The Human Truth Foundation

The British Broadcasting Corporation
Its Status, and Some Issues

By Vexen Crabtree 2013

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The British Broadcasting Corporation's services and products are used by 98% of the adults in Britain, every week1. Its website, mostly news and weather, is the most popular and highest quality of its kind and its natural history programs are the best. There are no adverts streamed on its TV channels nor on its website. In an era where all such traditional services are suffering from the increased competition from the Internet, the BBC is less confident than it used to be, worrying about its own shrinking influence against the mass of more-entertaining but less-informative news sources available online1. There are debates about who its services should be aimed at and whether the license fee should be changed or shared (it is funded by the taxpayer, basically).


1. The License Fee (and reasons for changing it)

It is a legal requirement to pay for the BBC License Free if you have a TV set, or some other device, that can view BBC TV content. It costs nearly £150 per year2. It doesn't matter if you watch them, you still have to pay. TV detector vans occasionally prowl the streets, correlating those with sets with addresses with licenses. It's a serious business! The BBC acquired £3.5 billion as a result of the license fee, in 20091. The fee is occasionally hotly contested by users and by other media companies, who obviously see the BBC as being subsidised competition. Although 37% say that the License fee is the wrong way to fund the BBC3, that is still, in a nation of the unhappy, quite a positive endorsement. But what are the possible alternatives?

Some of the arguments for change are that the Licence Free takes away freedom of choice - to watch any TV you must pay it, even if you have no intention of watching BBC services (although in truth, its services and products are used by 98% of the adults in Britain, every week1).

Magazine publishers and radio stations complain about unfair competition for audiences and advertisers. [...] Newspapers point out that the presence of a giant free news website makes it hard to charge for online content. Similar complaints forced ZDF, a German public broadcaster, to prune its website drastically last year. James Murdoch, who runs News Corporation's European and Asian operations, including BSkyB, has called the corporation's reach 'chilling'.

The Economist (2010)1

The BBC has reacted to these criticisms and in 2009 surprised many with a declaration that it would cut back on its website, remove a few digital radio stations, and reduce its spending on sport and imported shows1.

Magazine publishers and radio stations complain about unfair competition for audiences and advertisers. [...] Newspapers point out that the presence of a giant free news website makes it hard to charge for online content. Similar complaints forced ZDF, a German public broadcaster, to prune its website drastically last year. James Murdoch, who runs News Corporation's European and Asian operations, including BSkyB, has called the corporation's reach 'chilling'.

The Economist (2010)1

However, as we shall see later, there are substantial counter-arguments.

2. The Reach of the BBC

#UK

98% of the adults in Britain, every week, use some of the services of the BBC1. The five biggest providers of global news are Al-Jazeera (English), France 24, CNN, Russia Today and BBC World. Although of those 5, Al-Jazeera, CNN and Russia Today are all widely known to be biased and selective in their broadcasting. BBC World has been found by analysts to be the most impartial and trustworthy.5. Many worry about the reduced impact of the BBC given the rise of more-entertaining but less-informative news sources available online1, but for now at least, the BBC is still highly influential across the world. British nationalist analysts consider it to be a great source of the UK's "soft power" around the world - meaning that the BBC is engendering positive attitudes towards the UK and the UK's interests around the world. It also does its part in spreading the use of reasonably well-spoken English.

3. Benefits of Leaving the BBC Unchanged

The BBC provides a quality service, with world-class news services and many informational programs. Polls have found that the BBC is trusted more than the police and civil servants; which are both in turn more trusted than other journalists in general1. In general, the following arguments against changing the BBC's License, or fiat, are as follows:

4. Conclusions

Although in 2009 a poll found that 47% thought the BBC License fee wasn't good value3, 98% of all Britons use the BBC, per week1. I suspect that many view its programs and services without always acknowledging the BBC as the source. No-one else produces wildlife documentaries of the same quality, for example, and its radio stations are taken for granted. In 2009, the BBC voluntarily cut back on some services such as sports, which are more appropriate to the mass-market than to a news provider1. Given the way that commercial media outlets such as news have suffered greatly in the internet-era and have largely resorted to peddling more and more entertainment, celebrity gossip, sensationalism and sports instead of investigative journalism and information, the BBC must remain as it is in order to provide not just Brits, but the world, with a quality set of services that are partially immune to market pressure to dumb down.

Current edition: 2013 Oct 15
http://www.vexen.co.uk/bbc.html
Parent page: United Kingdom: National Successes and Social Failures

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..

The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..

Davies, Nick
(2008) Flat Earth News. Hardback book. Published by Chatto & Windus, Random House, London, UK.

McDougall, Julian
(2012) Media Studies: The Basics. Paperback book. Published by Routledge, New York, USA.

Footnotes

  1. The Economist (2010 Mar 06) article "Cutting the BBC: No surrender" p34-36. The Economist references ComScore for some of its stats on the BBC, and Ipsos MORI for the stats on British trust of BBC versus other industries.^^^^^
  2. BBC Website's page on the Licence Fee says the cost has been £145.50 since 2010 Apr 01. The page iterates how this fee is broken up into the different areas of the BBC. Page accessed 2013 Oct 15.^
  3. The Economist (2009 Jun 20) article "The future of the BBC" p32.^^
  4. The Economist (2009 Jan 24) article "Public-service broadcasting" p32.^
  5. McDougall (2012) p122.^
  6. The Guardian article "Don't turn BBC into a ghetto, warns Stephen Fry" (2008 May 08). Accessed 2011 Mar 02.^
  7. Davies (2008) p394.^

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