White report outlines future for the BBC

“Betrayal, your name is Edmunds.” Thus began a tongue-in-cheek plume adapting Hamlet’s anger at his mother to disdain for entertainment host Noel Edmonds. In protest of the BBC’s threatening behavior when recording non-payers, the latter refused to pay the annual broadcast fee, which belongs exclusively to the broadcaster. Many, feeling the agency was bloated with 20,000 taxpayer-funded journalists, inclined to a left-liberal worldview, and unable to offer core programs such as Test cricket or rugby, praised Edmonds as an advocate for civil disobedience.

“But not me, friends,” said the author, who stated that he was writing under the impression of drunken bliss which had brought him a few days earlier to a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Promenade concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. Which got him to the point that without the licensing fee, the broadcaster wouldn’t be able to host the largest classical music festival in the world.

Against the argument that proms should find private sponsors, the columnist argued that the market was a flawed custodian of heritage. The purpose of the Public Broadcasting Service is to transmit this legacy. Since the BBC cannot demand that all citizens pay for classical music, even those who think Beethoven is a stuffed dog from a Disney movie, the institution must serve the entire nation. That means chasing the odds and paying for Noel Edmonds’ light-hearted entertainment. The author saw this consistency as the best defense of license fees: Beethoven and Mr. Blobby’s Edmonds blobby, a life-size rag doll and BBC star, thought by many in the 1990s to be a symbol of cultural flop, was inseparable. Sitting on the millions he’s made at the BBC, Edmonds must consider the fact that Blobby would never have happened if the broadcaster hadn’t invested in Beethoven as well.

from his books?

The 2008 column deserves this review because its author, Boris Johnson, now heads a government that not only wants to clip the BBC’s wings, but questions its future. And for the same reasons the columnist vehemently denied at the time. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, Johnson’s staunch supporter in the Cabinet, recently revealed that she does not know if the BBC can survive the next decade in this highly competitive environment.


Presentation of the White Paper on Broadcasting: British Culture Secretary Nadine Doris.
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Photo: Reuters

When discussing what she calls old license fees, Doris acts devoid of the sentiments that often hide this national institution. The minister leaned more toward the view expressed by Johnson’s former chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, in 2004 when he described the BBC as the archenemy of the Conservative Party. The white paper just released by Doris confirms the intention to reconsider the station’s funding model that was put in place in the 1920s before the renewal of the broadcast contract royal charter in 2027. This is justified, for example, by the fact that families are increasingly abandoning the television licence. Non-linear providers are used. The white paper says that continuing this trend will require a potentially significant increase in license fees if the BBC maintains current funding levels. Any possibility of that is muted, despite the usual criticism of partisanship, groupthink, and outdated reform, the paper pledges, that the “Unique Global Enterprise” may thrive.

The white paper, titled The Next Next, sets out the government’s vision for the future of the six public broadcasters. The goal is to create a more flexible framework that will prepare the sector to meet the challenges of the broadcast landscape, which has changed dramatically due to technological change, changing viewer behavior and competition from broadcasting giants. In this sense, future Internet services should be subject to the same conditions regulated by the media supervisory body as public law institutions. In addition, Dorries is aiming for the controversial privatization of Channel 4, arguing that the broadcaster, which relies on advertising revenue, will then be able to mobilize private capital for its content in order to dominate competition with a public service mandate. As much as the project has been heavily criticized, the focus is on the discussion about the consequences of a possible cancellation of the BBC’s license fee. In the “Times” such a move has been described these days as patriotic self-harm. The quoted columnist should beware of the word: “Betrayal, your name is Johnson.”

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