The Insufferable BBC Defence | Tom Jones


When it comes to the BBC and the licence fee, je suis Natalie Imbruglia. I am torn.

Conservatives are aware that great things are easily destroyed, but not readily created. The BBC is an institution that still does great things, produces content of great educational and informative value and gives access to a whole world of information to those who might otherwise be unable to. The people too have a right to colonnades.

On the other hand, the licence fee is a deeply unfair system of taxation that seems as out of date as the window tax, the content does not have the educational and informative value it once had and it has become a vehicle for the unremarkable metro lefty opinions of its unremarkable metro lefty staff. Also, the destruction of the BBC seems like the easiest way to guarantee I never have to hear my old man or his mate Graham moan about how left wing it is, and that’s important to bear in mind.

But the most off-putting aspect of the debate is having to take sides with those who defend it. My two-mindedness is despite, not because of, its’ defence. By far the largest aspect causing my indecision is having to take sides with terminally online people I find as toxic as a urinal cake in Chernobyl. Most of them are, funnily enough, employees of the BBC. Yet I don’t condemn them for the self-interested perspective of their defence; he who hath bread and no defence hath no bread. Rather, it is that there are so few arguments made in its favour that make sense.

The usual first line, as restored to by BBC employee Simon Day, is to list all the great shows the BBC has produced over the years. Look! Look again! Can you imagine any of these shows that wouldn’t have been commercially viable? Wouldn’t an argument that non-commercially viable programmes are more worth funding? Aren’t BBC services like Bitesize, their Local Democracy Programme and the World Service, that wouldn’t have much of a future in a commercial enterprise, the things that need highlighting and defending? The argument is that shows like this are only able to be produced by the BBC because it is free from commercial worries. Keeping the licence fee allows them to avoid producing lowest-common denominator content. Laudable, but from the corporation that bought you Mrs Brown’s Boys, also laughable.

BBC employee Dan Walker points out that the insignificance of our obligatory £159 ransom works out at just 43p a day. It is no surprise that BBC employee Dan Walker thinks the BBC is worth defending when he’s paid a quarter of a million quid a year to talk about football. I’m sure my appreciation of the magnificent institution would be vastly increased by massive pay packets too. What BBC employee Dan Walker fails to realise is that notions of value are completely irrelevant when there is no choice. And that perhaps if the BBC’s work alone justified its’ existence, it wouldn’t have to be justified in terms of economic value.

BBC employee Zoe Kleinman defends them with the entirely reasonable point that you wouldn’t get the breadth of service the BBC offers on a £150 Sky subscription. She has a point — Sky doesn’t offer the range of non-commercial information services that the BBC does. But what BBC employee Zoe Kleinman omits is that a Sky subscription is entirely optional. I am not forced into it regardless of whether I want the service or not, nor am I sent to jail if I choose not to.

In every online debate concerning Britain it is inevitable that someone will mention the Second World War, our national foundation myth. Who better than historian and former BBC employee Dan Snow to play the part of the boy who cried Nazi? The BBC tells us that the BBC is worth the licence fee because, nearly a century ago, Hitler feared its’ voice. Nothing having changed in the intervening period, of course. Even to this day, dictators across the world are terrified of BBC journalists, so capable wielding the deadly weapon of hard-hitting, epoch shifting investigative pieces like ‘Meghan closes a car door.

When it comes to the BBC, there is no contrition. No acknowledgment that there are things the BBC could improve on or change, that people’s dissatisfaction may be legitimate. There is no suggestion that perhaps the BBC should not have spent so much time and effort deliberately pissing off people its staff don’t like by pushing an agenda of Neo-progressivism. That maybe, maybe, the BBC shouldn’t be spending money on an utterly bizarre pedocumentary that everyone should feel uncomfortable with (and, I’ll wager, completely whitewashes the poor BBC on the grounds that such a monster pulled the wool over their unseeing eyes). That possibly its’ pursuit of applause from those who inhabit the same unremarkable metro-lefty social and cultural milieu as its’ staff has led to it having a leading role in the post-modern erosion of moral clarity and courage in Britain.

It is this last point that has condemned the BBC to wage war every time the licence fee is discussed. As with all things, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall can give us an insight. The Romans had seen it all before.

‘Justinian was neither beloved in life nor regretted in death. The love of fame was deeply implanted in his breast… and while he laboured to fix the admiration, he forfeited the esteem and affection of the Romans.’


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