Is there a future for public service TV?

By WGGB Chair Gail Renard 

The future of the BBC is seldom out of the press. Last night at BAFTA, Lord David Puttnam chaired a discussion with Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC, about the future for public service television in a digital environment. Lord Hall stressed the importance of the BBC, not only to the UK but the world.

Thanks to the recent Panorama show on offshore funds in Panama, the Icelandic Government might fall. After the series of War and Peace, more people are reading the classic novel than ever before. The story about domestic abuse in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers has prompted a sharp rise in calls to charity hotlines. The Archers’ storyline took two years to build to its climax. As Lord Hall said, only public service broadcasters deliver shows that no one else can.

Aside from its cultural importance, the BBC is a huge part of the UK’s creative economy. Lord Hall thinks we should be worried about the decline of TV production in this country. Lord Puttnam added that the BBC is seen as the gold standard internationally so why is it that our Government attacks it?

Lord Hall wants the BBC to be able to look towards the future. The new broadcasting landscape is more about programmes and less about channels. The BBC has as much value as ever and he wants to continue to build it. He thanked the entertainment unions and protesters outside BAFTA for their continuing support.

No one knows what will be in the forthcoming White Paper on the future of the BBC. BBC News’ Martine Croxall questioned Lord Hall about the recently agreed Licence Fee deal with the Government which means the BBC is now responsible for the cost of free licences for the over-75s. She asked if this deal could be undone? Lord Hall answered that had been the only way to get an inflation-linked Licence Fee and top-slicing stopped. The BBC is also now free to go after licences for online viewers. Lord Hall is hoping to have the over-75s policy amended in 2020. Labour Peer Gus Macdonald is looking into it in the Lords.

Lord Puttnam emphasised that the BBC is ours. Democracy requires participation and we should all take action. “If necessary we’ll make the Countryside Alliance march look like Mickey Mouse.”

Lord Puttnam is leading Goldsmiths University’s Inquiry Into The Future of Public Television. He is calling for a fair, independent BBC charter review “that will frighten the life out of any government that chooses to challenge it.”

Keep your marching shoes handy.