Can the public trust the BBC?

Source JThomas (via Wikimedia Commons)

by Jack Robert Stacey

The BBC is facing increasing public backlash following its coverage of the 2019 general election, culminating in growing opposition towards its licence fee with public trust at an all-time low. 

Founded in 1922 under the guidance of Lord Reith, its first Director-General, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) remains to be a public-service broadcaster that is funded solely through an annual licence fee, collected from television owners within the UK. Although the BBC has a strong sense of its public service obligations and deep-rooted historical significance, it has struggled to adapt to changes within the ever-shifting broadcasting industry; prevented perhaps by its public-service obligations. 

The industry dominance of heavily commercialised, subscription-based platforms has been detrimental to the public perception of the BBC as, due to increased industry competition and the BBC’s lack of development, it has been merely regarded by the public as an unnecessary form of taxation. However, I see it as arbitrary to place blame solely on other institutions when the BBC itself suffers from internalised issues like gender-pay discrimination and the prevention of opinion on social matters due to impartiality (Naga Munchetty). 

“What could be done to reaffirm the BBC’s status as a national broadcaster?”

Moreover, the BBC’s coverage of the 2019 general election faced widespread outrage as the broadcasting was suggested to treat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in a more favourable manner than other political groups. Many Conservative supporters voiced their concerns on this however, this harkens back to the BBC’s obligation for political impartiality, leaving it to focus on awarding political figures equal treatment merely through giving parties equal time to voice their opinions. While featuring candidates in this manner appears to be equal on the surface, this coverage ignores the significance of the discourse used and, thus, places Jeremy Corbyn’s exclamatory style of speech in a favourable position due to its mass-appeal. 

Although the BBC, at the current time, has done little to counteract this significant shift in the broadcasting industry and inequality in its political coverage, what could be done to reaffirm the BBC’s status as a national broadcaster?

Overall, the BBC needs to more strongly uphold its existing vow of political impartiality in its broadcasting, holding election and political coverage that is not only equal in the time allotted to parties but also equal in the nature of the depicted content. This may prove difficult yet this would offset the current political movement towards controversy and declarative language that subsequently classifies ‘all press as good press’, a movement that wreaked havoc in the 2016 American Election, with Trump appearing consistently across all major publications. Additionally, in response to mass-programming, the BBC should ‘double-down’ on its public service intentions by tailoring its programming to many under-represented and, otherwise, niche groups within the UK; adopting a similar strategy that propelled Channel 4 to success in its early years. This would, as I argue, act in opposition to the ‘vast sea’ of mass produced reality content propagated as the norm by its competitors which, over time, would award the BBC with a modern significance and immediately raise public perception of it, making content more impactful for groups that are less prominently featured.

With the advent of a new Director-General being appointed within the next few months, the pressure on the BBC to respond to its declining public image and industry competition must be addressed before the institution becomes meaningless.

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