April 23, 2015 by Nash Riggins
This is it. After what’s felt like an eternity, the general election is finally getting underway. Everyone who plans on voting has been registered, party manifestos have been launched and would-be politicians are producing an endless stream of tough-talking soundbites.
It’s still impossible to say exactly who will come out on top of this election, and the media never stops speculating. Yet as newspapers and radio outlets continue to relentlessly pelt us with conflicting figures about immigration, deficits and NHS budgets, no one in the media seems particularly keen to tell us how they might be affected by this election’s outcome.
Okay, there’s a reason that plans for Britain’s media industry aren’t making the front pages. Pension pots and nuclear warheads do seem a tiny bit more relevant for whatever reason. But the issues surrounding our rampant media consumption are definitely worth looking into – because every single party will be pushing one change or another.
A lot of politicians have come out blasting against the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that allows police officers to access journalists’ emails, and everyone and their mum has said something about trying to achieve Lord Leveson’s vision of a safer media landscape. But a lot of these policies are wishy-washy at best. If anything, vows relating to the publicly-owned BBC sound the most prevalent.
So, what do politicians want with the Beeb?
The biggest gripe voters have got with Britain’s iconic broadcasting service is its licence fee. If you watch or record shows as they’re being shown on live TV, you’ve got to pay an annual fee of £145.50. Young people have been getting increasingly irritated with the licence fee, as it also pertains to programmes watched on computers and mobile phones. And seeing as every political party is disgustingly desperate to get a tiny slice of the youth vote, everyone unsurprisingly seems to have made some pledge or another relating to the licence fee.
The Conservatives have vowed in their manifesto to “save you money” by freezing it until the next BBC charter renewal in 2017. Meanwhile, UKIP is promising to decriminalise non-payment of the fee and slash the cost by two-thirds. In fact, Nigel Farage reckons it’s a complete waste of time for the service to be producing programmes like Strictly and Doctor Who, and is keen to cut BBC funding all the way “back to the bone”. Rupert Murdoch is probably licking his lips at the prospect.
Unsurprisingly, the Greens would scrap the fee altogether – replacing it instead with funding from centralised taxation at a cost of some £3.2bn. The Scottish Nationalists, on the other hand, don’t have any gripes with the fee itself. Yet they obviously want to rejig the way in which fee revenues are allocated so that BBC Scotland receives an extra £100m of funding.
For whatever reason, the Liberal Democrats aren’t particularly fussed about the licence fee. They’re simply worried about ministers influencing the appointment of board members to the BBC Trust. Likewise, Ed Miliband seems to think the BBC is doing just fine, and hasn’t made any attempts to hop on the licence fee bandwagon. Instead, he’s more concerned about media bias, and will “take steps to protect media plurality” via unspecified policies.
Despite all of this fighting talk, it’s pretty difficult to imagine many of these changes actually happening. So long as Nigel Farage doesn’t get his way (and we all know he won’t), the BBC licence fee isn’t going down. And no matter who comes out on top, it certainly won’t go up during the next government. Believe it or not, Nick Clegg and the LibDems’ lame duck vow to change the way BBC leaders are appointed is probably the only one of these promises that could actually come to fruition – but it won’t really impact the average viewer.
So, how will the BBC fare in the general election? Pretty well, to be honest. The service is most certainly not in danger, and this year’s crop of politicians haven’t got enough brass to make any big changes to it, either. Bearing that in mind, do yourself a favour and don’t fall for any of this political hype surrounding the Beeb’s future – because it very well may be one of this election’s biggest non-issues.