The Licence Fee has to go

It’s a sad situation to see a once great institution like the BBC reduced to what it is today.

As far as I can see, they simply have their priorities all wrong. That is not to detract from the amazing work of many individual journalists, presenters, writers and all sorts of creative talent that they have in spades, it just seems like somewhere at the top they are misunderstanding the mood of the country.

Recent days have been a fine example of this, with the announcement that £100m will be spent on ‘diversity’ within the organisation, focusing of course on diversity of skin colour rather than diversity of thought or background, whilst simultaneously cutting back local and regional news, radio and current affairs to save £25m – just a fraction of that diversity spending.

Recent OfCom figures show that the workforce – both on and offscreen – across our major media networks like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – is 13% BAME, which is roughly in line with the overall BAME population of the UK. There are no figures to show how many of their staff are from working class backgrounds in the North of England, but I’m willing to make a bet with you that this figure is far less representative of Britain as a whole. Yet the drive for racial diversity over all else means it’s actually harder now for a working class lad from Mansfield to get in to a job in the media, because so-called ‘positive’ discrimination would exclude him from many of the recruitment programmes, which are specifically for young BAME people.

The views of communities like ours will be even less well represented if they scrap our regional teams and run the whole thing from London. The priorities are wrong.

I got a bit grumpy, shall we say, about a recent tweet from BBC sounds with a show entitled ‘why are white women all Karens’. Personally, I think that identity politics is harmful to our political discussion, and the prevailing idea that is pushes out – that our physical characteristics somehow give us one homogenous view or life experience – is entirely false.

In short, I just don’t see why I should be legally forced to pay for that kind of junk, and I don’t see how the BBC hierarchy could feel that it was the right approach for a state-funded broadcaster.

My view is that in the modern world, increasingly divided as it is, and with 24 hour rolling news and social media, it is simply impossible to be either genuinely representative or genuinely impartial in your content. The finger slips too easily on platforms like Twitter and the content is demanded so regularly that you can’t maintain a façade of having no personal view.

I digress slightly from my main point, because despite the accusations of bias and the increasing levels of poor content, I don’t think either of those things are the main reason why the Licence Fee should go. I just think it’s a 20th century idea that has had its time. When we had three or four channels and you needed to subsidise this stuff it absolutely made sense. The BBC broke new ground for decades, leading the way. Things have changed though. We have thousands of channels and choices, on TV, radio and online. Rather than leading the way the BBC is often playing catch up in many areas, though it still has some excellent content too.

The point is, the private sector has this covered. We don’t need to be taxpayer funding it any more. If we simply decriminalised non-payment of the Licence Fee in the first instance and gave people a choice, an increasing number would choose not to pay and that income stream would decline.

I don’t want to see the end of the BBC. I think it produces great drama, I think we could even consider continuing to centrally subsidise things like local radio or World News, but ultimately overall it needs to compete with everyone else. You cannot possibly argue that, unleashed from the shackles of the state, the BBC couldn’t fill its coffers with the subscriptions of the 6 billion other people on the planet? Demand for content like great crime drama, or period dramas, Peaky Blinders or Poldark, is not going to disappear.

That stuff can compete and be successful. In its high time, it did compete.

The BBC has been a great British institution in its time. It still is in many ways. I want to see it continue to produce great content and to deliver what British people want to see, but more and more I think that if it is to do so it needs to genuinely compete on the free market. It needs to expand beyond the ‘groupthink’ and open its eyes to the rest of the country and the rest of the world.

The BBC can be a source of great pride for Britain in the future too, but it has to embrace change.

Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sport

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