A Bitter Centenary for the BBC

Founded on 18 October 1922 in London, the BBC, affectionately known as ‘Auntie’, has marked some of the most important moments in contemporary history. Today, the BBC is the largest broadcaster in terms of area, language selections and listeners. However, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, the famous BBC is in turmoil. It is suffering from a number of financial problems and a loss of success in the digital age, as well as being heavily criticised by both the government and its own employees…

The Question of Funding

In January 2022, the BBC was dealt a fatal blow when the government announced a freeze on licence fees for two years. With licence fees accounting for three-quarters of the corporation’s income, this represented a huge financial loss. Although an agreement has been reached with the government for the next five years, it is still under threat of a permanent abolition of licence fees, as is the case for France. At the same time, the BBC’s revenues have been falling for years. According to the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, the British consumer group, the corporation’s revenues have already fallen by 25% between 2010 and 2020. This leads to fears of the worst, and will not be without consequences for programming: « BBC journalists say that all possible savings have already been made. The only thing left to do is to cut programmes, or even entire channels, » according to Daniel Ruff, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Limoges. 

A Corporation that is Unable to Renew Itself 

Although it had been able to take advantage of the wave of decline of the paper press, it is no longer able to attract listeners again. The attachment that the British people had for the BBC, which gave rhythm to their daily activities, is gradually unravelling. In the digital age, radio and television programmes are no longer as popular, especially with young people. In order to compete with other online pay platforms such as Netflix, Youtube or Amazon Prime, the BBC is belatedly trying to make the transition to digital. But isn’t it too late?

Internal and External Criticism

On the one hand, the national broadcaster is regularly accused by conservatives of having biased and impartial coverage. On the other hand, it is criticised for a certain British elitism, focusing on urban elite concerns rather than the working classes. While these criticisms are not new, they do call into question the trust that listeners have placed in the BBC for so many years. But the criticism also comes from the employees themselves. Continuous budget cuts, bad working conditions and increasingly regular job cuts (by 2023, 1,000 out of 22,000 jobs will be cut) are putting employees increasingly on edge. « There is a lot of frustration internally. The current BBC management is close to the Conservatives and is very afraid of what the government might think, » says a former BBC journalist. 

Despite the fact that the famous BBC’s first century is ending on a bitter note, their continued existence is not in danger. With 90% of Britons reading (on the Internet), watching or listening to the BBC every week, it still has a bright future ahead of it… Let’s hope the BBC will still be around to celebrate its bicentenary.

 Manon Houset

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Image : © A photo of the BBC logo on the side of The Forum building in Norwich, by Sebastiandoe5, 18 December 2019, CC BY-SA 4.0

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