From our Swindon correspondent:
But we have arrived abruptly in a different era. From our new perspective, adrift in the most significant public health crisis of our age, those days feel suddenly distant. There are new, more urgent questions. Would market forces offer religious services on local radio stations across the country? Or virtual gallery tours and musical and comedy performances? Would Netflix launch extensive additional educational programming to help children unable to attend school to keep up with their studies? Would Amazon dig into its massive archive of sport, arts and drama content to offer prime cuts to a quarantined population?
Expect lots of this special pleading from the defenders of the BBC after Coronavirus is done. “well, yes, but remember all the good they did during Coronavirus”.
The problem for the BBC and its defenders is that actually, market forces are offering all of that. No, Netflix aren’t, but the market isn’t just Netflix, or any other billion dollar venture capitalist that is commonly known. It’s all sorts of players in the public and private sectors with budgets from billions down to zero.
Religious services? Hit Google and there’s dozens of online religious radio stations.
Virtual Gallery Tours? According to this
, there’s 2500 galleries offering this online, including biggies like the D’Orsay, the Rijksmuseum and the Uffizi.
Musical and comedy performances? Apart from Netflix and Amazon having plenty of both, I could mention that the Met Opera is streaming a free opera every day at the moment,
Education programming to help Children? Ever heard of Khan Academy? Wikipedia? And right now, my children are being taught over MS Teams. We’ve got this technology now. Is the BBC’s material even up to date? Do you think teenagers even know what iPlayer is?
Prime cuts of sports, arts and drama? The BBC is offering a few recent, not exactly memorable TV series. No Steptoe and Son, No Blackadder. Their list of “classic” boxsets includes Torchwood and The Missing. I mean, Torchwood?
The BBC is proposing all this and more – including everything from home exercise classes for older people to dietary advice in a time of potentially scarce supplies. There is a name for such initiatives: public service broadcasting. And we may soon realise how much we missed it if we lost it.
Sorry, but don’t we already bung about £4bn a year at Public Health England to tell us all, endlessly how to live our lives? Who out there hasn’t got the message that sugar is bad for them?
I’m not against public service broadcasting like exercise lessons for old people, but that shouldn’t cost more than a few million quid, so let’s scrap the license fee and just fund it from the health budget directly.
The sense of the BBC’s diminishing authority did not arrive from nowhere. Since the turn of the century, it has faced a series of crises: some unfortunate, but many self-created. It fought the government and lost over its reporting of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq….
But it’s actually a deeper problem. The license fee made sense when there was so little bandwidth. You could only have a few channels, so you don’t have a competitive market, so government gets involved. But digital and internet changed that. Almost anyone can make a film review show on YouTube, so why do we need taxes to pay for the BBC to make one. Let the market decide what they like.