Resource support

Letter: consider all requests for media support, not just those from the BBC

Martin Wolf (Opinion, January 24) offers the BBC’s familiar defense that its destruction would harm democracy. So presumably it would be – but is anyone actually advocating destruction? The question is rather one of proportionality. Are the public resources allocated to the BBC commensurate with the UK’s public service media needs and does the BBC continue to earn its near-monopoly hold over public funding? Here, doubt is allowed.

As far as the amount of public resources needed are concerned, let us take as a historical reference the level of funding enjoyed at the end of the last Labor government — during the successive terms of the Labor Party, the public funding of the BBC increased by more than 60% — or the need for public service media in 2022?

It is generally accepted that with the advent of online media such as Google, Facebook and eBay, the UK print and broadcast media – which are at least partly funded by advertising – have been deprived of the resources to maintain information complete and effective.

Would we now invent a single institution, aka the BBC, or would we seek to ensure a plurality of institutions, local, based on four nations and across the UK?

Finally, is the BBC devoting an appropriate share of its public funding to its public service mission? There too, doubt is allowed. In 2020, then BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi said changes to the BBC’s funding would reduce its commitment to public service, including children’s and regional programming. It looked and still looks like a ‘shoot the puppy’ argument and signaled that the BBC’s priority was to exist for itself rather than a public service remit.

Rather than defending the BBC’s status quo, a la Clementi and Wolf, the UK now needs a serious look at the claims of all media outlets for public support, not just the licensee, and a skeptical eye on the actual allocation of BBC resources to check whether this is, by international standards, generous funding (Germany is the exception) and commensurate with the effective delivery of public service content.

Wolf reasonably doubts that the outburst against culture secretary Nadine Dorries’ royalty is an optimal starting point, but such a debate is necessary whether or not the starting point is one that Wolf, or I, would have selected.

Richard Collins
London EC2, UK