Cllr Chris Whitehouse heads The Whitehouse Consultancy, and is an Isle of Wight councillor.
There is understandably much debate within the Party at present about the role and future of the BBC. Without doubt, recent scandals and senior management mistakes have undermined confidence in this once revered institution, and called into question the future sustainability and justification for the licence fee as its uniquely privileged funding basis.
To bring some facts to the otherwise polemic but academic debate, The Whitehouse Consultancy, commissioned a poll of over 2,000 adults by ComRes and has published results that should cause the BBC some concern.
More than half those surveyed (51 per cent) supported the abolition of the licence fee and making the BBC self-funding even if that means adverts during programmes, reducing the number of original programmes or scrapping the public service broadcasting duties. Only 34 per cent of respondents opposed that suggestion.
Specifically, when asked, only 40 per cent of people supported the current licence fee arrangement, matched by an equal number (40 per cent) who opposed the licence fee. There was little appetite for funding the BBC through general taxation (supported by 18 per cent but opposed by 64 per cent).
These results are somewhat at odds with the BBC’s own findings, and it has issued statements in response to our poll results claiming that support for the licence fee is, in fact, higher. We can debate percentage points until the cows come home, but the reality is that, within the political community today, the future of the BBC licence fee has never been more vulnerable since it was introduced. With the Charter Renewal process to kick off immediately after the coming general election, the BBC is not only losing the argument; it is failing even to make it effectively.
This is hardly surprising given the harsh criticism that the Corporation has recently faced over its stewardship of public resources. It simply cannot be seen to spend licence fee income on securing its own future, but the silence is deafening.
In consequence, those of us who do feel that the BBC is a uniquely valuable institution which drives up broadcast standards across the UK media sector (particularly in news, current affairs and local reporting) need to speak out on its behalf. That some past management decisions have been, at best, cack-handed, does not of itself undermine the case for the BBC licence fee in the future.
It is right that we should have a debate, but might I also observe that those who would scream most loudly in outrage were the BBC’s core offer be diminished are by and large core Conservative voters. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate target for a Conservative canvasser than a listener to Gardeners’ Question Time, classical orchestral output, or the World Service. Think of the outrage at the next Patron’s Club supper if the local Conservative MP announced that we are going to have advertising on the BBC!
For all its left wing, pro-EU paradigm; the BBC is worth saving, but if we are to achieve that result those of us who support it (and I know that some readers of this column do not) then we have to speak out in its defence.