Lord Hall has announced that he is standing down as director-general of the BBC. He wishes to give his successor a clear run at two governmental reviews, including the renewal of the BBC’s Charter.
He stands down at, as Harriet Harman said yesterday, a time when the BBC is very vulnerable. The BBC is almost unique in having a charter which allows State funding but then independence from the State. The BBC is designed to speak truth unto power.
The BBC still speaks for the nation. The fact of us all paying a licence fee makes the BBC ours in a way that other TV and Radio channels are not. It is not for nothing that the BBC ran the Andrew Neil interviews, seen as being the critical interviews of the election. Boris Johnson refused to appear on the interviews; one can only assume that he was running scared.
The BBC runs a uniquely broad range of programming on both TV and radio. TV ranges from arts to quiz shows to politics and news. The radio stations cover pop music and Asian sounds, through classical music to jazz to informed speech radio to sport. I have yet to see any such coverage on the private radio stations.
Sometimes the BBC gets things wrong. There have been complaints from left and right over the BBC’s coverage of the election last year. The fact of being attacked by left and right suggests that the BBC was getting something right. However, the same fact suggests that there might be something to reform.
However, the main threat is from the right. Boris Johnson has suggested that the licence fee should go. This would turn the BBC into a subscription service. In effect the BBC would be privatized, functioning at the whim of shareholders. This is likely to be deleterious for standards and content. Yet the Conservatives have many who long to see the BBC cut down merely because they do not like having a sharp and critical BBC.
The defence of the BBC needs to begin. It is, like the NHS, a uniquely valuable institution that needs to be maintained in the face of vengeful Conservatives, streaming TV channels and the other difficulties of our current age.