#159 saving the BBC

Last year marked one hundred years since the creation of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). It was established under a royal charter which lasts for a period of ten years, after which it needs to be renewed. The current charter is due for renewal in 2027 and there are those who want to see the current model changed.

Britain’s first live public broadcast was made from the factory of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company in Chelmsford in June 1920. It was sponsored by the Daily Mail’s Lord Northcliffe and featured the famous Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. The Melba broadcast caught the people’s imagination and marked a turning point in the British public’s attitude to radio. However, this public enthusiasm was not shared in official circles where such broadcasts were held to interfere with important military and civil communications. By late 1920, pressure from these quarters and uneasiness among the staff of the licensing authority, the General Post Office (GPO), was sufficient to lead to a ban on further Chelmsford broadcasts.

But by 1922, the GPO had received nearly 100 broadcast licence requests and moved to rescind its ban in the wake of a petition by 63 wireless societies with over 3,000 members.  Anxious to avoid the same chaotic expansion experienced in the United States, the GPO proposed that it would issue a single broadcasting licence to a company jointly owned by a consortium of leading wireless receiver manufacturers, to be known as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd. In December 1922 the company made its first official broadcast.

John Reith, a Scottish Calvinist, was appointed its general manager, the company was to be financed by a royalty on the sale of BBC wireless receiving sets from approved domestic manufacturers and to this day, the BBC aims to follow the Reithian directive to “inform, educate and entertain

The BBC has played a prominent role in British life and culture. It was widely known colloquially as the Beeb, Auntie, or a combination of both (Auntie Beeb). It is the world’s oldest national broadcaster, and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees, employing over 22,000 staff in total, of whom approximately 19,000 are in public-sector broadcasting. 

The work of the BBC is funded principally by an annual television licence fee which is charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts and iPlayer catch-up The fee is set by the British Government, agreed by Parliament, and is used to fund the BBC’s radio, TV, and online services covering the nations and regions of the UK. Since 1 April 2014, it has also funded the BBC World Service (launched in 1932 as the BBC Empire Service), which broadcasts in 28 languages and provides comprehensive TV, radio, and online services in Arabic and Persian.

Around a quarter of the BBC’s revenue comes from its commercial subsidiary BBC Studios (formerly BBC Worldwide), which sells BBC programmes and services internationally and also distributes the BBC’s international 24-hour English-language news services BBC World News, and from BBC.com, provided by BBC Global News Ltd.

The BBC, according to the Guardian newspaper, has “taken artistic risks to create brilliant, radical and innovative work that would be in the interests of no profit-driven private company”.

The licence fee allows the broadcaster to “remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas, no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”, BBC guidelines state.

The BBC is a vital tool in ensuring that everyone in the UK is granted access to fair, unbiased news. 

However, critics have argued that forcing people to pay for a service they either don’t use very often or do not agree with politically is unfair. 

In 2018, then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn floated the idea of allowing BBC licence-fee payers to elect board members of the national broadcaster, PoliticsHome reported. Currently, they are appointed from within.

“One proposal would simultaneously reduce government political influence on the BBC while empowering its workforce and licence fee payers,” he said. “That would see some elections of places to the BBC Board, for example of executive directors by staff and non-executive directors by licence fee payers.”

However, what actually happened was that Boris Johnson appointed Conservative party donor Richard Sharp just after he had arranged a loan for the then Prime Minister. He used to be the boss of the current UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak at Goldman Sachs.

The chairman is in charge of upholding and protecting the BBC’s independence and ensuring the BBC fulfils its mission to inform, educate and entertain, among other things. As he is appointed by the government, Mr Sharp can only be sacked by the secretary of state or resign, he cannot be axed by the BBC.

Commenting on the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill, BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker called it an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

Lineker has said he will not apologise for the tweet, which compared the language used around migration to that in 1930s Germany. His suspension from Match of the Day meant the corporation was forced to abandon most of the weekend’s football coverage and to air drastically shortened versions of the highlights show two days running, after pundits refused to appear on air.

My book Hatred uses the diaries of Victor klemperer combined with current rhetoric and I defy anyone to identify which quotes are from the 1930s and which are current.

The Conservative government in the UK has been trying to flood the BBC with its own supporters to avoid criticism but also because I believe the government wishes to sabotage the renewal of the BBC charter in 2027. This is exactly what the right Wong government does in Hatred.

The suspension of Gary Linekar was a blatant attempt at the repression of freedom of speech and I am encouraged by the way in which other BBC employees supported Linekar against this blatant attempt to stifle criticism.


About M J Dees

M J Dees lives and works in Sao Paulo, Brazil with his daughter and two cats. You can sign up for more information on his book launches at http://eepurl.com/cTnAD5 and receive a free copy of The Doomed Planet.
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1 Response to #159 saving the BBC

  1. Meenaz Lodhi says:

    Reblogged this on Meenaz Lodhi. Blog.


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