Moral Maze

Her 98th year has not started well for Auntie BBC. The Government is consulting on decriminalising the licence fee; 450 jobs are being cut from BBC News to help meet a huge savings target; gender pay disputes are never far from the headlines; and audience figures reveal that the Corporation is struggling to connect with many British people – especially the under-35s and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the Director-General, Tony Hall, will step down in the summer after seven years in the job. If this is a crossroads, what should be the future direction of the BBC? There are loud voices calling for an end to the licence fee, calling it a poll tax, an outdated funding model overtaken by the streaming giants. Is it fair, they ask, to be forced to pay for a service you don’t want? Supporters point out that the BBC reaches 91% of adults every week and is the envy of the world; a unique and valuable service meant for everyone – that’s the point of it – which therefore must continue to be funded by everyone. They believe it is uniquely able to unite a fragmented nation and that the founding Reithian aspirations – to inform, educate and entertain – have never been more relevant in this era of fake news and social media echo chambers. The BBC’s severest critics, however, believe it no longer acts either as ‘cultural glue’ or as a touchstone of impartiality and truth. Instead, of leading us higher, they say, the BBC is sinking ever lower in pursuit of ratings. Bloated and greedy or lean and beleaguered? Perhaps we won’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. What, now, is the moral purpose of the BBC? With Robin Aitken, Philip Booth, Claire Enders, Jonathan Freedland.

Producer: Dan Tierney.

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