Sadly, the end is nigh for the BBC.
Not just because the government has decriminalised the offence of avoiding the BBC’s annual license fee. That in itself doesn’t write the death warrant. But when it’s combined with other factors – the recent outbreak of scandals, the soaring budgets and outrageous salaries, and a steady drumbeat of anti-BBC propaganda from commercial interests determined to level the broadcasting playing field – are taking their toll on our once-beloved ‘Auntie’.
Not so many years ago, the British public would have risen up in indignation at the mere suggestion that the BBC should be required, like all other broadcasters, to pay its way from earned income rather than from a levy on taxpayers. The BBC, they would have argued, is a grand and revered national institution. Wasn’t it the BBC that pioneered great British television, for years regarded as the envy of the world? And wasn’t it, years before that, BBC radio broadcasts that offered the only genuine source of hope to oppressed millions across Europe during the dark days of Nazi occupation?
Yes, it was.
But a new generation doesn’t remember those glory days, and doesn’t care to be reminded. They are history, and neither history nor tradition loom large in this new wired world.
For all its faults and peccadilloes, I’ve always admired the BBC. It was a stellar brand which, as much as any other, defined the medium in its formative years.
But now even I can’t help thinking the time has come to cut it loose from the benign shackles of public ownership.
I’m ‘defecting’ not because I resent the fee – which at £145 a year is these days scarcely more than the cost of dinner-for-two in London or a single theatre ticket – but because government-sponsored entertainment is now an irrational anachronism. Perhaps it always was, but in the early days of broadcasting it was more than that. Before and during the war, the government needed a public outlet for propaganda, however well disguised, to counter the Nazi threat, and after the war the perceived communist threat. The BBC relayed a British perspective to the world at a time when that perspective was seen to be both noble and brave in purpose.
Defence of the realm can no longer justify public ownership, if it ever could. Government propaganda is now just that: government propaganda. Strictly Come Dancing makes a much better job of it.
Some of us will miss the BBC. But I suspect we’ll miss the idea of the BBC rather than the institution itself. Many, mostly of a certain age, will mourn its passing as the end of a familiar and comforting era in broadcasting.
But all good things must come to an end. Even nostalgic old goats like me can see that.
I’m not particularly anxious or determined to get rid of the BBC as a public corporation. But defending the concept of broadcasting funded by involuntary taxpayers no longer makes the slightest sense, politically, sociologically or commercially.
If the BBC’s time has come, and I believe it has, I shall be sad, but not to the point of losing sleep over it.
Now, what am I bid for a franchise that could be a nice little earner?
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