Abolishing the BBC’s licence fee fits a worryingly authoritarian narrative

It won’t be immediate, but it certainly appears definite at this stage. The BBC’s licence fee will be abolished in 2027, protected by Royal Charter until then, and funding will be frozen for the next two years.

In her announcement, Nadine Dorries boldly declared:

“This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over. Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

It’s a relief she didn’t proffer any solutions to her last point, as I dread to contemplate the type of show she would consider quality viewing. She also appears to reference the post-2020 change in licencing rules, which forced over-75’s to begin paying when previously the licence had been free. That, firstly, was actually the fault of her Conservative government. George Osborne’s 2016 settlement provided limited funding boosts to the BBC in exchange for the latter taking responsibility for over-75’s licences, breaking a 2015 and ironically 2017 campaign promise.

Secondly, representatives from the BBC pushed to decriminalise TV licence evasion, already not an imprisonable offence, but the government opted not to move forwards with those plans. Shifting the blame onto the BBC was cunning, perhaps devious, whilst simultaneously gutting the broadcaster’s resources.

Political attacks on the BBC are deeply disturbing. We are distinctly lucky, in the UK, to have the luxury of relying upon impartial reporting. One only has to compare headlines from The Guardian with The Daily Mail to witness the vastly different perspectives of each, often informing readers of increasingly polarised views. In our digital age of misinformation, combatting this festering plague is only more important, with accurate reporting the sole cure.

Is the BBC perfect? No. Without delving into an analysis of the television shows they produce, most being generic drivel not worth bothering over, absolutely pure impartiality is an impossibility. Occasionally, the outcome of that futile search is false neutrality. On some issues, the stated policy of “representing all points of view” simply cannot be fulfilled. On complex topics, there are too many, each with minute nuances, to cover. So, necessarily, judgements must be imposed on which deserve coverage, and how much air-time should be appropriated. Here, the BBC stumbles. When all common sense and 99% of the scientific community prescribes to the notion of severe climate breakdown, there is only one opinion to represent. Instead, however, time is often dedicated to deniers, occasionally without establishing their lack of credentials or vested fossil fuel interests.

The main problem with disinformation and false neutrality is the general public is neither particularly smart nor attentive. Indeed, a study revealed many people are unable to differentiate the ads that appear in google searches from genuine results. That revelation arrived in the same report exposing fossil fuel interests for spending billions on greenwashing advertising, purporting to be genuine articles. As a hint, if a search result says ‘ad’ next to it, it’s an advert.

Still, the BBC’s endeavour is better than not trying at all. The Conservatives, of course, would transform the national broadcaster into an extension of government, a propaganda weapon, an additional tool of authority as employed by dictators in other nations to peddle favourable rhetoric and slander opposition. All with a healthy dose of blasting the national anthem, too.

It’s unfortunate, but the BBC appears to have imperilled itself most recently by reporting on Boris Johnson’s party mishaps. Worse, earlier this week I watched an aired report in which an interviewee recklessly spouted the baseless claim that Brexit shortages and Covid restrictions have created problems for the country. Without, horrifyingly, space for a Johnson lapdog to vehemently reject that falsehood and assure us all both Brexit and the pandemic response have been glorious successes.

Joking aside, it’s an uncomfortable position. In order to appeal for funding, the BBC must conform with the Conservative ideals of media, in which the government can do no wrong. To do so would undermine their legitimacy. I’m not an automatic fan of everything the BBC does, but don’t believe there was any winning this scenario, save for praying the next administration looks more fondly upon them.

After Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood criticised the government’s latest move, and said the BBC had done an important job reporting on Downing Street parties, solace might even come from another Conservative government. Just one not headed by Johnson or his ilk.


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