From Vlod Barchuk, a Conservative Association chairman: That the BBC continues to generate such strong emotions says something about its special status in Britain, even though much of that specialness is a myth. ‘Auntie’ became a member of the family in the Second World War and has lived off that residual glow for decades. However, that is coming to an end. The average BBC viewer is at least as old as a Church of England congregant or Tory Party member. The young, brought up in a multi platform, multi channel digital world, feel no loyalty to any particular media outlet. Brexit has disabused many conservatives of the notion that the BBC is impartial, confirming what former employees such as Robin Aitken have stated (see his book, The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda). And it’s not so much the BBC’s bias that offends conservatives but its pretence to be impartial, when it so clearly isn’t. The gap between BBC management and programme makers and its audience mirrors the broader divide in society between the rulers and the ruled, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
The simplest solution is to treat the BBC just like any other broadcaster; set out a timetable for ending the licence fee and switch the BBC to a digital subscription service. If there is a public service broadcasting role to be performed, let the BBC do this and fund it by having Ofcom impose a levy on all broadcasters to pay for this relatively small cost.
If the BBC is to maintain a special place on the UK’s broadcast media, then it has to change. To keep the support of the public, its management – or at least its governors – need to be directly accountable to those who pay for it. A board of governors elected by licence payers (with an elected chairman), could re-create the link between viewers and broadcasters that has been so clearly lost. To prevent such elections becoming political bun fights, no member of any political party would be allowed to serve as a BBC governor. Former BBC employees – such as Rod Liddle, Jeremy Paxman, and the soon to be retired John Humphreys – would make interesting governors, more willing to challenge its management than the current grey men and women. A BBC responsive to its audience could use online methods to quickly and cheaply identify its viewers’ preferences, though one can only imagine the exploding heads at BBC HQ if a poll showed viewers wanted to see repeats of politically incorrect programmes like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum!
But whilst such a solution has many attractions, it’s probably all too difficult to put in place given the number of vested interests who would want to meddle with any revised governance structure. A broadcaster funded by an annual fee on the ownership of a television set was a typically quirky and effective British solution to the 20thcentury challenge of having advertiser free TV in an analogue world. But the challenge no longer exists, and in a digital media age the BBC should have to justify its existence in the same commercial manner as other broadcasters.
On a personal level, you can deal with the BBC by just not paying the licence fee as it’s pretty much an irrelevance in a world of streaming media content on the internet. This will free up more than £150 every year to spend on whatever you like and will also make you fairly indifferent to the BBC’s antics.
As for the government, it should just turn the BBC into a commercial operator and sell it, along with Channel 4.
Politicians were quite happy to sell off water, the energy grid and create a quasi-privatised railway system. But these are all areas where there are arguments for why they should be state owned, wheras I can see no justification for the state to own TV companies. They’re merely vehicles for official propaganda and have no place being state owned in a free society.