September 18, 2020
A hostile government, culture wars and streaming services threaten the BBC – it must prove it is indispensable
The Guardian view on the BBC: tough times ahead | Editorial
The word “tough” appears three times in Tim Davie’s brief foreword to the BBC annual report published this week. Whether the repetition was conscious or not, the message is clear – the corporation is in for difficult times. Cuts loom. The future of the licence fee is in question. It suits many on the right to frame the BBC as a pernicious force, a key part of the supposed stranglehold on British culture retained by a cosmopolitan, left-leaning elite.
In some ways this is business as usual for the BBC. Since its foundation in 1922, it has withstood attacks from governments. Perhaps this is inevitable. The paradox at its heart is that its charter and licence fee are set by parti-pris politicians, but its own purpose is to be impartial. The seven-year tenure of Lord Hall, the outgoing director general, may have seemed bumpy – think of the tangles over the Scottish and Brexit referendums; over climate change, equal pay, and on- and off-screen diversity. But seen against the backdrop of the BBC’s history, it has actually been pretty smooth – he survived, after all, unlike his predecessor George Entwistle, who lasted 54 days; or Greg Dyke, who resigned in 2004 over coverage of “weapons of mass destruction”; or Alasdair Milne, forced out in 1987. It is easy to forget just how furiously BBC crises can blaze – and Boris Johnson’s recent intervention in the Last Night of the Proms row shows how gleefully and malevolently he may wish to fan the flames. Working out precisely what impartiality means in a world not just of party politics but culture wars will only get harder.
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