We must have the licence fee to keep the BBC intact

BBC, licence fee, intact, broadcasting, media, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Veeneman

The last couple of weeks has seen a debate play out about the future of the BBC, and in an ever changing media environment, what model it should have. With the charter review forthcoming, questions began to be asked as to what funding model the BBC should have, and its effect on the organisation’s mission to the UK and the wider world.

The debate began with a letter, written to Culture Secretary Sajid Javid from the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen. Bridgen said the BBC should plan for “a future without the licence fee and considering subscription-based payment options, as well as the wealth of further opportunities that exist for its worldwide operations,” according to a report from The Guardian, which added that 50 MPs had supported Bridgen’s motion to review the licence fee.

Javid replied to Bridgen on 19 November, The Guardian report added, saying the right time to consider this would be during the charter review, which he said would not be held in advance of the general election in May.

Back it or attack it

While the conversation on Bridgen’s point was over, the debate was not. Before the reply was written, Labour MP Harriet Harman, the shadow culture secretary, cast doubts on the future of the BBC in a Conservative government.

Harman, in a speech to the Nations and Regions Media Conference at the University of Salford, said although it was important the licence fee be reviewed, it was a perfect funding model despite imperfections, and the removal of the licence fee would be a victory for Conservative MPs who want to destroy the BBC.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be able to see where the parties stand on the BBC, and we are clear,” Harman said in a transcript from the Party. “Labour strongly supports the BBC. But the Culture Secretary must make it clear that he too supports the BBC. At a time when the opponents of the BBC are circling, it’s imperative for the Culture Secretary to defend it. You’re either backing it or you’re attacking it.”

Last week, the debate continued, as a new report on how the BBC could save money was released. It noted that it needed to save £400 million before 2017, and warned that further cuts could have a deep effect on programmes and services. Recent reports indicated that with cuts, it would have to lead to the closure of the arts TV channel BBC Four.

In an interview with the Today programme on Radio 4, James Purnell, the BBC’s Director of Strategy, said there was no interest in closing BBC Four. Separately, Anne Bulford, the BBC’s finance chief, said it was imperative that the licence fee went towards programmes and services.

An international BBC

As Kettle’s media editor, I have read and heard many aspects of this debate, as the BBC is part of my coverage remit. I have written and reported much about the corporation, whether the move was good or bad, from the controversy on the exclusion of the Green Party from political debates to the record ratings Radio 2 achieved earlier this year.

When I am reporting about the BBC, I am impartial, with my views never considered. Indeed, it is extremely rare on the pages of this web site that I write comment pieces, as I am interested in the views of others, and save the ability to comment on special circumstances.

Yet, this debate has reminded me how essential the BBC is, and what will happen should the licence fee be scrapped. Today’s BBC is an international BBC, with the World Service added onto the licence fee after transitioning out of funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier this year, and the rise of interest in its global news operations on TV and online, as domestic and international news operations merge within the doors of the beloved Broadcasting House in central London.

The money that comes from the household, £145.50 per year or 40p per household per day, is trying to fund as many services as possible, trying to serve as much of the British population as possible.

Think twice before cutting

Internationally, the BBC has in many countries become a beacon for the truth, a shining light for facts, and an essential part of democracy for its detailed and impartial journalism. This is especially the case in the United States, as consumers turn away from an increasingly polarised media landscape, as the lines between news and opinion become blurred on radio, television and the web. The well rounded perspective the BBC gives through its journalism is valued and essential in these current times.

It has also introduced the world to appreciate authors including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, to watch on our TV screens the craft of actors including Dame Judi Dench and Colin Firth, and to hear through the medium of radio, web or otherwise, artists including the Arctic Monkeys and Benjamin Britten, and the programme that in the beginning sees you Sailing By.

You may not agree with what is seen or heard, or the actions taken by senior management and reported, but the BBC has a value that speaks more than anything written or uttered, a value commercial broadcasters cannot match, try as they may. The BBC cares about the future of the public, a public that is informed, enlightened, and inspired.

If the licence fee is scrapped, the BBC itself will be dismantled, and the international community will lose valuable resources. It also sends a clear message – the Conservatives don’t care about an informed and enlightened public, they only care about themselves.

Sometimes, the impact outweighs the cost, and with the BBC the Conservatives should bear that in mind for next time the voters come knocking at the poll stations.

What do you think? Should the licence fee be scrapped? What is the future of the BBC? Have your say in the comments section below.