Attacks by government raise fears for the future of BBC

Wednesday March 18 2020
GERPIC

Staff and visitors walk outside the headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation in central London on July 19, 2017. PHOTO | DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP

By GERRY LOUGHRAN

There will be many people in foreign lands who know absolutely nothing about Britain except for one thing: the BBC.

Founded almost a century ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation is an overwhelmingly trusted institution whose radio and television programmes are watched at some point every week by 90 per cent of British families.

Its World Service is followed not only by British expatriates but in some cases by local people looking for the truth of events in their own country.

Its record for accurate reporting during the Second World War (Allied defeats as well as victories) stands unchallenged to this day.

An international survey of 66 television channels recently rated BBC One, the corporation’s major news channel, as number one for quality.

LICENCE FEE

But now the Beeb, as it is affectionately known, is facing a threat to its future from the new Conservative government of Boris Johnson.

The corporation is funded by the proceeds of an annual licence fee – you pay £154 for a colour receiver or £52 for a black and white set.

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has proposed abolition of the licence fee from 2027 in the name of the free market.

The argument is that state-subsidised broadcasting crowds out other players who would flourish in a free market.

Be that as it may, hostility to the BBC has long been evident in Prime Minister Johnson’s attacks, particularly during the Brexit campaign, clearly representing discomfort at the corporation’s mission to preach truth to power.

The BBC is not without its faults. Complaints have been made about the lack of racial and gender diversity, unequal pay between men and women and the lack of transparency about the way it deals with complaints.

However, in the broadest sense, the BBC is demonstrably a force for good. In a recent editorial, the Observer newspaper declared that while it was far from perfect, “the BBC is a hugely important cultural institution that helps hold the political establishment to account. It has never been more important to defend it in the face of these attacks.”

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My local Metro train was about to depart when a young woman jumped on, forcing the doors apart so her partner could get on too. On board, they smiled happily, but not for long.

Came the voice of the driver: “The two people who just boarded the train have committed a prosecutable offence. They are required to leave the train immediately. This train will not move until they have left.”

The crestfallen couple returned to the platform and the train moved on.

Did the driver do the right thing or was he a miserable, rule-enforcing *****? I know what I think.

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In 2015, Ben Bardsley contracted a firm to dig a pond in his garden at Stockport, Manchester.

As he was inspecting the work, he was struck by the digger and knocked into the pond. He claimed £4,500 compensation on grounds he could not lift weights and suffered a fear of heights.

However, the insurance company for the digger firm discovered an array of posts on social media showing Bardsley lifting large weights along with a video of him laughing happily as he sped down a high slide in Benidorm at 62 mph.

Dismissing his damages claim, Recorder Richard Hartley ruled Bardsley guilty of “fundamental dishonesty”. He ordered him to pay £14,000 in legal costs.

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Readers of this column will remember the case of a teenager who threw a six-year-old boy from the 10th floor of the Tate Modern gallery in London.

Last week, the BBC reported that 18-year-old Jonty Bravery, who suffers from autism, had told his carers he planned to do exactly that a year earlier, but no preventive action was taken.

In a recording made by a former care worker, Bravery said, “I’ve got it into my head I want to kill somebody.” He said he wanted to visit a tall building, “and we can go up and then push somebody off it and I know they’ll die.”

He said he wanted to draw attention to his autistic condition.

The care worker said he told senior colleagues of what Bravery had said, but his care provider, Spencer & Arlington, said they had “no knowledge” of such a disclosure.

Bravery has admitted attempted murder and is due to be sentenced this month.

The victim, a French boy who had been visiting Britain on holiday with his family, suffered life-changing injuries, including a deep bleed to the brain.

* * *

The husband went drinking with his pals all weekend and his wife was furious. “How about if you didn’t see me for three days?” she asked. He said, “That would be just fine.”

He didn’t see her on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. It was Thursday before his black eye opened slightly and he could see just a bit of her.

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