The BBC isn’t Free

By Ryan Gilbert

People need their news. People need their entertainment. There seems to be a new way to consume both of these things coming out on a daily basis. New apps and social media are starting to compete more and more with the traditional outlets like TV and the newspaper. In America this new trend in information has caused media outlets to step up their game. News channels have a tougher and tougher time keeping viewers watching their program and not getting their news from their phone. But in Scotland, one company specifically doesn’t have to worry about their viewership for a long time to come. The BBC, or the British Broadcasting Corporation, is known for its programs like Sherlock, or the popular Dr. Who. But what most Americans don’t know is that the BBC will get its funding even if their programming wasn’t good at all. The BBC is funded by a tax on every person’s television every year of 150.50 pounds. This is regulated by the British Government who BBC still has a ten-year contract with. So long story short, the BBC will be funded for 10 years by whoever has a television. So how does this situation compare with American Media?

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The first implication that this arrangement has on the BBC is the responsibility to remain as impartial as possible. After all, it’s not funded by one specific subset of the population. It’s funded by a diverse group of people who all have different viewpoints and opinions. It’d be unfair to filter the news in a specific direction because everyone has paid the same price. Unlike America where some of the various news programs are extremely biased towards one political party group. This expectation to remain unbiased leads to better journalism and a more informed population as well. In events such as Brexit, a very debated and divisive topic, the BBC must simply state the facts from all sides of the story so the public isn’t being persuaded one way. I can only imagine in America how Brexit would be handled on the news, FOX News claiming one thing and CNN claiming another. Leaving the public confused and angry at anyone who doesn’t have the same view point as them.

The BBC has to remain impartial, but it is also crucial that they get the story right the first time they air. Due to BBC’s reputation and connection with the government, they have more at stake than the other broadcast companies in the UK. This means that any investigative journalism has to be one hundred percent accurate. This has often meant other news programs beat the BBC to a story because they can risk being incorrect in their coverage. But the BBC would rather be correct than first. In America no such care is taken when it comes to releasing a story. There’s so much twisting of the truth that the accuracy of the story doesn’t matter so much. Whoever releases first gets the ratings and everyone else has to catch up. Shock value often replaces accuracy and ratings replaces the truth.

Not only does the BBC funding influence the quality of news reported, but it also changes how the business is run. I was lucky enough to go on a tour of BBC Scotland and walk around their new facility. From the outside it didn’t look like much, just a square metal building with a few satellite dishes. But when I stepped inside I saw an interior that was designed for coordination, collaboration, and interdepartmental communication. The building was split down the middle by a series of stairs and platforms that any department can work on together. There were no walled offices separating ideas and people, just open seating where thoughts can flow as they want. So how does this one building change the way BBC does news? The open design was not only meant to increase the flow of the workspace. The entire building is also designed to be a big studio. No matter where you are in the building, there are the acoustics, lighting, and tools to record a program. In fact, the BBC has once conducted four live news programs at the same time all in the main lobby of the building. Everyone from executives to camera men were all working in the same place, making four separate programs that were the same quality as if they were all in their own studio. The only way that BBC is able to accomplish all of this is through their funding. They can budget years in advance, and pay for facilities like the one I visited because they are confident that the funds will be there for years to come. Unlike many companies in America, where there’s always the uncertainty of having enough money.

BBC2

BBC3

If the American News programs were held accountable like the BBC is in London, we would have a different media climate entirely. President Trump has started a Fake News craze which has led a large segment of the population to distrust the media. But if the American people somehow knew that the media had a responsibility to report truthfully, then the “Fake News Craze” wouldn’t be nearly as bad. Yes, there would still be people who distrust the media, in fact there are definitely people in the U.K who distrust the media, but it is nowhere near the same level of the American public.

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Some people in the U.K disapprove of the mandatory BBC license fee that comes with every television. I understand that it seems forced upon them and I wouldn’t necessarily like paying it either. But the one thing that everyone can agree on is that the BBC upholds its reputation as a leader in accurate and unbiased reporting because of the funds that come from that fee. So yes, one can look at it as paying for some rich media executives paycheck. But it is so much more than that. The funds go to the good people who care about an informed public, who care about the heritage and traditions of the U.K, and who care about making the best programs possible.

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