The BBC must defend itself with all its might against this deadly threat | Polly Toynbee


JThis Sunday, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted a death sentence for one of the world’s most respected and popular broadcasters. “This license fee announcement will be our last,” she wrote, along with a link to the Mail on Sunday splash. “The days of elderly people facing jail time and bailiffs knocking on doors are over. Now is the time to discuss and debate new ways to fund, support and sell great UK content.

She was doing her master’s bidding, as Boris Johnson struggled for everything to keep the tale away from his own plummeting fortunes. Johnson demands”Red meatto coax his MPs, in a wild mood after a grueling weekend in their constituencies listening to the local people demanding his head on a plate. Focusing the BBC is an easy choice, he thinks. But it may turn out that he is as much wrong on this point as on just about everything else.

So said a Tory MP I spoke to on Sunday, rolling his eyes in despair: “Here is yet another national institution that Boris wants to bring down with him, slashing and burning as he goes.” But will they talk? No, not a single Tory MP still dares publicly support the BBC, although what some say in private is another matter. Will this assault on society be as popular as Johnson imagines? It now depends in part on the BBC’s audacity to remind people of its national value, including the good value everyone gets for 43p a day. With such a weak government looking so openly for scapegoats, the broadcaster need not be cowardly.

The promise of Brexit was that of ‘global Britain’, but Johnson is destroying all the soft powers to make that possible. The BBC is trusted and admired for the honesty of its news around the world, especially in countries where reliable journalism can be hard to come by. Its best programs are our best ambassadors. Britain’s influence has been deliberately vandalized by Tories who talk foolishly about “patriotism” while demolishing all vehicles of national pride abroad: foreign aid has been cut at a stroke, while than the British Council – almost as old as the BBC – is to close 20 offices around the world. British academic influence has been undermined by the unnecessary withdrawal of the Erasmus programme, and scientists are excluded from funding Horizon research. Today the BBC is under death threat – just as, in the words of the Steven Barnett of the University of Westminster, its global reach is set to “hit the weekly figure of half a billion people during its centenary”.

The BBC is often considered the most respected media in the world, along with the World Service to reach 279 million people a week and the most visited BBC News website in the world. What other countries wouldn’t give for such soft power? Instead, this global asset is tossed aside in the ideological chaos created by this strange generation of nation-destroying conservatives.

Hypnotized by the noise made by his critics in the right-wing press, Johnson believes the BBC is something of the preserve of the metropolitan liberal elite. But he may discover that he is actually being deceived by his own echo chamber, increasingly detached from the outside world. Groups like Defund the BBC, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs attack this emblem of British culture, but never identify their funders, so who knows who or what they represent – companies or national or foreign governments?

On Christmas Day, eight of the 10 most-watched programs were on BBC One, with a record 141 million programs streamed on BBC iPlayer between December 27 and January 3. The diffuser is used by 90% of adults and 80% of 18-34 year olds per week, according to to the National Audit Office, making it by far the most widely used media brand in the UK. Leave it to the American streaming giants and there would be little British content, just a monoculture of globalized programming. Who would pay for their news, or children’s programs or the BBC Bitesize Education service used by 5.8 million children during lockdown? How would we pay for the immeasurable riches of BBC radio or regional stations which are one of the last bastions of local reporting?

When I speak to shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell, she jumps to defend the BBC charter. The organization suffered cuts in 30% since 2010, and the worst is yet to come after Dorries announced a funding freeze. The whole building is torn down just “because they don’t like his journalism,” Powell says. The Mail on Sunday article noted government figures were ‘irritated’ by the company’s reporting of Johnson’s party scandals – but the most outspoken coverage came from the Conservative press itself. Powell, as MP for Manchester, points to the ‘leveling up’ effect the BBC has on the country, with its operations in Salford, Cardiff and across the country. No other broadcaster would put more than half of its jobs and producers outside of London

The fee is not the only viable way to pay it: possible alternatives could be a tax on households, as in France and Germany; but he certainly shouldn’t seek funds from the Treasury pot, as he would then be left to compete in every budget with the NHS and defence. The principle that matters is that everyone pays, so it costs far less for a panoply of programs across the spectrum of tastes than could ever be funded by the subscriptions of a few.

If the BBC and its users make an incisive and confident case for what everyone would lose without it, it will survive and thrive. The country must therefore ask itself what it values ​​more: a large national broadcaster with such a wealth of programs at the lowest price, or the political posture of a lame prime minister?


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