With the government aiming to further control the BBC’s activities, Antony Tucker argues that we need to stand up for the organisation, or risk losing it.
The BBC is undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest institutions, providing world-beating news, documentaries, films, music, dramas, comedies and sporting coverage for nearly a century. Across all platforms, from television to on-demand streaming, the corporation maintains unbeatable quality, showing the world the best Britain has to offer. Yet, despite its enormous value to our culture, the government remains determined to undermine and hollow out the BBC, restricting its content and saddling it with increased control.
The Conservatives’ hatred of the BBC is clear and obvious – why would David Cameron support any organisation which values impartiality above all? Providing high quality programming to every household in the country, the BBC’s power prevents Tory organs from utterly dominating our media, with news and current affairs programmes that dare to reveal government U-turns and mistakes. Having gagged charities, rigged the electoral system in his favour, effectively banned strikes, put our human rights on the line and defunded the opposition, Cameron is now coming for the last remaining bastion of democratic values that dares offer its users a pluralistic view of the world.
The Conservatives want to kill the BBC with a death of a thousand cuts. Restricting popular programming and reducing the breadth of content on offer through attacks on funding is only a first step. When shows like Strictly Come Dancing and The Voice, or websites like BBC Food have been mothballed, the resultant loss of viewership will be used as justification for yet more cuts, yet more interference, in an unending cycle until the BBC is on its knees – at which point privatisation via subscription will be presented as the “only option” for whatever remains of the corporation’s carcass. Don’t believe this? It’s precisely what is being used to fillet the NHS: defund it, narrow the services down to only those which can be presented as failing, then sell off the remnants under the lying epithet of “reform”.
Those who consider this unlikely are deluding themselves as to the true nature of the modern Conservative Party. The BBC’s traditional role in our cultural life will not save it from the attention of Cameron and Co., only massive public and political support for its continued independence and expansion can. We are not dealing with the Tories of the 1950s and 60s, whose rose tinted and patronising vision of Britain nonetheless lead them to protect traditional insititutions and show a little compassion to the poor.
Nor are we dealing with Thatcher or Major’s governments, who often sparred with the BBC and eagarly courted the media barons of the right but who still remained attached to “Victorian values” that inspired a sentimentality for certain institutions, even as more recent creations were being abolished. The Tories of today are wreckers, pure and simple; there is nothing they will not sell, nothing they will not crush, to make a little more profit for their friends or to extend their time in power a little longer. First the Royal Mail, now the NHS, next the BBC are on the chopping block.
We all have to get behind the BBC, young and old, rich and poor, left-wing and right-wing. There is a dangerous and damaging fashion at the moment for the far-left to endlessly criticise the BBC as massively Tory-centric and biased; the recent and disgraceful petition calling for political editor Laura Kuenssberg to be sacked being a prime example of this. When the left think the Beeb is biased t0 the right, and the right believe it to favour the left, surely this is just proof that the corporation is doing its job? As an impartial voice, the BBC reaches everyone in Britain. If the left fail to fight for it, and let it go in a fit of childish pique for daring to report those truths we hold to be inconvenient, then Britain’s cultural life will instead be dominated by the Daily Mail, Sky News and The Sun, further strengthening the Conservatives’ hold on power.
The BBC is at its best when it is left alone, well-funded and free to take risks. In the past, this has paid off wonderfully. Millions tune into entertainment shows like Strictly or soaps like EastEnders, a level of popularity that allows everyone to get their money’s worth out of the BBC. What other media organisation can both master populism and still pump out brilliant quality programming? This is the home of Wolf Hall, The Hollow Crown, of David Attenborough, of Sherlock and Inside Obama’s White House; Match of the Day and the best coverage of the Olympics that can be found anywhere on earth. Diminish the BBC and you diminish Britain; take it away and you rob our nation of the keystone to its cultural life.
Today the BBC faces an existential threat at the hands of the Conservative government, which calls gagging “regulation”, restriction “distinctive content” and believes in nothing, save enhancing the profits of shareholders in the private news organisations. Reining in the corporation will not improve the quality of British culture; instead, it will precipitate a race to the bottom in the output of the media.
The BBC provides a benchmark that cannot be replaced; it protects a pluralism that is the lifeblood of democracy; it is the core of our cultural life and should never be diminished by so much as the half part of a degree. We all must demonstrate our support, even if the BBC occasionally infuriates us or does not reflect our exact personal opinions. Its loss is not an option, so its diminshment cannot and should not be countenanced.