by Mike Vinti
The future of the BBC is uncertain. Despite John Whittingdale’s assurances everything is going to be ok, you can’t help but wonder — if they’re abolishing grants for disadvantaged students, cutting disability benefits and generally meddling in the NHS, why would they save the BBC? As the Tories start to enact their new budget, it seems nothing is safe.
The cuts have already started. Though its programming has been weak in recent years, the loss of BBC Three is symbolic of the Tories plans for the rest of the broadcaster. It hardly seems like a coincidence, especially in the context of Osbourne’s refusal to scrap the free license fee for over 65s, that the BBC’s youth-focused channel was A) its most neglected or B) the first of its services to go. The Tories’ cuts to the welfare state have disproportionately affected young people ,and if previous attempts are anything to go by, so will its gradual disintegration of the BBC.
This will be easy for Cameron and his underlings in the department of Culture, Media and Sport to achieve. The BBC has been losing young viewers and listeners from its TV and Radio stations for years.
From streaming services to torrents, we have access to more culture and entertainment than we could ever possibly consume
It’s easy to see how the rise of the internet would have facilitated this and how the BBC may have become the preserve of older generations less adept with the web or with a fondness for the media of their own youth. However, the BBC’s online presence is pretty spot-on; iPlayer is miles better in terms of usability than rivals such as 4oD, Doctor Who and Sherlock have incredibly passionate young fans, and the launch of Apple Music shows there’s still a demand for radio among younger generations.
Equally it will be easy for my generation to ignore what happens to the BBC. From streaming services to torrents, we have access to more culture and entertainment than we could ever possibly consume, the BBC is less integral to our lives than any generation previous. Combined with the corporations’ increased focus on talent shows and other marketable content, the BBC could easily be forgotten as a relic.
Yet, down that path lays a future without the plethora of youth-relevant content the BBC still produces, virtually free of charge, a future where youth culture only exists online or at ‘Ray Ban X Boiler Room’ once a year.
an organisation dominated by middle aged white men isn’t really in touch with Britain’s multicultural, subculture spawning young people
Youth culture has always been neglected by the BBC; it’s natural and probably right that an organisation dominated by middle aged white men isn’t really in touch with Britain’s multicultural, subculture spawning young people. However, there is little more indicative of youth culture than pop music, in all its forms, and the BBC has provided a home for popular music since its inception.
1Xtra, the BBC’s ‘urban music’ network, is one of its finest radio stations the BBC programmes; a home for the music of working class and BME musicians who operate outside of the charts and playlists of its sister station, Radio 1. Its DJs are established members of the grime and bass music communities in the UK and its roster of guests is a who’s who of modern British urban music.
For the more underground or experimentally minded there’s BBC 6 Music, generally attracting an older listener base but still popular among many a music obsessed teenager. Home to Jarvis Cocker, Iggy Pop and Lauren Laverne, it’s one of the most eclectic stations on the air. Even Radio 1 dedicates its later-hours to more curated, niche music shows.
Public service broadcasting is vital to a well-informed democracy
The importance of the BBC is that all of this content is free to access. Unlike streaming services such as Apple Radio or Tidal, anyone can tune into a BBC radio station and be greeted by staggering range of music and commentary. The BBC provides opportunities for aspiring musicians to get their work heard with its BBC Introducing network, and puts on huge, free, events like The Big Weekend. Public service broadcasting is vital to a well-informed democracy and the spread of youth culture, in particular popular music, is an important part of it.
If the BBC is allowed to be dismantled, slowly, cut by cut, efficiency review by efficiency review, nothing will take its place. Commercial networks can provide great content for their audiences but as long as the profit motive is present, advertisers will be more important. You-tube and Soundcloud provide platforms that are free to access for both users and audiences, but lack the institutional power and prestige the BBC has earnt globally.
introduction of adverts to the service would compromise its claims to neutrality
Keeping the BBC ad-free and publically funded is vital to its survival as a public good. It’s not hard to see how the introduction of adverts to the service would compromise its claims to neutrality or the programming it commissions. The future of broadcasting is one in which advertising plays a vastly different role to the one it does today, no one is sure what that role will be, but with the rise in crowdfunding and peer-produced content, scrapping the license fee would be a step backwards.
Of course, this is exactly the reason it’s being targeted by the government. It’s been clear for some time now that Osborne’s cuts are ideological and targeted and that the BBC’s mere existence stands against the Conservative vision of a neo-liberal, corporate state.
As ‘Radicals’ and as young people we have to lend our voices to the debate around the BBC and defend it despite its shortcomings. Scores of celebrities have called for its defence but ultimately, if the BBC is going to survive it is we who stand to inherit it (or not as looks increasingly likely) that must become its strongest defenders.