There was nothing flamboyant or headline-grabbing in regards to the way during which the British Broadcasting Corporation got here into existence 100 years ago.
As an alternative, on October 18 1922, a consortium was formed, licensed by the GPO, which comprised plenty of large firms who provided the initial capital of £100,00o, backed by other radio manufacturers who were willing to pay £1 for an “unusual share”.
It was decreed that the fee of funding the newly-born BBC can be met from a 10-shilling licence fee which the GPO levied on all owners of “domestic receivers”, which, in today were the radio sets which were progressively attracting a much bigger audience.
Reith dismissed TV as a passing fad
The corporation’s development was overseen by the corporate’s first Director-General, Sir John Reith, an imposing fellow born in a house nicknamed “Beefy Castle” in Stonehaven, who resolved that its mission ought to be to teach, inform and entertain.
From the outset, this strict religious figure had no time for tittle-tattle, frivolities or highlighting controversy and scandal on his news bulletins. Indeed, when interviewing potential employees, he would begin the interrogation by asking them: “Do you accept the elemental teachings of Jesus Christ?”
As any person who lamented the rise of television – and initially dismissed it as a passing fad – one wonders what Reith would have manufactured from the BBC’s history through the times of Doctor Who and Top of the Pops to the Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Smart and the creation of reality TV formats akin to Strictly and The Great British Bake-Off.
Yet, while it still commands massive audiences for such events as The Olympics, the World Cup, Wimbledon and Eurovision, and through its recent coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the vast network is facing increasing pressure from streaming services, social media firms and politicians who consider that the licence fee – £159 for color TV, and £53.50 for black and white – ought to be scrapped.
Just last weekend, questions were asked in regards to the way the BBC in Scotland responded to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s remark that she “detested the Tories”, while, just a few days later, the Business Secretary at Westminster, Jacob Rees-Mogg, accused it of sparking panic among the many financial sector and breaching its impartiality guidelines.
It’s hardly surprising that even those that broadly support the BBC admit its future looks uncertain. Former correspondent, Eleanor Bradford, said: “Radio Scotland continually surprises me in its ability to do big occasions higher than Radio 4 (akin to the recent coverage of the death of The Queen at Balmoral) and also you only must travel abroad to grasp that the BBC is one of the vital respected news services on the earth.
“But now we have to recollect how much change the BBC has needed to cope with in a brief period. For a long time, all it needed to worry about was whether to have one channel or two, and which white, male Oxbridge graduate would read the news next week.
“Once I applied for a BBC job within the Nineteen Nineties, I needed to drop my regional accent to even get an interview and wouldn’t dream of putting my holiday job in a supermarket on my CV. By the point I left in 2016, applicants were attempting to outdo one another’s working-class credentials and a part-time supermarket job was seen as positively as a level.
‘The BBC is on a shoogly peg’
“Inside just a few years, the BBC has needed to adapt to on-demand viewing, streaming giants, social media, online news, in addition to being forced to reflect a more diverse world, devolved nations, and check out to work out how one can provide true balance (which is more nuanced than simply giving equal airtime to each side).
“Sadly, I even have to face the undeniable fact that the longer term of the BBC is – to borrow the proper Scottish phrase – on a shoogly peg. The audience is frustrated when the BBC doesn’t reflect a posh society in the best way we wish it to and this frustration is compounded by the undeniable fact that now we have to pay for the BBC whether we prefer it or not.”
The licence fee issue is currently under discussion, with some people calling for the corporation to contemplate subscription models in addition to reducing its online coverage of reports, sport, politics and entertainment at a time when the general public is effectively paying for his or her journalists to cover the identical territory as national and regional newspapers.
Politically, there are a lot of people in every party who’re critical of the BBC’s efforts to be non-partisan, whether in covering Brexit, Scottish independence, the economic downturn or the internecine warfare in Downing Street. Yet the SNP MSP Gillian Martin is amongst those that consider not all of the condemnation is justified.
Ms Martin, who taught TV production and media studies for 15 years, said: “The BBC news output within the last 20 years has faced criticism, with so many on all sides determined to say it’s biased against them, and I feel this is essentially unfair on the journalists working in newsrooms everywhere in the country – a few of whom I do know.
“But I do think public confidence began to be shaken within the Blair years when the previous, and thoroughly regarded Director-General Greg Dyke, was effectively removed for standing by his journalists on their reporting of the Iraq war.
“Ever since then, I feel there was an excessive amount of political interference in the upper echelons, and their somewhat ham-fisted try and prove they’re ‘impartial’ has led to a few of their brightest stars leaving to flex their more critical journalistic muscles elsewhere – which is an actual shame.
“That said, I even have at all times been, and proceed to be supportive of, the licence fee model. You simply need to go to the USA to see what happens if you don’t have that.”
The truth is that the BBC has been embroiled in political rows for the reason that General Strike in 1926 when Reith locked horns with Winston Churchill over refusing to toe the Government line and the 2 men became implacable enemies.
But, in line with Sandy Bremner, who worked for the BBC from 1990 until retiring in 2018 as its managing editor for the North East and Northern Isles, the controversy should concentrate more on how the network moves forward moderately than constant kneejerk reactions from its opponents.
He said: “In nearly three a long time on the BBC, I got here to see political attacks as a given. They got here from nearly every level of Government, in Scotland and the UK. Sometimes they were direct threats. It’s what happens every time original journalism reveals awkward truths. It goes with any good reporting.
“We sometimes fail to understand that independent journalism needs to be defended by every journalist, sometimes within the face of great threats. The battle for an impartial BBC was fought by Lord Reith, against Winston Churchill who wanted to make use of it as a mouthpiece of Government. It has been fought by every succeeding generation.
“They secret is distinguishing between justifiable criticism requiring redress, and naked intimidation. So long as the BBC earns the general public’s trust by refusing to buckle under that type of pressure, it’ll be hard for any politician to destroy or diminish it. In fact, that won’t stop some politicians from trying, as we’ve seen in recent months.
“But then there’s the query of how one can engage younger generations who regard the licence fee as a historical relic. The long run of BBC funding is again a battleground.
‘It continues to be an awesome British invention’
“It has been grasped by some vested interests as a golden opportunity to harm the institution. So the present challenge to the general public is a straightforward one. In case you do value the BBC, now’s the time to defend it.”
No person has ever argued the BBC is ideal, but it surely is now within the firing line, north and south of the border and with enemies to the best and left. It’s going to need to devise a latest funding model, but there’s no indication of that occuring. So what’s in store?
Eleanor Bradford said: “Overall, despite its many infuriating tendencies, the BBC continues to be one in every of the best British inventions of all time. I feel the danger is that we’ll only realise what now we have lost when now we have destroyed it.”
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[The BBC has been with us for a century, but Auntie faces an uncertain future]