T3 Opinion: If we don’t save the BBC we’ll regret it forever

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You’ve probably noticed that the BBC is under fairly constant attack these days. It’s easy to sound paranoid about this, but let’s be honest here, the right-leaning press doesn’t care for the BBC. Papers like the Daily Mail in particular find the existence of a publicly-funded broadcaster especially distasteful.

The good news is that the BBC is happy to call out the Daily Mail on its nonsense and use facts to clearly demonstrate that the paper is at best misrepresenting facts and at worse making up things that aren’t even true.

But the threat to the BBC is real. In a world where we have Netflix and Sky people are wondering why they’re forced to pay for the BBC. I still believe that we need the BBC in this country, but let’s take a look at some of the arguments against it, and why it’s important to keep the nation’s broadcaster.

Why do people dislike the BBC?

Mostly any dislike for the BBC comes from one of two things. For a small number of people it is seen as leaning to one side of the political spectrum. The right-leaning press think it’s full of lefties and the left-leaning press attacks it when it appears to go toward the right of centre.

This argument is silly for two reasons. Firstly, the BBC gets roughly equal complaints about leaning either way, so that sort of suggests it’s getting the balance broadly right. The second reason is that we all naturally notice when someone takes the opposite view to us far quicker than we notice when they agree with our stance.

The other issue is that people hate the licence fee. As a rule, most anti-BBC arguments will eventually boil down to this. Even the one about about politics usually ends up as “we are forced to the pay for the BBC so it should do what I want all the time”.

The licence fee is dreadful though, right?

Perhaps. You could fund the BBC through general taxation but the idea of a separate fee was to keep that ability to have an income away from the government. That’s important because if the BBC says things that annoy the government, the government could take away their money. So the licence fee is supposed to insulate the organisation against that.

In fact, the licence fee isn’t, in itself, dreadful. What people don’t like is the idea that you can go to prison for not paying for it. Although this isn’t quite true, you won’t end up in jail for not paying the fee, but you may get summoned to court for not paying. Once in court, a judge will order you to pay a fine of some sort, and if you can’t or won’t pay that, then you might get locked away. As a rule, if you’re unable to pay the court will work out a way to spread the cost of your fine.

Why do we even need the BBC?

There are plenty of people who say they don’t use the BBC at all. There’s a slim chance that’s true. They may never go to bbc.co.uk for news, or watch Eastenders or Question Time or plonk the kids down in front of advert-free childrens channels or listen to Radio 4, or Radio 1, or Radio 1 Xtra, or Five Live, or 6music, or download a podcast, or watch a YouTube clip of Top Gear.

And to any of the people who can look at the whole of the BBC’s current TV, radio and online output and say they never use any of it I have one thing to say: You’re a bloody liar.

But on the off chance you really don’t use those BBC services I hope you also don’t watch any of those Sky channels that repeat classic BBC TV shows. Or those channels that repeat more modern shows like Top Gear.

But if we allow the notion that someone out there both dislikes the BBC enough to never use any of its services then surely that person should be allowed not to pay? Well, perhaps, but the BBC is run in the great tradition of all public service. We all pay for it, so it’s cheap for all and it helps to keep the general standard of TV.

The lack of adverts on the BBC are key here too, because that forces commercial broadcasters to moderate how many ads they show. Let’s take a look at Amercian TV for an example of the direction in which commercial TV will go if the BBC isn’t around to keep things sane:

But also in quality terms the BBC sets a standard that both commercial broadcasters in the UK, and broadcasters the world over try to match. It’s also worth pointing out that the BBC conducts considerable R&D into TV and broadcasting standards. Stereo sound in broadcast TV wouldn’t have happened without the BBC, HDTV was pioneered by the corporation – even if it didn’t launch a channel with it first.

It’s like Central Park

In 1857 a parcel of land owned by the City of New York was dedicated to a central park. Originally 778 acres and now measuring some 843 acres it makes up 6% of Manhattan. One estimate put its real estate value at $528.8billion in 2005, fifteen years later you can bet it’s worth a lot more.

So what, “it’s a park” I can hear you muttering. Well, the thing about Central Park is that you’d never be able to build it now. If it had never been designated as an area for nature, you wouldn’t be able to look at that bit of land in 2015 and think “let’s raze all these buildings, and put a park there instead”. Some things, our heritage, could only ever have been built in different times. Central Park is one, and in this country the BBC and NHS are ours.

And look too at the NHS. We have it, the Americans do not. The Americans can’t build one now because big business is involved. Now decisions are made about healthcare in the US that can financially ruin someone for life. Healthcare bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US. Think about that for a minute, people are literally having to choose between their health and every penny they’ve ever earned.

When the BBC is gone, there will be no way to bring it back. The costs would simply be too great.

Worth fighting for

The BBC is worth fighting for. No company gets everything right and the BBC will make shows that you and I don’t watch – to be honest, I watch pretty much no broadcast TV at all and in spite of that I’m happy to pay for the BBC.

The BBC produces trustworthy news, challenges the government, entertains us, educates us and informs us. Can other broadcasters do that? Of course. But no other broadcaster looks at its programmes through that prism and tries to ensure that everything it does offers something of value to the public.

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