This week saw something I fundamentally disagree with: cut backs at the BBC in preparation for a Tory government.
OK, cutbacks because of budget deficits are one thing, unavoidable in times of poor profits and economic instability; but that’s just the thing, we’re talking about the BBC. It isn’t a company hell bent on making profits, or one that needs a steady consumer income to support itself. It has the TV licence fee to avoid that very problem, to provide content that would otherwise be unfeasible if it had to make a profit. So why is it that the BBC is making cuts to it’s online presence and two of it’s digital radio stations, 6 Music and Asian Network?
It all revolves around the highly likely outcome of the General Election going in a Conservative direction. It’s not a secret that the Conservatives would like to restructure and change the way the BBC operates. Given their position, the BBC is making pre-emptive changes before it’s pushed into them. 25% of the funding to the BBC website, one of the most visited sites in Britain and arguably one of the best sources of good quality online journalism worldwide, is being cut meaning that whole sections are going to be lost. BBC 6 Music and Asian Network are also to be cut, with the BBC diverting the extra £600 million into it’s existing programming.
The Beeb has put forward two separate arguments for these cuts. The first being that they need to focus on quality rather than trying to cover everything. Now, I agree, quality is paramount; but if the BBC aren’t going to try and cover a good variety of things, especially the less popular but equally deserving sections of the news, then who is? The point of a public broadcaster is that it can cover things that aren’t economically viable. The BBC website is a prime example of a non-commercially viable resource that provides a fantastic public service. This argument also rolls into the cuts made to digital radio. Whilst 6 Music and Asian Network don’t have enormous followings, about 600k and 350k respectively, they are listened to and are valued. If it were a commercial radio station of course those listener numbers would be a failure, but that’s the point, it’s not. Stations like 6 Music and Asian Network provide a service to society and are one of the only advantages DAB radio has to attract consumers into jumping on the digital radio band wagon. Why should the public suffer just because commercial alternatives aren’t doing well in the economic down-turn? Surely now is not the time for cuts, but to bolster those public broadcast services that the commercial sector just can’t provide?
Of course the cuts hit the news this week, from the mainstream media to the technology press, causing an public outcry of support for 6 Music. Although 6 Music and Asian Network are set to close by the end of 2011, the BBC has admitted that they might rethink the closures given enough support. Time for more Facebook/Twitter grassroot campaigns perhaps?