I was listening to The Electric Hydra podcast , when I heard Jim Sterling, a man I think is very funny, express negative views toward the BBC. Now, I sometimes (well, mostly) disagree with Sterling’s opinion, but it’s been something I’ve been hearing from a few people that the BBC ‘isn’t worth the licence fee’. There’s the usual bellyaching about high cost, but there are also those who are of the view that you shouldn’t have to pay for it at all. So, with that in mind, let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of Why The BBC Is Worth It.
1) Something for everyone.
Unless you’re some sort of neofascist, the BBC is bound to have a program for you somewhere. If you’re into documentaries (see point 4) you’re covered. Period drama? Check. Fantasy/sci-fi? Yep. Thrillers/crime dramas? Yeah. And on. And on. Pick me a (sensible) situation, and I can almost guarantee the BBC will have some sort of programming suited for you. If you’re my grandmother, it’s Songs of Praise, Antiques Roadshow and University Challenge. If you’re me, Doctor Who, Have I Got News For You and Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe. And Atom, Outnumbered, and most of Radio 4. A selective example, perhaps, but do ITV or Channel 4 or five offer the same breadth of quality content?
2) Neutral reporting
Very few outlets offer genuine neutrality, but the BBC tries its hardest (sometimes too hard) to be impartial in all it’s reporting. While this may seem a little absurd to some, think about what the alternative is – and I know this is an extreme example, but hey, I’ve got a point to make here – the ‘fair and balanced’ reporting of Fox News. Hell, I can spin this into my next point…
3) Murdoch doesn’t like it.
Neither James Murdoch, hideous hellspawn son of reptillian newspaper owner and vile, reprehensible person Rupert Murdoch, like the BBC, or the state of broadcasting in the UK in general. It’s regulated in such a way that they can’ pull their Fox News bullshit over here without Ofcom calling them out on it. When Adam Boulton tried to pick a fight with Alistair Campbell (and while Campbell isn’t the nicest of people, he’s the victim here),and when Kay Burley belittled a campaigner for having the audacity to be campaigning for something, they got picked up on it. Oh, and some of the protesters shouted funny stuff behind them. Anyway, the BBC are one of the things holding back the Murdochracy from dominating our media, which is without a doubt a good thing. At the moment, the closest thing we have to Glenn Beck is the Daily Mail (ironically, not a Murdoch paper). Were anything adverse to happen to the BBC (and as the Tories have now returned under the aegis of Murdoch, it’s looking depressingly likely), we could end up with Sky morphing into Fox.
The BBC has bureaux in near every country you can name. They have the World Service doing international broadcasts, they have radio stations in all sorts of languages with news and content tailored to those who might not be able to access unfiltered media in their own country. Despite jamming, the BBC Russian Service transmitted news, information and the writings of dissidents to those who could receive it.
I can’t really think of many documentaries I’ve watched… well, ever that haven’t been BBC-made. From the legendary work of the Natural History Unit, including David Attenborough’s many (many) series, Life, Planet Earth, Blue Plant … the list goes on and on. BBC 4 makes them on all sorts of subjects – arts, science, politics – as does BBC 2. From The Story of Science to The Great Offices of State to TImewatch, and the voluminous amount of content produced in conjunction with the Open University (not just the late-night stuff – Coast, What The Romans Did For Us etc.) Not to mention the stuff you get on Radio 4. Speaking of…
6) Radio 4
This is where I start to go off at a slight tangent and tell everyone how great all the things I like are. Radio 4 is without a doubt one of the best things the BBC does. Radio 1 is worthless, Radio 2 pleasant rubbish for the most part, Radio 3 is sometimes excellent, Radio 5 had Mayo and Kermode, 6Music, Adam and Joe, but Radio 4 has cascades of quality radio. Today, In Our Time, Thinking Allowed, Material World, The News Quiz, A History of the World, The Reith Lectures (when they’re on), Just A Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Today in Parliament, The Unbelievable Truth, Thought for the Day, the list goes on and on and on. There is literally nothing comparable in the UK, possibly in the world – the closest I can think is NPR in America, although even that isn’t quite the same. I may be wrong, but I think Radio 4 is unique in providing top-quality content of this sort.
7) Doctor Who
Need I expound any more words on Doctor Who? I write weekly 1000-word essays on it. I honestly believe it to be the best television programme ever. Would any other network commission a show about a 900-year-old pacifist who travels through time in a police box and whose favourite tool is a sonic screwdriver? His greatest enemies look like dustbins crossed with pepperpots. I love Doctor Who. It’s incredible, and it’s now got such a wide audience, and kids are growing up watching it again … it’s truly incredible – a uniquely British cultural phenomenon. Culture not in the transient way of something like Heroes, which will swiftly be forgotten, or any given Big Brother, or whatever vacuous ‘talent contest’ ITV churns out this month – something truly ingrained in the British psyche, which has incredible amounts of cultural cachet. When Doctor Who’s revival was being discussed, there was huge public goodwill toward it. People love Doctor Who, they wanted to see it return! I am of the firm belief that Doctor Who couldn’t be made anywhere other than the BBC.
For all that and more besides, why on earth would you say ‘screw it, why should we pay? We can go and watch The Boy With An Arse For A Face on Channel 4?’ I’m willing to admit that BBC 3 is mostly shit, but I like to think that it’s redeemed by the virtues of everything else.
So, that’s it for my big long BBC lovefest. I’ve probably missed some points – feel free to point that out. If you disagree, feel free to point that out as well. In my opinion, the above justifies the licence fee. What is it – £10 a month? Come on, not that much, really. And look at all you get – arguably the best public-service broadcaster in the world, radio, television, websites… the BBC is fantastic, and I can’t see why you wouldn’t support it.
So, I promised a big long post, and I feel I have delivered. I’ll be back again tomorrow, see you then, but for now, goodnight!