The cultural politics of the BBC


The cultural politics of the BBC's so-called "Sachsgate" scandal are fascinating. I discern a sea change. Under attack for its "standards" not being worthy of the licence fee, the debate has opened up many cracks in the status quo. Those who see the Beeb as a dinosaur have in the past had to make the attack on disbanding it, but now the BBC is forced to mount a defence its position.

And for me at least that position is indefensible. Can the Beeb claim that it offers a shared cultural experience? Not when a large part of its audience is howling in dissent about the lowbrow antics of the Sachsgate players. Can the Beeb claim that it has to provide a seamless robe of programming? Well, it can – but the split among licence payers shows that many don't want to pay for what others want. Can it be proud of its dedication to public service programming? Yes, but what about the dross from Ross and Co?

And sniping from the sides are those who see the lumbering dinosaur poaching markets on-line, in digital and from your local press. 

At last the BBC's incumbency of access to the public purse is being seriously questioned. The micro-politics of change in such a cultural icon is ever so slow – our politicians are too entwined in the Whitehall media village to want to act on any principle – but I think we have reached a point of no return. The BBC's fee-protected bigness is now being seen as a problem not an answer, audiences are fragmented and paying for what they want more and more.

I still believe the BBC will end up dying slowly, cut by cut it will lose out on other media channels that grow up around it. What a pity that the politicians cannot just get to grips with privatizing it and letting it win or lose in its markets. My bet is that there is enough talent in its corridors that it would end up even larger than it is now, but serving subscription paying customers in a competitive marketplace that brought out the best of its genius.