Boris, Please Leave The BBC Alone

Can you think of a better way to fund a public broadcaster? That was the question that one interviewee fired back at the news anchor this morning. I'm sure that for many people, it really hit home.

The BBC is going through turmoil as its Director General announces his intention to leave in the summer, giving a replacement enough time to prepare for a mid-chart review in 2022. There are a range of issues that will come up, but easily the most important will be the licence fee.

To people outside the UK it can seem odd that all Brits under 75 have to pay GBP154.50 to watch television each year. However, if you think about it, if you want a public service broadcaster funded by the general public and answerable only to the general public, how else would you fund it?

Boris has waded in, suggesting the licence fee needs to be reexamined, and today we have the former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, doing a round of interviews suggesting much the same.

Nobody is being very precise in this -- no Government or former Government minster has a point to make other than that the licence fee is the equivalent of a tax that nobody can avoid, and it needs to be reexamined.

But let's think for a moment. It's a public service funded by the public, right? If it were to rely on a Government grant, that would make it answerable to the politicians that it is there to hold to account.

If it were to take on advertising, you can imagine how many people would complain and call for the old days of a paying a one-off fee to have advertisement-free viewing.

And if you are taking money from advertisers, would that lead to a new form of pressure from brands withdrawing money if the corporation were to look at them or their industry in an unfavourable light?

Channel 4 News shows you can still be cutting-edge and independent and yet still receive advertising, so maybe it wouldn't be an issue to worry about. But there's definitely a question to ponder there. 

One can only imagine people lining up to accuse the BBC of not covering stories on the news or tackling issues that are unpopular with advertisers if the corporation were tied to ad dollars to survive.

Another issue is the gender pay gap. It has been jumped on by campaigners as the corporation has lost a couple of high-profile cases for women being paid less for what a tribunal has agreed was the same work.

I think many people in media simply thought the men being named were far more famous and well-known than the women bringing the cases and so just attracted a large salary because of their higher profile. That is probably what the BBC thought, but it has lost those cases and will likely now face a huge challenge closing the pay gap by paying women in a similar position more, or asking celebrities to take a pay cut which will likely see them switch channel instead. 

And there you have it. The row will likely take a few turns, but the general principle and the central question is how should the BBC be funded. You can talk about Netflix all you like and think you're making a point, but you're not. It's a streamer people choose to subscribe to, the BBC is a public service broadcaster. Two completely different models.

We have a choice to make. Let the BBC charge for advertising and let it do its own thing, or keep on funding it and give it a chance to carry on with its excellent work. This constant sniping and complaining is not good for anyone. 

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