Look, I know – I know – the BBC is good value for money, and I agree with the principle that everybody pays a little and then everybody gets a little back. It’s not that I think the whole of the BBC’s output needs to be ‘for me’. So I don’t really care that I mostly use the BBC to listen to vintage radio dramas and that I probably wouldn’t miss the television output if it disappeared tomorrow. It’s not about the money. But I do think we need to punch our way through the wet paper bag of this argument that arises every few years, especially when the bastards are in charge of the country. Because the Tories love to do this: they love to toss out some shite about the Beeb, just to get everyone worked up. They’re trolling us, and the result is an entirely too predictable outpouring of sober facts and measured truth telling.
Is it an election winning strategy? I find it hard to believe that it would be, although I bet there’s a good 40% of the population who wouldn’t care. No, it’s rather a palliative for the foam flecked Conservative wrecking crew, the ideologues who want to destroy the state and all it works on behalf of the super-rich. It’s an announcement designed to appease the people who have been starting to think Johnson was a bit of a socialist. I also think it’s a move calculated to create a lot of liberal hand-wringing, in full knowledge that nobody’s going to be throwing stones on the streets about the BBC.
Political attacks on the BBC are exactly like the actual physical attack the other day, when some geezer climbed a ladder and hacked away at Eric Gill’s Prospero and Ariel statue with a hammer. People spectated, probably tut-tutted a bit, but nobody hoiked the ladder out from under him and let him crash to the ground and break his neck to general applause. In other words, politicians know that there are zero consequences for attacking the BBC.
Obviously, obviously the billionaires who own most of the newspapers have a vested interest in a weakened BBC — especially when it comes to news. But they’ve already achieved that: BBC News is a tamed pony, a bollockless follower of other news agendas. Its duty to be impartial to the truth was abandoned years ago in favour of a ‘both sides’ presentation of artificial debate. I find the BBC web site and its general news output to be absolutely worthless, unchallenging, and anodyne.
But the the argument that really gives me pause these days is the ‘soft power’, ‘internationally-recognised cultural export’ ‘envy of the world’ guff. Because I can’t help thinking that this idea that we continue to wield an outsized influence over the world through the cultural output nurtured by the BBC might be part of the identity problem this country has. There’s surely a Venn diagram you could draw in which the ‘Make Britain Great Again’ union jack waving empire boosters overlap with the ‘BBC is the envy of the world/soft power’ boosters. I mean, why exactly do we want to have an outsized influence on the world? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we acknowledged, finally, that Queen Victoria’s Empire is gone forever, that it wasn’t such a great thing, and that we are a wet little island in the North Atlantic without even the common sense to be in a trading alliance with our nearest neighbours?
What is it exactly that is so great about us that we should be exporting us to the world? The class system? The shocking levels of inequality? The private schools and elite universities that perpetuate these injustices? Luvvies? The terrible flag and the terrible monarchy?
I hate to have a massive chip on my shoulder, but here it comes. Wasn’t it only five minutes ago that the BBC was fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying a woman the same as a man for doing the same job? Wasn’t it ten minutes ago that they were trying to squash any discussion of the crimes of Jimmy Savile? Is that what we want to export? Isn’t there a sense that the BBC is an institution that exists to provide employment (and a ridiculously high standard of living) to a small coterie of very privileged people from elite educational backgrounds? According to Ofcom’s latest diversity report, people who work in the media industry are more than twice as likely to have been privately educated, compared to the general population. The creative industry has the highest proportion – of any industry – of people from privileged backgrounds. When you look at the professions followed by the parents of people who work in this industry, they are more than twice as likely to have been professional people. Only 23% of creative industry employees come from working class backgrounds.
So there’s a part of me, I’m afraid, that wonders what might happen if this all got shaken up a bit. Does the BBC stop things from being worse than they are, or does it stop people from noticing that things are as bad as they are?
Maybe things really do have to get a lot more shit before people will wake up and realise that they’ve been had. And I really hate to say it but, perhaps the BBC is one of the things getting in the way of that awakening, simply because it provides the comforting illusion that things are better than they are. Perhaps it is in fact the veil that needs to be torn away from in front of our eyes. So perhaps it’s time to call the Tories’ bluff.