The BBC’s reputation as an impartial public service broadcaster has been undermined by what seems to many outsiders to be an internal culture of personnel who think their views are the only “reasonable” ones. No-one could suppose, by viewing or listening to an average week’s output, that the taxpayer-funded BBC was giving due representation to the people who elected an 80-seat majority Conservative government. This is because woke people and Guardian journalists do not tend to elect Conservative governments.
The BBC diverged from its public service agenda when it made the decision to pursue high ratings figures in order to justify its receipt of public money. High viewing and listening figures could only be achieved by dumbing down to the broadcasting of popular shows such as are already provided by commercial stations supported by advertising rather than public funds. A typical viewer might not see all that much difference between BBC1 and ITV, or between Radio One and its commercial rivals. It would be difficult to sustain a ‘public service’ justification for such channels. If popularity and mass audiences were a justification for the receipt of public money, then commercial channels would certainly qualify as well.
A less obvious departure from what the BBC’s role ought to be was made when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than as a reporter. The BBC clearly regards itself as the opposition to government, as the tone of its presentations and interviews make obvious. It sees its job as one of calling the government to account, nominally on behalf of the public, rather than reporting what it does. It engages in “investigative journalism,” never giving thought to the bias necessarily involved in what it chooses to investigate.
The BBC’s coverage of the pandemic has been little more than a daily criticism of what it alleges are the failings of the government. Every development has it seeking out individuals who can come on air to attack the government’s handling of the crisis. It rarely reveals that some of these have a history of political activism with axes to grind, or that some of the spokespersons it puts on air are not representative of their profession. The BBC would claim that its behaviour is in the public interest, but that is not what it is there for.
It might justify public funds if it were there to provide programmes that were in the public interest and would not otherwise be provided. The fact that the BBC does not see that is the main reason it will become a subscription service, one that people who do not watch or listen to it do not have to pay for.