Cuts to BBC 'risk making it the equivalent of PBS in America'
Oxford University study backs continued licence fee as director-general defends BBC's place in UK culture
IF THE GOVERNMENT continues to force financial cutbacks on the BBC, it could become within a generation a "minor sideshow" in Britain's cultural life, the equivalent of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States.
And if the BBC were to lose its licence fee funding all together, and no longer exist, the amount of television produced in Britain would fall by as much as 50 per cent. Far from boosting the independent production sector, it would cause it immeasurable damage.
These are the main findings of a report by Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, published today ahead of a debate in Oxford where Lord Hall, the BBC's director-general, will appeal to the British public to continue to support the licence fee.
A reduced BBC would be “bad for the public”, Patrick Barwise, co-author of the Reuters Institute study, tells The Independent.“[Critics] conclude that viewers would be better served if the BBC were smaller – allowing commercial broadcasters to expand – and showed only public service programmes that the market will not provide.
"We think our analysis demolishes that argument. A smaller BBC would be bad for the public even in pure consumer terms: choice and value for money.”
Among the more the radical proposals for future funding of the BBC is the suggestion by Lord (Michael) Grade that Channel 4 be allowed to compete for a share of the licence fee revenue and that the BBC should reduce its in-house programme-making to news and current affairs only, leaving the rest to the independent sector.
But the Reuters Institute study says there is no evidence this would lead to other organisations expanded their output. “On the contrary, the BBC probably forces commercial channels to spend more on programmes in order to attract viewers. If this is correct, losing BBC Television would be even more damaging to viewers and programme producers than the report projects."
The report by Barwise and his co-author Robert Picard, laid out in an article for The Conversation, found that overall investment in all television programmes would fall by five to 25 per cent, and that investment in new UK programmes would drop by between 25 and 50 per cent.
Barwise and Picard conclude their article by saying: "The idea of a future without BBC TV is not just a hypothetical scenario - it is the logical conclusion of the government’s current 'salami-slicing' policy of freezing the licence fee and diverting more and more of it to fund activities outside the BBC’s UK services - while the rest of the market keeps growing.
"If this policy continues - or even accelerates, as some are advocating - within a generation the BBC will be reduced to a minor sideshow, the UK equivalent of PBS in the United States."
In his speech today at the Oxford Media Convention, Lord Hall will say: “We have a creative sector in this country that is world-beating. The BBC is an essential part of that. And it’s British: owned by the British people.
"Google is more than double the size of the whole UK broadcasting market [and] Apple seven times bigger. Today, I believe the BBC’s cultural influence still matches theirs. I want that to be true at the end of this charter and into the next.”