But which vision for the BBC will prevail in the longer term?by Roger Mosey / April 8, 2020 / Leave a comment
In these times of crisis, the public sees the value of our national institutions: the NHS, the monarchy, the legal system—and the BBC. The United Kingdom is being tested as never before in peacetime, and in an age when communication is immediate and uncontrollable and diffuse. But if the nation does come together, and get through the challenges of Covid-19, it will have done so with the help of the most traditional forms of public service broadcasting.
This is an unexpected twist in what had seemed like an inevitable trajectory. We were witnessing a sharp decline in linear television, the rise of the global streaming companies, an erosion of trust in the old “impartial” sources—and some within government gleefully celebrating the potential end of the BBC as know it. It was as recently as February that a Downing Street source, believed by everyone to be Dominic Cummings, briefed the Sunday Times about the corporation: “We are having a consultation, and we will whack it.” The end of the licence fee appeared to be in sight, with the forced sell-off of many television and radio services. Even the normally emollient Nicky Morgan, at that time still culture secretary, issued a warning about public service broadcasting, saying “we don’t want a beacon of British values and world-class entertainment ending up like Blockbuster”—which got under the skin of BBC executives. “There is a danger that politicians catastrophise the situation,” said a tart statement from the corporate press office. “The BBC is the most used media organisation in the UK… You wouldn’t think that from some of the things being said today.”
Now everything has shifted again. Ministers, who had been boycotting programmes from Radio 4’s Today to ITV’s Good Morning Britain—because they thought they no longer needed them—are back in the early morning interview slots to discuss the public health emergency. The prime minister’s broadcast to the nation on 23rd March about the coronavirus lockdown was viewed by 28m people, with a majority of those on the BBC. Younger audiences are rediscovering the value of live television, and hard, factual news—across every platform—is back in fashion. Public service broadcasting, on all channels, has been overwhelmingly good and responsible; and, as the skies across the world have darkened, it has entertained us as well as keeping us informed.