now work in. Those factual programmes encouraged me to be open minded, always be willing to learn and I wanted to share knowledge with the wider world. I made some documentaries at college and today I am a professional freelance photographer. Twice I have applied to work at the BBC itself in the past, I suspect I shall again in the future if the right situation presents itself.

Even now, the BBC’s factual programming continues to inform and entertain. Whether it be a historical biography or explaining the latest scientific theories and concepts. The programming often doesn’t feel dumbed down, it feels gripping and riveting, without the need to be overly dramatic. The BBC in 2014/15 broadcasted 8,211 hours of Factual, Music and Arts content on its four main TV channels.

However, a lot of good documentaries include a hint of investigative journalism. Certainly the wave of commercial feature-length documentaries in the world today are often the result of some critical investigation, whistleblowing or alternative viewpoint. Examples include Blackfish, Citizen Four and Bowling for Columbine. The BBC sometimes feels like it is not being as brave it its own investigative programmes as these films, however it will often air those feature-length documentaries after their cinematic release.

This feeling of less critical journalism could be due to a result of a perception that the BBC is towing to some invisible line that the State has set them. However the BBC is not controlled by the Government and its independence should be fiercely protected by its employees and the public at large. The Royal Charter has always stated and protected the BBC’s independence and its news programming is expected to be unbiased. This remains what I now cherish most as an adult…its accurate, unbiased news from across the World.

Having watched commercial network news programming in the United States, the alternative was very clear. Highly biased, sensationalised journalism, competing to be heard/seen by the audience where it was viewing figures not quality that matters. This sort of reporting often is lead by ego-driven reporters and highly selective about its content, full of speculation and jumping on internet rumours without verifying them first. The tabloid newspapers in the UK are the closest to this style of news here and we’ve seen it isn’t always ethical either after revelations in the Phone-Hacking Scandal.

The BBC News Services, domestically and internationally, attracts an audience of 283 million people. The corporation’s motto seems to embody the mission of its reporting, “Nation shall speak Peace unto Nation”. It informs and educates on the World’s current affairs, personally it feels like a great authority, especially during crisis’ and fast-moving stories, the BBC will often seek to clarify its facts before reporting them and make sure rumours are squashed. 

However it could do better, in recent years I have turned to Al Jazeera for extra news reporting on the Middle East and European Union. Often the BBC seems to only report on Europe when it directly affects the UK, however the BBC World Service on radio does often still produce an amazing internationally diverse programme. When the World Service newsreader presents the top stories they often are completely different to the national news, making me aware of situations and politics outside the UK.

There is also great drama and comedy for those that wish to be entertained. Although I watch less of that content myself, the BBC has produced some high-quality productions, popular around the World. Although I think it won’t all be as memorable as classics such as Faulty Towers or House of Cards. But this is its strength, the BBC is there for everybody, and excels in almost every genre, providing the UK with some of the best filmmakers, artists, musicians and actors.

The UK creative industry is one of the strongest in the world, increasingly major Hollywood productions are being filmed on location and in the studios of Britain, recent films made partly here include The Avengers and The Force Awakens. These crew members and actors may have started in smaller TV productions, but their professionalism is often compared as second to none. Our culture is also one of Britain’s best exports, so much so that in 2012 Harvard placed the UK on the top of the Soft Power List. This success I think has to be attributed to the fact the BBC exists and has pioneered new styles of filmmaking, invented new technologies and been a showcase for fresh talent on and off the screen.

Why have I been making this long and passionate defence for the BBC?

Tomorrow the Government will potentially set out reforms for the BBC, in my opinion this would be an attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of the Corporation and violate some of the key principals of the BBC’s Charter. But the Charter itself is at risk, we are now entering the stage known as Charter Review, where the current 10-year Royal Charter is going to expire in 2016. The BBC and Parliament must now negotiate and agree on the aims and objectives of the Corporation over the next 10-years.

The Culture Secretary, John Wittingdale, is known to be no fan of the TV License, wanting to scrap it in favour of a National Tax. While some of the BBC’s commercial rivals, chiefly Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting would benefit if its online news influence were limited and a more commercial subscription model were to be introduced to the BBC. Potentially pitting it in direct competition to its Sky Television Satellite subscription model. I think I’ve seen enough of Rupert and James Murdoch’s way of doing journalism to know I don’t want even more of it than there is already.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has called the BBC Online “imperialist”, yet I would argue that the BBC is merely keeping up with the times and making its services available to the widest range of people in the country, who pay for its operation. However I will agree the TV License should be updated, to cover more of the BBC’s broadcasts and content than just live television. This should include on-demand services such as the iPlayer and I think you should for a small fee, be able to pay keep downloaded TV programmes indefinitely on your computer or device.

The Director-General of the BBC, Lord Hall has said, “The Public are our shareholders. Their view will always be the most important. We should be under no illusion that this is a period of high risk for the BBC. While no one wants to abolish the BBC, there will be some who want to diminish us for their own narrow interests.” We as the shareholders must make sure the government hears our voice and doesn’t dismantle a precious national institution that I treasure as highly as the National Health Service.

Earlier today, a range of celebrities signed a open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to protect the BBC. Many of them have worked with the corporation, the names include actors Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench and Rachel Weisz; writers JK Rowling, Steven Moffat and Richard Curtis; presenters Sir David Attenborough, Claire Balding and Graham Norton; comedians David Walliams, Miranda Hart and Michael McIntyre.

The letter says, “Nothing should be done to diminish the BBC or turn it into a narrowly focused market-failure public broadcaster. A diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain. The BBC is a very precious institution. Like all organisations, it has its faults but it is overwhelmingly a creative force for good.”

I will be keeping a close eye on what the government announces tomorrow, I hope that people will not let a slight pesky irritation of paying the Licence Fee let them think the terms being offered are the best ones for everyone. We must not imagine that dismantling one of the greatest media organisations in the World will not have a profound effect on our national character. Whether that be in education, culture or entertainment. The BBC has the capacity at key moments to bring the nation together and to broadcast our values abroad with clarity and respect. 
Lord Hall sums it up best I think, “The BBC does not belong to its staff. The BBC does not belong to the government. The BBC belongs to the country.”

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