Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Agenda: The BBC has been with us for a century, but Auntie faces an uncertain future

The BBC offers a vast array of products but can it still justify the licence fee? Image by DCT Media Design Team.
The BBC offers a vast array of products but can it still justify the licence fee? Image by DCT Media Design Team.

There was nothing flamboyant or headline-grabbing about the way in which the British Broadcasting Corporation came into existence 100 years ago.

Instead, on October 18 1922, a consortium was formed, licensed by the GPO, which comprised a number of large firms who provided the initial capital of £100,00o, backed by other radio manufacturers who were willing to pay £1 for an “ordinary share”.

It was decreed that the cost of funding the newly-born BBC would be met from a 10-shilling licence fee which the GPO levied on all owners of “domestic receivers”, which, in these days were the radio sets which were gradually attracting a bigger audience.

Reith dismissed TV as a passing fad

The corporation’s development was overseen by the company’s first Director-General, Sir John Reith, an imposing fellow born in a home nicknamed “Beefy Castle” in Stonehaven, who resolved that its mission should be to educate, inform and entertain.

From the outset, this strict religious figure had no time for tittle-tattle, frivolities or highlighting controversy and scandal on his news bulletins. Indeed, when interviewing potential employees, he would commence the interrogation by asking them: “Do you accept the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ?”

William Hartnell was the first Doctor Who when the drama series started in 1963.

As somebody who lamented the rise of television – and initially dismissed it as a passing fad – one wonders what Reith would have made of the BBC’s history through the days of Doctor Who and Top of the Pops to the Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise and the creation of reality TV formats such as Strictly and The Great British Bake-Off.

Yet, while it still commands massive audiences for such events as The Olympics, the World Cup, Wimbledon and Eurovision, and during its recent coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the vast network is facing increasing pressure from streaming services, social media companies and politicians who believe that the licence fee – £159 for colour TV, and £53.50 for black and white – should be scrapped.

“Strictly” has been a giant ratings smash for the BBC.

Just last weekend, questions were asked about the way the BBC in Scotland responded to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s remark that she “detested the Tories”, while, a few days later, the Business Secretary at Westminster, Jacob Rees-Mogg, accused it of sparking panic among the financial sector and breaching its impartiality guidelines.

It’s hardly surprising that even those who broadly support the BBC admit its future looks uncertain. Former correspondent, Eleanor Bradford, said: “Radio Scotland constantly surprises me in its ability to do big occasions better than Radio 4 (such as the recent coverage of the death of The Queen at Balmoral) and you only need to travel abroad to realise that the BBC is one of the most respected news services in the world.

Eleanor Bradford has voiced concerns about the BBC’s future. Pic: Sandy McCook.

“But we have to remember how much change the BBC has had to deal with in a short period.  For decades, all it had to worry about was whether to have one channel or two, and which white, male Oxbridge graduate would read the news next week.

“When I applied for a BBC job in the 1990s, I had to drop my regional accent to even get an interview and wouldn’t dream of putting my holiday job in a supermarket on my CV. By the time I left in 2016, applicants were trying to outdo each other’s working-class credentials and a part-time supermarket job was seen as positively as a degree.

‘The BBC is on a shoogly peg’

“Within a few years, the BBC has had to adapt to on-demand viewing, streaming giants, social media, online news, as well as being forced to reflect a more diverse world, devolved nations, and try to figure out how to provide true balance (which is more nuanced than just giving equal airtime to both sides).

“Sadly, I have to face the fact that the future of the BBC is – to borrow the perfect Scottish phrase – on a shoogly peg. The audience is frustrated when the BBC doesn’t reflect a complex society in the way we want it to and this frustration is compounded by the fact that we have to pay for the BBC whether we like it or not.”

“Beechgrove” has proved a long-running success story for the BBC. Pic: Kami Thomson.

The licence fee issue is currently under discussion, with some people calling for the corporation to consider subscription models as well as reducing its online coverage of news, sport, politics and entertainment at a time when the public is effectively paying for their journalists to cover the same territory as national and regional newspapers.

Politically, there are many people in every party who are critical of the BBC’s efforts to be non-partisan, whether in covering Brexit, Scottish independence, the economic downturn or the internecine warfare in Downing Street. Yet the SNP MSP Gillian Martin is among those who believe not all the condemnation is justified.

Ms Martin, who taught TV production and media studies for 15 years, said: “The BBC news output in the last two decades has faced criticism, with so many on all sides determined to assert it is biased against them, and I think this is largely unfair on the journalists working in newsrooms all over the country – some of whom I know.

Gillian Martin MSP has spoken about the pressures faced by the BBC.

“But I do think public confidence started to be shaken in the Blair years when the former, and very well regarded Director-General Greg Dyke, was effectively removed for standing by his journalists on their reporting of the Iraq war.

“Ever since then, I think there has been too much political interference in the higher echelons, and their somewhat ham-fisted attempt to prove they are ‘impartial’ has led to some of their brightest stars leaving to flex their more critical journalistic muscles elsewhere – which is a real shame.

“That said, I have always been, and continue to be supportive of, the licence fee model. You only have to go to the USA to see what happens when you don’t have that.”

Winston Churchill was at loggerheads with the BBC during the General Strike in 1926.

The reality is that the BBC has been embroiled in political rows since the General Strike in 1926 when Reith locked horns with Winston Churchill over refusing to toe the Government line and the two men became implacable enemies.

But, according to Sandy Bremner, who worked for the BBC from 1990 until retiring in 2018 as its managing editor for the North East and Northern Isles, the debate should concentrate more on how the network moves forward rather than constant kneejerk reactions from its opponents.

He said: “In nearly three decades at the BBC, I came to see political attacks as a given. They came from nearly every level of Government, in Scotland and the UK. Sometimes they were direct threats. It’s what happens whenever original journalism reveals awkward truths. It goes with any good reporting.

Fiona Bruce has been popular as presenter of “The Antiques Roadshow”.

“We sometimes fail to appreciate that independent journalism has to be defended by every journalist, sometimes in the face of significant threats. The battle for an impartial BBC was fought by Lord Reith, against Winston Churchill who wanted to use it as a mouthpiece of Government. It has been fought by every succeeding generation.

“They key is distinguishing between justifiable criticism requiring redress, and naked intimidation. As long as the BBC earns the public’s trust by refusing to buckle under that kind of pressure, it will be hard for any politician to destroy or diminish it. Of course, that won’t stop some politicians from trying, as we’ve seen in recent months.

“But then there’s the question of how to engage younger generations who regard the licence fee as a historical relic. The future of BBC funding is again a battleground.

‘It is still a great British invention’

“It has been grasped by some vested interests as a golden opportunity to harm the institution. So the current challenge to the public is a simple one. If you do value the BBC, now is the time to defend it.”

Nobody has ever argued the BBC is perfect, but it is now in the firing line, north and south of the border and with enemies to the right and left. It will have to devise a new funding model, but there’s no indication of that happening. So what’s in store?

Eleanor Bradford said: “Overall, despite its many infuriating tendencies, the BBC is still one of the greatest British inventions of all time. I think the danger is that we will only realise what we have lost when we have destroyed it.”