You may have noticed the #BacktheBBC Twitter campaign, but do you actually know why the BBC is suddenly in crisis?

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), established in 1922, is the world’s oldest — and arguably the most respected — national broadcasting organization.

The public-service broadcaster is responsible for some of the best and most influential programming, from Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers, to Strictly Come Dancing and Top Gear.

Even if you’re not from the U.K., you probably know and love the BBC, right? Well… you might want to pay attention.

Oh! What’s occurring?

The new British government, elected earlier this year and led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, published a green paper last week which has BBC supporters worried about the future of their beloved institution.

The government is launching a full review of the BBC later this year, which will probe into its funding, its aims, and whether it should continue trying to be “all things to all people.”

While the green paper acknowledges that the BBC’s programming is diverse, “it also provides a range of programming which is arguably less distinctive from the content that its commercial competitors provide.” And commercial palatability, the paper argues, should not be the desired goal for the public-service broadcaster.

Now, it’s technically true that the BBC should seek to “inform, educate and entertain” rather than dance to the same fiddle as commercial networks like E4 and Sky. But many people are feeling understandably uneasy about the fact that the government is essentially expressing a desire to moderate, and potentially alter, the BBC’s values and content.

Worryingly, the 86-page document uses such words as “narrower” and “cheaper” when describing its aims for the corporation.

How a potential BBC overhaul could affect you

One of the consequences of the review, according to culture secretary John Whittingdale, could be a complete overhaul of the BBC’s budget distribution and revenue streams.

Worst case scenario, we could be looking at an advertising or subscription model — the subscriptions, The Guardian reports, would come on top of the existing licence fee which all U.K. residents must pay if they own a device capable of TV streaming.

As for the content you may or may not have to pay more to access, there is a clear desire from up high to see the BBC devote more funds to “niche” programming, rather than pouring money into fan-favorite, highly rated shows like EastEnders, Doctor Who, and Sherlock.

“Many people would say the BBC needs to look carefully at its programming to make sure that it’s distinctive and isn’t simply reproducing what’s available elsewhere,” Whittingdale stated.

Defending the BBC’s popular programming

BBC director general Tony Hall recently spoke out to defend the broadcaster against the criticism outlined in the green paper.

Hall said, as quoted by Digital Spy, “I believe the BBC should continue to make programmes for everyone. A BBC that doesn’t inform, educate and entertain is not the BBC the public know and love. The great majority are happy to pay the licence fee. The BBC belongs to this country. The public are our shareholders.”

Now, in some ways, the desire for the BBC to become less popularized makes sense for the Conservative-led government. As Den of Geek notes, Conservative politicians have in the past expressed a distaste for the BBC’s alleged left-wing bias.

However, the BBC obviously does not only air Doctor Who and Merlin re-runs, as much as one might enjoy that. (In fact, the BBC isn’t generally big on repeats.) There is a wealth of programming across the corporation’s various TV channels, some niche and some not, and it is exactly this broad spectrum of content which BBC supporters are now fighting to protect.

By limiting its scope and creativity, by saying it can’t be “all things to all people,” the government could potentially turn the BBC from an open, multi-faceted organization into something much more confined.

‘Censorship’ is such an ugly word, but that is, essentially, what is being suggested here. At least, that’s what the BBC’s supporters are fearing.

Since the green paper was published, heaps of BBC fans have been expressing their support on social media, and over the past few days, we have been treated to this wonderful string of tweets from J.K. Rowling, which included a mention of Hypable’s fearless leader himself:

And J.K. Rowling is far from the only public figure who has spoken out against the green paper.

A response piece written by comedian Stewart Lee for The Guardian proclaims that, “the government’s witch-hunters are ready to reform the BBC to death.”

Lee bemoans the lack of actual creative voices in the team appointed to lead the BBC review, arguing, “true creativity isn’t an exact science. […] The sad truth is, the reason [no artists] are welcome on the culture secretary’s committee is because they see culture as inherently valuable in and of itself, not simply as a branch of business that is too naive to know how to maximise its profit margins.”

Sir Ian McKellen has spoken in defense of the BBC as well, albeit expressing a slightly more critical opinion. “We don’t have a vote when it comes to the BBC,” McKellen told the BBC. “But if we did, I would vote to keep it, not as it is, but as it could be.”

While we won’t know until later this year how the government plans to proceed, we are left now acutely aware of the fact that, for better or worse, the government essentially has the power to dictate the most powerful media organization in the world, whose entire raison d’être was meant to be public service.

If you were to say this all felt a little too Orwellian for comfort, we wouldn’t argue with you.

We want to hear your thoughts on this topic!
Why not submit an article to Hypable?

Introducing the Hypable app

Free for iOS and Android

Advertisement