Political drama: BBC centenary celebrations marred by toxic debate over funding and licence fee

Next month marks the official centenary of the BBC. Established in October 1922, with its first broadcast made on November 14, the “Beeb” is, like the royal family, the quintessential British institution that has a reach and influence considerably way beyond its original remit.

ith eight TV channels, over 50 radio stations, it also owns a sprawling website that rivals the best media properties anywhere on the internet, a world service that broadcasts in over 40 languages as well as a portfolio of apps, educational and publishing ventures.

Dorries also insisted on ploughing on with the Tories’ plan to privatise Channel 4

With revenues of over £5.8bn (€6.65bn) in 2021 – £3.8bn of which came from the TV licence –  the BBC also managed to clock up an operating surplus of £206m for the year. 

As public service broadcasters go, it is quite unique.

While 100 years in business is a lot to celebrate, the anniversary has been somewhat overshadowed by events in the political arena which, much like one of its soap operas, could end up in tears.

As with most things related to public service broadcasting, all roads lead back to money and, in recent years, many broadcasters have found themselves in the thick of a political storm over how they should be funded.

Earlier this year, the tone was set by the former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries who said that she wanted to impose further deep cuts on the BBC, then abolish its funding model entirely.

In addition, she announced that the licence fee would be frozen until 2024 which, taking inflation into consideration, would create a hole of over £2bn in its finances.

After that, all bets would be off and a new funding model will have to be found by 2027.

Dorries also insisted on ploughing on with the Tories’ plan to privatise Channel 4 – which also holds a public service broadcasting licence – despite huge opposition from the broadcaster itself, staff and a cross-section of businesses representing the arts, entertainment and production sectors.

Her replacement, Michelle Donelan, like Dorries, is in favour  of abolishing the licence fee

While many in the wider media, arts and culture sectors in the UK were delighted to see the back of Dorries when she stepped down and was replaced last week by Michelle Donelan, as part of a cabinet reshuffle, we can expect more of the same.

Donelan, like Dorries, is also in favour  of abolishing the licence fee and hobbling the influence of the BBC. She will also oversee the publication of legislation that will pave the way for the sale of Channel 4 later this year.

This disdain and distrust which many Conservative politicians harbour for the BBC – and to a lesser extent Channel 4 –  goes back many years.

While the broadcaster may have defined Britain for many decades, it also became a thorn in the side of the established political elite.

Often talk of cutting the licence fee masked a more sinister desire to stifle democratic debate.

If one person personified the growing anti-BBC sentiment within the Tory party, it was Maggie Thatcher, who had a long-standing grudge towards the broadcaster stretching back into the late 1950s when she first burst on to the political scene. 

Even her husband Denis, better known as a timid golf-playing, whiskey-drinking other-half called it the “British Bastard Corporation” after it once ridiculed his wife on a satirical programme aired by BBC Radio 4.

Somewhat ironically, Thatcher thought the best way to hobble the influence of the BBC was to unleash some commercial competition in the form of, quelle surprise, Channel 4 which marks its own 40th birthday this year and clearly has become a victim of its own success. 

Some of this talk about licence fee reform sounds very familiar.

With yet another review of the TV licence fee regime in Ireland under way following the recent publication of The Future of Media Commission report earlier in the summer, we still haven’t figured it out ourselves.

One thing is clear however: we need to avoid the toxicity and political malevolence that underpins similar debates in the UK. Otherwise, it will end in tears.

A global winner

The outdoor advertising specialist Global in Ireland has been ranked as the Best Small Workplace in Europe 2022, making it only the second Irish company to top The Best Workplaces in Europe Awards list.  The ceremony took place in Venice last week.

Great Place to Work identifies the best workplaces in Europe by analysing and ranking companies’ workplace programmes as well as talking to their staff.  

Elave’s TV booster

The Irish skincare brand Elave has rolled out its first national TV campaign. The brand is manufactured by Gardiner Family Apothecary which employs 80 people at is plant in Dundalk. Founded in 1934, the company is headed by Joanna Gardiner, a granddaughter of the founder.

The company  also manufactures the Ovelle range of skincare products. Around 55pc of the company’s output is exported to markets in the UK, Europe, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

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