In defence of the BBC

By Brian Cathcart
March 4, 2010

cathcart- Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University and was specialist adviser to the Select Committee inquiry. The opinions expressed are his own.-

One problem with the current debate about the BBC is that it is being held on too low a level, so the result is likely to be needless petty miseries.

Let us aim a bit higher.

So far as journalism is concerned, the licence fee turns out to be the best funding model around. Nothing even compares in the modern era.

Print journalism is in a mess because people don’t want to pay for newspapers in the traditional way and advertisers are migrating to the Internet.

Journalism on commercial TV is also struggling, largely because of the fragmentation of the advertising market. So grave is the crisis that journalists who have hated Rupert Murdoch all their lives are hoping he’ll save them with his paywall.

But the BBC model carries on working spectacularly well. For 39p a day per household (a quality newspaper costs 1 pound) you get all that fantastic journalism, coming at you in all those ways, all day, every day. And you get all the other stuff (drama, sport, movies, soaps) besides.

Some people think it shouldn’t work, or would rather it didn’t, but it does.

And why don’t they like it? In their loftier moments (as opposed to their bitchier ones) they say it distorts the market.

I don’t believe it really does that, but even if they are right, why should we care? Whoever said the market was the only way or the right way to fund news? It so happens that we in Britain have a great non-market way to fund journalism, right under our noses.

The market isn’t always the answer. You don’t need to be a Marxist to believe that; it’s enough to have lived through 2008.


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