I recently overheard a couple of BBC friends describing it, if I remember correctly, as ‘an organisation characterised by fear’. Many of us yearn for what the BBC was able to do in the past, and is no longer able to do now because of government and other interference.
Chris Patten, in a speech recorded in the Huffington Post describes his concern that other big issues this summer may distract us from the opportunity to fix some of the challenges when the Charter is next renewed.
Of course, enriching our lives goes far beyond journalism. The BBC is at the cultural heart of this Nation. In fact, it is the cultural heart, and I welcome the measures taken by Tony Hall to forge closer partnerships with the nation’s other great cultural institutions. And cultural enrichment is not just about the Arts. It’s about Science, and Philosophy, and History too. It’s about Ideas and Enquiry: it’s about thinking the unthinkable. Here I fear the BBC has lost some of its ambition and needs to find it again. We need more programmes that are, frankly, slightly above our heads. Not inaccessible, but programmes that make us stretch to reach them. The BBC should remember the great auto-didactic tradition in British culture, not least in working class communities. BBC2 once offered that degree of challenge, but the tough stuff has largely gone to BBC4 and there, because of budget cuts, it’s sometimes made with glue and string. The long-term security that licence fee funding is supposed to bestow on the BBC should give it the confidence to challenge us all. But every time politicians grab an easy headline at the BBC’s expense; every time they question its scope, chip away at its funding and occasionally swipe great chunks of it; every time they seem to doubt its very future – they erode the BBC’s confidence to make bold decisions about content.
Worth reading in full if you care about what the BBC means today. Like the NHS, I fear it may not survive very much longer in anything like the form it had in its glory days. But I could be convinced otherwise — would be delighted to be so, in a world where everything else is funded by click-bait — and compared to the NHS, the BBC is very much easier to fix.
Reducing the fear would be a very good first step.