Recently there has been much talk and some hysteria about the UK government’s alleged plans to significantly cut the BBC’s funding and weaken its highly beneficial bond with the coercive apparatus of the State. All manner of confused and poorly reasoned arguments have been thrown about, but the ethical argument against the BBC and the State’s arrangement is straight forward, as is the solution to the BBC’s woes.
The ethical argument against the BBC is that its UK operations are entirely funded not by advertising or other peaceful, voluntary means, but by leveraging the coercive apparatus of the State – the exercise of which is supposed to be limited to protecting people’s freedoms and resolving conflicts; not for ensuring the survival of corporations, however beloved they are.
Worse still, its global arm, which is a private profit-making corporation, is built upon this unjust arrangement, this perversion of the law. Ordinarily, of course, a private enterprise benefiting from ‘public funding’ would be widely condemned as immoral and unfair, but when it comes to its most beloved ‘institution’ the UK public seems to have a rather curious blind spot. Perhaps it’s some form of group Stockholm Syndrome, I don’t know.
From the point of view of the BBC’s continued survival and future flourishing, the economic argument is clear. That the BBC’s output is so popular here and all over the world is precisely why the BBC shouldn’t be at all worried about changing to acquiring its funding in the same way everyone else in society has to: through economic exchange (and not coercion).
There will no doubt be plenty of people willing to be subjected to advertising or to (willingly) pay a monthly subscription to watch BBC programming. Neither the BBC nor its strident defenders need lose sleep over the BBC’s future in the free market – however terrifying and ruthless they imagine it to be. It’s just the real world, guys.
Currently, the BBC’s claim to being the UK’s and even the world’s favourite broadcasting corporation is as tenuous as the argument that every individual in the UK who owns a television is obliged to pay the BBC a levy. The fact is that under the current arrangement of it being a criminal offence not to fund the BBC we simply cannot know how many people would willingly choose to pay to watch BBC programming because TV owners aren’t allowed to choose to not fund its operations.
The only way for the BBC to truly know how many people value its product enough to regularly exchange an amount of money to watch it or to advertise alongside it is to abandon the TV license and let people be free to choose not to – just like they are with ITV, Channel Four, Sky and the rest.
If the individuals who currently run the BBC have a genuine desire for it to truly be the best broadcaster in the UK and the world, and to really be independent and impartial – which was the BBC’s sincere aim when it was founded as a private enterprise many moons ago – then they need to muster the bravery to cut the BBC’s umbilical cord to the State.
The BBC can become master of its own destiny and move out from under the dark shadow of politics by embracing freedom; it can save itself by letting go of the State and joining free market society. Becoming one with the former and distancing itself from the latter guaranteed the BBC its existence, but at the cost of forever corrupting its virtue. There’s only one arena where the BBC can confirm its claim to being the best and establish genuine virtue: the free market.