In defence of the BBC

March 4, 2010

cathcartBrian 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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The licence fee is a tax. I would feel happier paying it if we had a democratic way of influencing the BBC. How about licence holders having a vote in the election of BBC Governors like National Trust members elect board members. The current system by which the Government of the day appoints its place men leads to undue influence. The BBC is part of a state apparatus it should be a directly accountable independent body.

Posted by andy | Report as abusive

Congratulations to Dr cand Kingston University for a very succint, perceptive and effective statement of the value, and current attacks on, the BBC. The carefully orchestrated criticisms, led by the Murdoch Empire, has become more strident as the election approaches. However, I have a feeling that the public and the younger generation in particular -including my grandchildren – are far more alert to the threat to their internet access, the BBC and dependable news reporting. The political parties might also realise that having Murdoch on your side could be a disadvantage. Now that would be something!

Posted by Dr D H Hykin | Report as abusive

I think, Reuters, that you are becoming a leftwing mouthpiece for all that is wrong with this country. I used to think that you were a welcome antidote to all the bbc propoganda, but if this article is representative of your organisation’s beliefs then I no longer regard anything you say as being impartial. Maybe you have been reading too much of the FT and the Economist. I hope that’s all it is.

Posted by john in cheshire | Report as abusive

a useful contribution – and we can’t ignore the enormous influence that has throughout the world.

Posted by tim price | Report as abusive