Public Support for BBC Split Three Ways on Funding

10 March 2004

According to a poll carried out for BBC Television, around one third (31%) of UK citizens support the BBC's current funding by compulsory licence fee; the same percentage think the BBC should carry advertising; while the remaining 36% prefer a system of voluntary subscription.

But a majority (59%) still believe the state-owned broadcasting service provides "good value for money" -- despite a near-equal number (58%) complaining that its programmes are "too similar to other broadcasters".

Furthermore, a 54% majority believe the BBC should be left to run its own affairs rather than subjected to greater control from an external regulator (specifically the government-created Ofcom).

The data was revealed in a candid debate about the BBC conducted on its flagship current affairs programme, Panorama. One critic from within was Sir David Attenborough, former controller of BBC2 and a distinguished programme-maker in his own right.

Although Attenborough carefully avoided the overworked term 'dumbing-down', that to all intent was his accusation. "I think the pendulum swung in the last five years or so towards the popular and away from the more specialised," Sir David said.

"Science should be at the core of what people should be interested in and be learning about all the time. And if you have three programmes on gardening then I would suggest you drop one of them, or maybe even two of them, and do some of these other things."

And while some will dismiss this as pie-in-the-sky idealism, the massive ratings achieved by Sir David's science series belie that belief.

Another critic, from the opposite side of the fence, was Endemol UK chairman Peter Bazalgette, an independent producer of such low-cost, high-profit 'reality' formats as Big Brother and Fame Academy. Output which some critics suggest has much in common with the achievements of his famous great-grandfather Sir Joseph Bazalgette, creator of London's sewerage system.

Baz, to give him his showbiz moniker, claimed that the Dr David Kelly affair was an "accident waiting to happen", citing that tragic incident to demand an overhaul of the BBC's governance system.

The Corporation's board of governors, opined the begetter of Ready, Steady, Cook, should be transformed from a "cheerful bunch of amateurs" to a more independent and professional board including experts on journalism and competition law.

The BBC's acting director general Mark Byford defended the role of the governors in protecting the BBC's independence and public interest, although he ceded that change may be necessary in the future.

"The BBC would never say that it must stand still because if the BBC stood still on anything, whether it was the programming, whether it was the consideration of its accountability, it would be wrong because things are changing around it," Byford said.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff