The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently faced some heat after the release of its documentary India: The Modi Question, with the Indian government calling the film a piece of propaganda and accusing the broadcaster of having a colonial mentality.
Last week, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke out in favor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said he disagreed with the documentary’s characterization of him.
How was the BBC born?
Founded on October 18, 1922, the BBC was previously a private company, known as the British Broadcasting Company, in which only British manufacturers were allowed to hold shares. Initially, the company struggled to establish itself in the industry. However, his fortunes were reversed in the General Strike of 1926. The BBC’s coverage of the crisis was widely appreciated by the British population, giving him a lifeline.
Later the same year, a parliamentary commission recommended that the private company be replaced by a Crown-chartered public organisation, the British Broadcasting Corporation. This made the company ultimately accountable to Parliament, but it continued to enjoy independence from its operations.
How does the BBC work?
To date, the BBC operates under the Royal Charter, an instrument of incorporation granted by the ruling monarch, which requires the company to obtain a license from the country’s Home Secretary. The charter must be renewed every 10 years and the current charter runs until December 31, 2027.
The charter also illustrates the objectives of the broadcasting company. It states that the BBC should provide duly accurate and unbiased factual information, news and programs to enable people to better understand all parts of the UK and around the world.
Until 2017, the company was regulated by the BBC Trust, its board and a government-approved regulator called Ofcam. However, after an independent review in 2016, the trust was terminated as it was found to be defective. In the aftermath, while a BBC board was set up to govern the company, Ofcam was given sole responsibility for regulating it. During this time, the Board oversees day-to-day operations.
What is the BBC’s revenue model?
The bulk of the BBC’s funding comes from an annual television license fee charged to UK entities with equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts. Apart from this, it also derives revenue from its commercial subsidiaries BBC Studios and BBC Studioworks.
In 2022, the company suffered a major setback when the UK government announced a freeze on the annual television license fee for the next two years, which prevented the BBC from adjusting the cost for inflation. Additionally, the government has also stated that by 2027 it will abolish the fee completely.
A report in The Guardian said: Although the BBC continues to receive $3.2 billion a year in license fee income, the costs of delivering its programs are rising rapidly due to rising inflation and the competition from Netflix. As a result, the company will have to cut spending by hundreds of millions of pounds in order to balance its books.
BBC’s relationship with the UK government
As mentioned earlier, the BBC has complete freedom to conduct its business without any interference from Parliament. However, from time to time, he has been at odds with lawmakers, especially conservatives, on several issues.
For years, the right accused him of having a liberal and leftist bias. During Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s tenure, many members of her party publicly denounced the BBC for its bias against her. He was also criticized for doing anti-Brexit coverage of the 2016 referendum.
In 2020, when Tim Davie took over as the company’s chief executive, he promised to fix the problem and asked the most opinionated staff to change or quit.
In a statement to BBC staff, he said: If you want to be an opinion columnist or a partisan social media campaigner, that’s a valid choice, but you shouldn’t work at the BBC.
Two years later, Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, also recognized that the BBC had a liberal bias. Notably, prior to assuming his position as president of the company, Sharp was Sunak’s advisor.
However, it was not just conservatives who criticized the broadcaster. In the 2019 general election, supporters of former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the BBC of favoring Boris Johnson.
The left has also raised concerns about homophobia and transphobia within the company. In 2006, a study by the University of Leeds found that the BBC is institutionally homophobic towards lesbians and gays, their references or related issues. In 2020, 150 people, including Members of Parliament, signed a letter saying the BBC had engaged in institutional discrimination and failed to report on transgender issues in a balanced way.
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