The BBC has today been using its various news platforms to protest against being described as ‘government funded’ by Twitter. It has instructed Twitter to remove this insult ‘as soon as possible’ and its journalistic contacts have found a direct link to Elon Musk himself who, we are told, is a ‘fan’ of the BBC. So perhaps a quiet word with the right person in power can overcome this little hiccup. Radio Four even had a ‘debate’ which just featured one interviewee: Mary Hockaday, a former BBC executive. ‘As a BBC journalist, I care about accuracy,’ she said, ‘the simple fact is that to describe on Twitter the BBC as “state-funded” or “government controlled” is simply inaccurate… Much, much better to describe the BBC as it is which is publicly-funded’. Of course, Twitter did not say ‘government controlled’ but ‘government funded’. Which, I’m afraid to say, the BBC undoubtedly is.
It generates three quarters of its money by the licence fee, a sum fixed by the government of the day. It is imposed like any government tax: that is, on pain of criminal sanction. Every working week almost 1,000 members of the public are prosecuted for non-payment of BBC dues, of whom more than two-thirds are women. If this number sounds high, that’s restrained compared to what it was a few years ago: figures below (compared with convictions for other crimes).
The BBC’s jesuitical excuse is that a private firm, Capita, does the dirty work (‘collection of the the licence fee and enforcement of non-payment is carried out by private companies contracted by the corporation, not the UK government.’) But the power behind this licence fee is, of course, governmental. Whether it should be or not is an important question, so it needs clear language.