Reflecting on the institution’s history shows the BBC’s ability to overcome adversity.
The BBC is a public service broadcaster, meaning that it cannot have any commercial or political agenda of its own. It is closely monitored by the BBC Trust, which ensures that the output does is not biased to a particular perspective.
This is not to say that the BBC is beyond criticism – indeed it is criticised often and from many camps, including those on both sides of the political spectrum for simultaneously being too right or too left wing. Conversely, this probably means it is doing something well.
There are those who challenge some BBC content as not actually performing a public service – for example, that Strictly Come Dancing does not enhance public life. Given Strictly’s huge viewing figures, legions of loyal fans and the international appeal, we’d argue that entertaining people and inspiring new generations of dancers, is a public service. The same goes for The Great British Bake Off.
Within the UK, the BBC is the most trusted news source – it leads in breaking news and offers quality analysis across TV and radio channels, its flagship news programmes Newsnight and The Today Show. Beyond our borders, the BBC is an immensely well-respected news provider and a source of cultural capital for ‘brand’ Britain and Britons globally – what is sometimes known as ‘soft power’.
The source of much of the criticism laid against the BBC stems from how it is funded. The TV licence fee was a much easier pill to swallow in the time before free media content was made easily accessible and universally available. Now, the truth is that fewer and fewer young people actually watch TV on a TV. The demand for instant content requires the internet – news and views must be immediate. Additionally, the trend towards ‘binge watching’ undermines the traditional scheduling of programmes – one where new episodes are released each week. In the current media climate, can the model of the BBC survive?
In the past, the BBC has adapted with overwhelming success to include TV broadcasting, multi-channel broadcasting, rolling news production and online services. The BBC has embraced internet-dominant broadcasting, with all radio and broadcasting information available online. Their vision of internet-first content demonstrates their capacity to adapt.
The key question is whether or not the TV license can finance the BBC’s continued evolution. This is a question that has been repeated ad nauseam with every shift in broadcasting and consumer behaviour trends, and the BBC has overcome every one. The main point isn’t in the detail of how the BBC would continue to be funded, but what the nation would be like without it. Accepting the goal of public service broadcasting as a key part of Britain’s media landscape, and its national identity, means that the future of the organisation must be protected. The question is how?