Edward Shattock lays out his case for why the BBC should no longer be revered as a broadcasting giant.
Why do we venerate the BBC? Why does it take precedence over other news providers? Why do we still tolerate its exploitative licensing fee? I have yet to stumble upon any good answers and solutions to these questions, and, like many others, I fail to see why such an antiquated institution is so essential to our lives. Sure, the BBC is the foundation stone upon which modern media stands; sure, their mission-statement, “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain”, seems principled and noble; and sure, they have taken some steps to develop a diverse platform that reflects the interests of modern British society. Despite all of this, however, the BBC has lost its way.
People from all sections of society have levelled criticism at the BBC for bias, they are frequently condemned for a perceived lack of diversity, and, most importantly, they face disdain from people who resent the dreaded TV license. So, what are we to do about this? Obviously, we cannot just scrap the BBC and start anew but, since we are lucky enough to live in this age of information where a myriad of other broadcasters exist, we can, and certainly should, stop glorifying them and redirect the limelight onto more deserving providers.
Accusations of bias have surrounded the BBC since its foundation. If you type “BBC bias” into Google, over 22 million results appear and there are complaints from people from every walk of life, be it Conservative or Labour, religious or atheist, male or female, straight or gay. Although receiving criticism from such a diverse range of people indicates that the BBC does not favour a specific group, it does beg the question as to why so many people feel such animosity towards it. Many of these complainants put their grievances down to bias and, frankly, it would be wrong for us to ignore the pleas of so many people who feel this way. Agreeably, it would be inappropriate that an organisation officially backed by the state could be permitted to, in my opinion, manipulate the population under the pretence of impartiality. I am an advocate for free speech and freedom of the media, but only for providers that make their biases clear from the get-go. News providers that are funded by the taxpayer have an obligation to their audience to present the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is a standard that the BBC have failed to meet time and time again and so, as promised, here is some evidence for the sceptics among you.
In 2018, the BBC posted a video in support of gay culture in Scotland entitled “Time for Love”. To highlight the alleged discrimination of LGBT+ people by religious authorities, the BBC attacked the Catholic Church and the narrator stated that Communion “tastes like cardboard and smells like hate”. Bishop John Keenan voiced the concerns of Catholics worldwide and said that the video is “is ridiculing and demeaning the faith of ordinary Catholics, especially at a time when Catholics are experiencing more and more abuse and prejudice in Scotland”. I am inclined to agree. The BBC must surely have been aware of the sectarian divide in Scotland and must surely have been aware that those remarks would be inflammatory and antagonistic to such a large group of people. Posting such an insensitive video, therefore, paints the BBC as either out-of-touch or as anti-Catholic, neither of which endorse the view that the BBC is impartial or competent.
Moreover, on 26 May 2020, The World at One, a BBC radio show, criticised Dominic Cummings for his trip to Barnard Castle and, through his association with him, criticised Boris Johnson. Such criticisms are valid, of course, but the issue is that the report was one-sided and thus exhibited anti-government rhetoric. The presenter criticised Cummings through comments made by Harriet Baldwin MP but did not mention that Baldwin had recently been fired from her ministerial roles by Johnson, nor did they offer a defence of Cummings. In failing to mention this, the BBC made out that Baldwin had no reason to speak out against Cummings and Johnson, thus attributing credibility to her statements, statements that could potentially have misled thousands of listeners and given undue culpability to Cummings. At a time where the government was under tremendous pressure to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, such reporting can only have exacerbated the situation.
The BLM protests have once again brought attention to the lack of diversity and under-representation of BAME groups at the BBC – although, such sentiments have been expressed by critics for years. Historically, the BBC has failed to represent the British public as, in 2001, Greg Dyke, the Director-General of the BBC, stated that the BBC was “hideously white” since 98% (other sources claim 92%) of its staff were Caucasian. It was a similar story in 2017, where OFCOM’s report on the diversity of UK broadcasters revealed that while ethnic minorities made up 13% of the BBC’s overall number of employees, they only accounted for 6% of its senior staff. When compared to the 2011 census, which found that 14% of the UK were BAME, these statistics seem low. To make matters worse, the report found that the 10 highest paid BAME stars in the BBC had a combined salary equal to that made by just Chris Evans in one year.
In fairness to the BBC, they have significantly improved over time and, nowadays, the number of BAME staff at the BBC has risen to 15.2%. The number of BAME leaders in the BBC, however, stands at 11.1%, a desperately low figure. Sharon White, the chief executive of OFCOM, argues that, as the UK’s national broadcaster, the BBC should be leading the way in terms of diversity and I could not agree more. Whilst 15.2% is higher than the national average of BAME citizens, it is not so high as to stand out and actively promote a culture of diversity which, in the view of many people, is what it should be doing. Whilst these statistics show that the number of BAME employees in the BBC have been improving for the better in recent years, there is still a significant wealth gap between Caucasian and BAME members of staff and this is something that needs to change, particularly amongst our nation’s primary news provider.
My biggest gripe with the BBC is having to fork out £150 every year to pay the licensing fee. For the unenlightened few, anyone in the UK who watches live TV or programmes on BBC iPlayer must purchase the TV license. Failure to do so, whilst still using the aforementioned services, is a crime that can result in a £1000 fine. The licensing fee, however, is a product of the past, from a time when the BBC was the overlord of British television. To this day, my parents wistfully tell me how they only had three TV channels when they were children, all of which were run by the BBC. At a time like that, implementing a TV license is fair game but, today, we have an almost endless supply of TV channels and online news providers, most of which I prefer to the BBC anyway. I, for one, get my news elsewhere and I simply cannot remember the last time I watched a BBC programme. Nowadays, I just binge-watch Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney Plus, so I have no need for iPlayer. Why then am I still paying for their services, services that I do not use? It is not just me who wonders this. A poll taken out by the Sunday Express in February found that 60% of people want to scrap the licensing fee entirely. Since we live in a post-Brexit world, where the majority gets what the majority wants, the 60% who seek the abolition of the licensing fee should get what the 60% wants. In a world where the BBC has been made redundant by the emergence of other providers, tradition is not a good enough excuse to keep their funding going at the taxpayer’s expense, especially when so many other organisations manage to thrive without external support.
Much of our population still reveres the BBC for its role in broadcasting history but, unfortunately for the outlet, times have changed. The BBC has shown itself to be a flawed organisation, one that falls short of its pledges of impartiality and one that manages to arouse rancour in a population that has grown virulent towards its arguably extortive TV license. Its faults could perhaps be forgiven if they were the eminent broadcaster and existed in a world without competition, but there are plenty of other organisations who do a far more effective job. As a result, it is only logical that the BBC be knocked off the pedestal on which it is held.