Even I didn’t think that a triumphal Boris Johnson would risk blowing his considerable capital ( he won an 80-seat majority against the hapless Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) by targeting the BBC. Yet Johnson appears to be doing exactly that. The Murdoch-owned Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman has revealed that Johnson’s Tories are serving notice that they will eliminate of the license fee that earmarks £3.69 billion ($4.78 billion) or 75% of the BBC budget and replace it with a subscription service.
Of course, once Johnson and the others who are masterminding this act of political self- harm under the sway of Rupert Murdoch’ s newspapers and other right-wing editors, they will discover what a firestorm will follow. Once the BBC announces that it no longer has the resources to produce programmes of the quality and appeal of Fleabag, Line of Duty, Bodyguard, Gavin & Stacey, and Strictly Come Dancing, all hell will break loose.
Next, the BBC will cut back dramatically on its international coverage that Britons take for granted. MPs will be demanding know why the BBC ‘s brave intrepid correspondents are no longer risking their lives to cover humanitarian disasters in Syria and Yemen; why they’re not seeing documentary films about the perils of global warming.
Why now you ask? Why would Johnson and his big majority government take on the BBC? Is this somehow linked to President Trump’s war on the media in the United States? Jane Martinson, The Guardian’s media critic & City University academic thinks so.
“Make no mistake, the government’s complaints against the BBC not only follow Trump’s “fake news” strategy – in which politicians realise they don’t have to answer questions if they convince enough supporters all criticism is based on lies by a biased media – but also decades of complaint from the print media that the BBC creates unfair competition. It is a government, after all, led by a man who, for decades, worked for the Telegraph, owned by billionaires who make no secret of their dislike of taxation.” (You can read her excellent column here: http://bit.ly/32e0AQA
What is ludicrous is the Government’s argument that Brits aren’t getting value for their £ 154.50 ( $200) per household licence fee. Look carefully at the BBC’s easy to grasp listing of all that a listener/viewer/user gets for that fee.
To give you some idea of what an astonishing value the BBC is, consider what Americans pay to support something as worthy but limited as is National Public Radio ( NPR) My partner, for example, pays voluntarily $20 a month to support the Oregon Public Broadcaster that airs NPR. She does so enthusiastically. Yet that $240 is more than what you’d pay to get the entire BBC Radio & TV Service, BBC On-Line, BBC World Service, BBC I Player and multiple channels.
Back to the politics of public broadcasting, today’s New York Times reports on Trump’s attempts to slash all spending on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that finances NPR to zero by 2023. Fortunately, Congress has ignored Trump’s tirade and paltry $30 million for 2020 and approved $465 million, still a fraction of what the BBC currently gets through its license fee. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/16/business/npr-trump-budget.html
In fairness to Trump, he’s not the first American president to try to dismantle public broadcasting in the U.S. Richard Nixon- like Trump- hated PBS and NPR and accused them of being run by left-wing, Democratic stooges who were out to destroy his presidency. I was working for a PBS station at that time ( in Rochester, New York) and was part of a national effort, coordinated by the late Jim Lehrer to create a new 4th network made up of PBS stations that were committed to covering news and current affairs. It died mainly because of the Nixon CPB/PBS cutbacks. I gave up on public broadcasting in the U.S. and moved to Toronto and joined the CBC, a genuine public service broadcaster.
The Johnson Government’s harebrained notion of replacing the license fee with some kind of subscription charge follows from the illogic that the BBC is just another content provider like Netflix or Amazon. The Guardian’s Martinson rightly points out that none of the streaming services like Netflix finances and runs the world’s largest and most respected news and information service as does the BBC.
Meanwhile, since the Sunday Times story broke, already 130,000 have signed a petition to save and protect the BBC license fee. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/boris-johnson-bbc-petition-120203116.html?
This is one political battle I predict will end in a Johnson and Tory government climb down or outright defeat. No amount of Churchillian rhetoric from his biographer Boris will salvage this blunder. More ” Gallipoli” than “Dunkirk.”