Rod Liddle

The BBC needs to understand why it’s here

The BBC needs to understand why it’s here
Text settings

I bumped into Alan Yentob at The Spectator party last week. A good man who has both produced and presented some of the BBC’s best programmes over the last few decades. If there wasn’t a BBC, we wouldn’t have those programmes, or anything like them; the BBC exists through a sort of moral cross-subsidisation – the big audience for Simply Come Dancing enables them to spend lots of money on docs and drama. That’s the theory, at least. My suspicion is that it will become increasingly difficult to justify a license fee when the balance of the BBC’s output is tilted so far in favour of populism and ratings chasing. This is the point I made to Alan; that times have changed, the market has changed and that no matter how fine a “product” Radio Five, say, or Strictly might be, they can easily be done elsewhere.

You would have thought I’d suggested rogering his grandmother; there was an immediate bristling and a refusal to engage with the issue. Just a blanket denial that the corporation chases ratings, is stretching itself too thinly, etc etc. And a weird defensiveness; the suspicion that the interlocutor might be saying this sort of stuff because he’s in the pay of Murdoch and therefore wants the BBC destroyed. It’s the same, pretty much, with every BBC exec you talk to, a hostile absolutism based upon the philosophy that because the Daily Mail hates them, they must, de facto, be doing the right thing. And yet this week we see the BBC executive pay bill rose again to almost five million quid and a study showing that people think there’s not enough new stuff on the channels. You can see them sleepwalking to oblivion, jaws set squarely against the slings and arrows from the hated outsiders.

I believe pretty passionately in the BBC; but it still does not get it, does not understand that the antagonism it arouses is rooted in the fact that it no longer appears to know why it is there.