Long live the great British institution

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© Tim Loudon

The BBC. The great British institution. It informs, educates and entertains- whoever you are, whatever your age. But at a time when the British public are dealing with the consequences of the savage cuts the new government on welfare, higher education, social housing, policing, and local government, the question many people seem to be asking is: what exactly are we paying for? And most importantly, why should we? Watching the BBC will set the licence fee payer back by £145.50 per year- but whilst genuinely free channels including Channel Four and ITV receive no funding for this, we must pay for our access to them because subscription to the BBC is mandatory. The question the taxpayer has to ask is, just how many more fat cats are we going to support?

If the issue arose around any institution other than the BBC I’d indulge in a good old rant. As it is I’ll have to save my favourite activity for another time because, much as it pains me to be supporting the big boys, I love the BBC, and would not lose it for any price.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the arguments for losing the licence fee. Of course it’s unfair that, aside from their history, the BBC has a significant head start in funding and therefore in quality over other channels, and of course those channels are necessarily going to be inferior due to the need for advertising every ten minutes. It’s also true that far too many of the faces of the BBC are hideously overpaid. But the same is also true of the smaller channels; Natasha Kaplinsky has been earning £1m a year since her transition to Channel Five, and ITV1’s Ant and Dec are currently paid £5m a year after taking a significant pay cut. So the fat cats don’t just reside around the BBC.

Whilst everyone’s making cuts it’s important to remember that while they’re smaller, these channels are not small companies that are struggling to get by, but massive commercial corporations. They might be smaller than the BBC but that does not mean they have to be inferior simply because they’re differently funded, it just means that they therefore are different; they are just not meant to be the producing the same types of entertainment. These channels have adapted to suit their difference in structure; there is a good reason why the BBC is better known for its dramas, whilst ITV is the king of reality shows. Aside from simply catering for different audiences, the ad break which would simply ruin a good episode of Spooks, or perhaps Life on Mars, is in a strange way beneficial to reality shows, particularly the competitions, in order to create tension.

What I am trying to argue is just that the BBC and other corporations should not be funded in the same way because they are designed for different things. Of course if we could give extra money to them all then we’d all be happy to get rid of the irritation of advertising, but as it is cutting public funding away from television entirely is hardly going to be a massive boost to the economy. Undoubtedly if the BBC lost public funding they would have to cut jobs; an estimated 15-20,000 extra people would end up out of work- and highly trained people who would find it difficult to find the same sort of job again. The combined damage can’t help but make you think that it might just be worth it, for forty pence a day, to keep the licence fee.

Undoubtedly this whole issue shall be dragged up again and again by the government, think tanks, the media and the public. Sadly I fear that the BBC as it is shall not remain with us for too long. How it will be funded remains to be seen; it has been suggested that if we were to pay for the BBC as a subscription service, as with Sky, the sign up rate would be great enough to keep it largely in tact. Here’s hoping, because if anyone puts an ad break in Doctor Who I might just break their face.

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