2024 will almost certainly be the year of the General Election.
Few think there is any realistic chance of the election taking place in January 2025 even though this is legally possible – May or October of 2024 are the most likely times.
Elections are not about single issues. They are about the wider aims, objectives and aspirations of a party or the competency of the incumbent as much as they are about any specific promises on particular subjects.
Few would place broadcasting above economic and political competency, defence and security, dealing with the problems we face as a society, the rule of law or the general quality of all major public services. To do so would be somewhat tunnel-visioned.
But it has never been more important for the major parties to set out where they stand on the future of public service broadcasting.
The BBC was dealt a blow recently with a licence fee increase which was lower than anticipated and which will inevitably lead to more cuts and savings.
There is also the question of the licence fee itself – can it be replaced or significantly modified?
If you believe that broadcasting is a public service – not simply a transactional relationship between a business and its customers which can be left to market forces alone – and that a well-funded BBC is at the centre of the system, it is time to make your voice heard.
The judge and jury must always be the quality of the BBC’s programmes and services.
Is the BBC somehow navigating that narrow path which makes it distinct from commercial broadcasters and the niche public broadcasters in some other countries.
The BBC is not simply there to address market failure. It is there to provide high quality, British services which treat audiences as citizens – not eyeballs to deliver to advertisers or customers who gladly pay subscriptions for the things they already know they want.
But even if you subscribe unquestioningly to that statement of principle, there are details to discuss.
- Is it providing high quality, respected news and information? Journalism of a consistently greater ambition and range than its rivals? Commitments to Ukraine, the Middle East and local topics in Devon?
- Is it providing high quality, mainstream entertainment which is also original?
- Is it providing a full range of high quality programmes across a whole range of interests – serious drama, science, the arts, history, leisure topics, minority and mainstream sport, children’s programmes, religion and ethics. The list goes on.
In all of these areas there are some great successes to celebrate, areas where there can be legitimate discussion about how things are going and fields where there can be improvements.
But without a healthy income, overall improvements are hard if not impossible.
Should the BBC focus on providing fewer services but making sure they are all absolutely top quality? Put the focus principally on the iPlayer, the major linear TV and radio services and news? Or are plans to ditch BBC Four and Radio 4 Extra as linear services misplaced or still ahead of their time?
We need to have a creative debate about just what the BBC is for. And this should involve the public – not just politicians and media types.
And those of us who care about the BBC should make it clear to those who seek our votes that it is important to us.
And I don’t just mean important to us as viewers and listeners.
The BBC is important to society itself, unlike any other broadcaster in isolation.
PICTURED: BBC Broadcasting House, London. COPYRIGHT: BBC.