During the last few weeks, in which left-wing British students and activists have taken on the politics of the US and called for the police to be “defunded”, one conservative student has set up his own social media campaign demanding another British institution is stripped of public money.
After becoming fed up with perceived political bias, James Yucel, a first-year History student at Glasgow University set up both a Twitter account and a Facebook page called ‘Defund the BBC’ which encourages those who are also dissatisfied, to cancel their direct debits to the corporation.
The 18-year-old says the BBC has gone from being “a byword for solid, unbiased news and quality drama” to “little more than a platform for the personal opinions of celeb journos and unwatchable drama that sacrifices quality and good story-telling on the altar of ‘political correctness’ “.
And many people tend to agree with him: the slick campaign which pumps out punchy graphics and provides a real-time-commentary of perceived bias has gained 74,000 followers after only a few weeks. (If you’re not on Twitter – and haven’t yet departed for anywhere else – that is a lot).
But can any campaign in Britain succeed without any coverage from the BBC itself? BBC News reaches a weekly average of over 80% of adults in the UK, and over 70% amongst young audiences aged 16-34. The BBC website competes with national, and, to particularly lethal effect, private local newspapers, and the BBC’s local radio stations – free from advertising – inevitably crowd out private sector broadcasting. It will be interesting to see what the fate of Times Radio, launching a week from today, will be.
Yucel says he would be “more than happy to discuss it with them” but doubts that the BBC would have him on.
But perhaps a grassroots campaign can succeed – despite little broadcast coverage – with the help of sympathetic politicians? It’s well known that many Tory MPs are fierce critics of the state broadcaster but in February The Times revealed that Boris Johnson, in contrast to Dominic Cummings, was in favour of “reform rather than revolution” and “is significantly less gung ho about abandoning the licence fee” than his “ideological” staffer. Similarly, when we interviewed Junior Culture Minister John Whittingdale, we found him the opposite of the anti-BBC warrior he was made out to be by the papers.
Whittingdale, a former Culture Minister himself, thinks there is no alternative to the licence fee model of BBC funding and that a subscription service would be “politically utterly impossible”.
So, the cards are stacked against the campaign, but not so long ago Brexit was a fringe idea which was only discussed in a few pubs around Westminster by political obsessives. Maybe despite all the odds, an intensifying culture war can grant the BBC-sceptical Right success in pulling down some metaphorical statues of its own?
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