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BBC Licence fee – could it be the end of public service broadcasting in the UK?

Writer : Jamie Medhurst, Reader in Movie, Tv and Media, Aberystwyth College

UK tradition secretary, Nadine Dorries, lately introduced that the BBC’s licence price is to be frozen for 2 years and {that a} new funding mechanism for the company will comply with after 2027. This assertion created shockwaves inside the media business and past. Many accused the federal government’s transfer of being sheer cultural vandalism and the destruction of a world model.

The announcement was adopted by a press release within the Home of Commons, throughout which there was, maybe, a change of tack as Dorries acknowledged: “It isn’t a coverage; we’re saying a debate and a dialogue”, suggesting that no determination had been made on abolishing the licence price.

Many have seen the announcement as a political knee-jerk response, a diversionary tactic even, within the present political local weather the place the prime minister seems to be combating for his political profession. This comes following a spate of revelations regarding Conservative Get together events throughout lockdown.

However the licence price announcement must be seen as a part of a wider legacy through which the federal government has questioned the relevance of the entire thought of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) and its function within the 21st century.

Earlier makes an attempt at change

On the finish of 2020, then tradition secretary, Oliver Dowden, requested whether or not or not PSB was “match for function” and whether or not we nonetheless wanted public service broadcasters in any respect. In October 2019, his predecessor, Nicky Morgan, hinted that the licence price would get replaced with a Netflix-style subscription cost.

We are able to return even additional to a pre-multi-channel age when Margaret Thatcher’s authorities established a committee to contemplate the longer term funding of the BBC. Various funding fashions had been debated – promoting being certainly one of Thatcher’s most popular choice instead of the licence price – however all had been finally dismissed as unworkable and unfeasible.

The choice fashions of funding – subscription (how do you set radio stations behind a paywall?), promoting (not good given the competitors for dwindling promoting income), a direct authorities grant (what number of broadcasters would chunk the hand that feeds them?) – are all problematic.

So in some ways, this newest announcement follows in an extended line of makes an attempt to rattle the BBC’s cages by governments who might really feel underneath risk or who really feel that the company wants radical reform.

The influence on the BBC

The BBC isn’t good – even its most ardent supporters would, I’m positive, agree. Nonetheless, freezing after which withdrawing the licence price could have a lot of implications.

There’ll inevitably be an influence on the vary of providers that the BBC can supply as a public service broadcaster. The “assured supply of funding” that was established within the early days of the BBC underneath Lord Reith, has allowed it to take dangers, to offer entry to all, importantly together with minority audiences. The BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie has stated in response to a query on the potential culling of channels, that the whole lot is on the agenda – nothing may be dominated out.

With an estimated lack of near £300m, what the BBC can supply will undergo. Excessive-end high quality drama, factual programming, information and present affairs – with native journalism undoubtedly struggling. The BBC’s provision for youngsters and younger individuals may be hit. Its CBeebies and CBBC channels present fashionable, authentic British content material. The broadcaster’s academic Bitesize content material can be a a lot relied upon useful resource for academics, school-age kids and their dad and mom.

And it’s not solely the in-house produced content material that will undergo, however commissioned programmes and sequence from the unbiased manufacturing sector would additionally face cuts, thereby jeopardising one of many UK’s key sectors, the inventive industries.

In my small nook of the world, the licence price announcement additionally has implications for Welsh and Welsh-language (and Gaelic) broadcasting. The BBC would be the sole funder of the Welsh-language tv channel, S4C, when the Division of Digital, Tradition, Media and Sport (DCMS) grant is ended. Though the federal government introduced that it was offering an extra £7.5m for the channel, that must be balanced with the £300m loss to the BBC. The BBC additionally supplies the one Welsh-language radio service, Radio Cymru. These providers couldn’t be run on business traces, underlining the significance of PSB in Wales.

In a wider political context too, this newest announcement has fuelled the talk over devolving broadcasting powers to Wales.

In December 2021, the Welsh Labour Authorities and Plaid Cymru introduced a brand new Co-operation Settlement, which outlined a lot of coverage commitments over the following three years. Among the many insurance policies the Welsh authorities proposes is a brand new shadow Broadcasting and Communications Authority, which might draw up plans for the devolution of broadcasting and communications powers. What stays unclear, nonetheless, is what devolving broadcasting would entail – and it could possibly be fairly a battle because the UK authorities would wish to comply with any calls for coming from Wales.

Within the gentle of Dorries’ assertion on the licence price, the First Minister of Wales urged that the announcement strengthened the argument for the devolution of broadcasting powers – at the moment residing within the DCMS – to the Senedd (Welsh parliament).

Some might argue that it is a storm in a teacup. Others may say that on present kind, the BBC licence price might outlast the present tradition minister. Nonetheless if, as anticipated, the licence price is frozen at present ranges and is subsequently changed by a special system, we are able to make certain that the broadcasting ecology of the UK will change radically and that this might herald the top of public service broadcasting as we all know it.


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