Yesterday it was rumoured that the BBC could end up shedding a quarter of its workforce by 2016. Why? To make the necessary savings following the six-year licence fee freeze. While the BBC could no doubt economise in certain areas, the savings envisaged will clearly have an enormous impact on the scope, size and quality of its many services.
In the meantime, we can expect to see the continual ascendency of BSkyB. With its thriving balance sheet, growing number of channels, variety, ability to outbid terrestrial television, its dominance in sports broadcasting, its new prominence in quality US drama imports – the list is a long one – subscription is a temptation sometimes too hard to resist.
What we are witnessing is another part of the government’s privatisation strategy. Yes, they want to protect the wonderful BBC, just as they led us to believe the NHS would be “safe” in their hands. But, in the end, they infinitely prefer the free enterprise model to the state model. And, as we all know, they have no great love of the BBC, so there is a double incentive to diminish it. Simultaneously gain the gratitude of Rupert Murdoch, and Mr Cameron has a triple incentive.
What do we look forward to in the years to come? A diminishing BBC, scheduled no doubt with worthy programmes, but without the variety and across the board appeal of today. The result will be, over time, a massive audience drop, and a massive audience increase for its commercial rivals. With an audience decline, there will be less reason to maintain the licence fee at current levels, so that too will decline or even disappear .
In the end, the BBC could end up as a minority, niche service, much like public service broadcasting across the Atlantic. But, even as we write, this is under threat, as public broadcasters fight to protect their federal appropriation in Congress. In the US, both Public Service Broadcasting and National Public Radio have long been targeted by right wing Republicans, who appear to be getting their way.
If we care about public service broadcasting in Britain, we must protect the BBC from savage cuts. But, first, we must stop News Corporation taking over BSkyB. That would be one of the biggest nails in the coffin of the BBC.