January 01, 2023
The future looks tough for public broadcasting, but its independence must not be compromised
The Guardian view on the BBC: more important than ever | Editorial
Anyone who watched the finale of Strictly Come Dancing last month could be mistaken for thinking that all was right with the BBC. Viewing figures might have been down on the Covid years, but here was event TV that mustered all the resources at the corporation’s disposal – musicians, costumiers, lighting and sound technicians – into a glittering occasion that delivered a new success story for multicultural Britain: the lovable Sudan-born wildlife presenter, Hamza Yassin. One-third of the Reithian mission – to entertain – was jubilantly fulfilled. Yet those dipped figures (down to 9.2m, nearly 2m below the previous year) reflect a more difficult story that unfolded over its centenary year, calling into question what John Reith’s objectives – to inform and educate as well as to entertain – might mean as it moves into its second century.
In April, the corporation’s director general, Tim Davie, announced that, in order to meet government-imposed funding cuts, it would have to seriously reduce the number of programmes that it produces and was considering turning more television and radio stations into archive services, dedicated to recycling existing material. In October, the audio producers’ trade association wrote to the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, pointing out that by April 2023, Radio 4’s drama output – a seedbed for talent – will have fallen by 50% since quotas that protected key genres were removed in 2017, calling into question the BBC’s commitment to developing writers and putting out one-off radio production.
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