Last week we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the birth of ITV. At the time of its beginning there was great concern expressed that this new commercial channel might damage the BBC. Now sixty years on the Secretary of State for Culture seems to regard the BBC as the problem – it is too big and not value for money and somehow a threat to an ever-growing commercial sector.
Who sold us the lie that the best way to watch television was to be endlessly interrupted by advertisements? Apparently no news story is so important, no drama so powerful, no documentary so interesting that it cannot benefit by being disturbed every 15 minutes by adverts. We are never allowed to be so fully immersed in a film, story, sport or news but rather need to be regularly pulled out of the experience to be reminded that the true calling of our lives is to be consumers.
And we sit there endlessly being told about a range of products that we are unlikely to want and even more unlikely to need. Who ever convinced us that this is the way that we should watch television? The unconscious message is that we should want to consume – even that not to consume in some ways makes us a bad citizen. The very existence of the BBC undermines this seemingly essential message that first and foremost we are consumers.
By everyone paying their licence fee, the BBC is able to offer a different experience of culture, free from the intrusion of commercialism. We are allowed to be drawn into the world of film, drama, sport or music free of interruption or distraction. Culture is able to weave its own spell over us, unbroken by the intrusion of the consumerist imperative
With the BBC we do not just pay for what we want to consume, we pay our licence fee so that all may take their pick of drama, art, music, sport and entertainment and culture be allowed to flourish without being limited by what is most popular or able to attract the most commercial interest.
I am sure the BBC like any organisation must always be challenged to spend its budget wisely, but a true Secretary of State for Culture would value the BBC for the gift to the nation that it is than worship at the shrine of commercialism where the advert always trumps the art.