Comments on the BBC

I am a big fan of the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation). At least 75% of what I watch on TV is produced by the BBC – this includes some great dramas, documentaries and comedy shows. The BBC coverage of sporting events is also very good.

But not everything about the BBC is perfect. Some things they do really irritate me. This article is a commentary on various aspects of the BBC, good and bad.

License Fee

To be fair, it would be a surprise if the programming produced by the BBC were not very good. Their funding is unique in that every British household (with a TV) has to hold a TV licence, currently at a cost of £145.50 for a whole year. There were 26.8 million households in the UK in 2013, and 97% of these had a television 1). So we see that the revenue received by the BBC last year from the licence fee alone was

 26.8 million * 97% * £145.50 = £3.782 Billion

This is a tidy sum and it is not surprising that it translates into to an ability to produce high quality output. The BBC need to protect this income stream, as it is potentially under threat. In the past, it was simple – if you had a television set then you had to pay the TV licence (it is not connected to whether or not you tune into the BBC). But these days it is possible to view television programmes on your computer, or tablet. It is possible to view both catch-up services and live TV broadcasts this way. According to the licensing rules, you need to pay the licence fee only if you are watching live broadcasts. But this is of course very difficult to police if you are using computer equipment to view the programs.

For people with a decent broadband connection (i.e. most people these days) it would certainly be possible to dispense with the traditional TV set (with aerial, satellite or cable connection). I can particularly see this applying to students in halls of residence. Instead a large computer monitor together with an Apple TV box (or other Media server) can be used to view programmes on a big screen. Who can prove if you are using this setup to view live or catch-up services? Fortunately for the BBC, they currently do not seem to be losing significant revenue (yet) to people taking this approach. But this could easily change – the quality of streamed content has only really been adequate for normal viewing in the last couple of years, so many people will not have considered doing this yet. Personally I think the solution is simple – if you either own a television or have broadband internet access then you should be paying the licence. It would require an act of Parliament to make this change, but I think it will become necessary.


The real joy of watching programs on the BBC is that there are no adverts to get in the way. By virtue of its funding arrangements (see above) the BBC is completely advert free. So when you settle down to watch a film, or a snooker match, or any other programme, you get uninterrupted coverage.

A few years ago I decided to get Sky TV (a satellite service in the UK). It promised a multitude of different channels, but most of these turned out to broadcast complete drivel. Even the channels with something worth viewing suffered from interminable adverts – easily 10 minutes at a time – which is a complete distraction from what you are trying to watch. For me the clincher happened when in the middle of an advert break I suddenly realized that I had no idea any more what programme I was watching – the adverts had gone on for that long. That same day I cancelled my Sky subscription.


When the BBC started in 1922 it was exclusively for radio. Television broadcasts did not start until 1936 2). Radio still forms an important part of the output of the BBC. Interestingly, the radio service is entirely free. The license fee (discussed above) is chargeable only on households with a television set. You can listen to the radio broadcasts as much as you like without charge.

There are numerous channels available catering for all audiences. Radio 1 is a music station targeted at a young demographic – these listeners often move to Radio 2 as they age. There is also a classical station (Radio 3) and a station dedicated to news and current affairs (Radio 4). In addition there are a large selection of local radio stations. 3) These days it is of course possible to listen to any of the local radio stations irrespective of what part of the country you are living in, so you can keep tabs on what is happening in an area you used to live in.

When I lived in South Oxfordshire (on the border with Berkshire), my house was located in a particularly bad place for radio reception. As a consequence I tuned in to the only radio station I could satisfactorily receive – BBC Radio Berkshire. Later when digital and internet radio became available I could have switched to listen to almost any station. It is a testimony to the quality of BBC local radio that I did not switch stations. These days, living on the South coast, I tune in to BBC Radio Solent, but I still listen to BBC Radio Berkshire from time to time.

Irritating things the BBC do

There are certain things the BBC do that annoy me, and these mostly relate to certain gimmicks they use in news programmes, as I shall describe in the following sections.

Reporters standing outside in the dark

This happens all the time. There has been some event occurring during the day which is being reported. Very often it might be a debate at the houses of Parliament, or some announcement that the government have made at Downing Street. But the point is that by the time of the news broadcast (at 10PM in the evening) whatever it is that is being reported is long since finished, most likely several hours previously.

And yet the poor reporter is for some reason expected to stand, late in the evening, outside the Houses of Parliament, or Downing Street, or whatever the location is. It will be dark, and may be cold and wet, and yet the reporter, along with an outside broadcast filming crew, is still there to deliver his report “live”. There is nothing to be seen in the background except the location itself, and possibly a bus going past.


What possible reason can there be for this? Of course the reporter will have been there when the event was actually taking place, but why do they still have to stand there hours later? It is complete madness. In a sane world the reporter would return back to base, record their report in a warm studio and then go home. Not only is there no need for them to be still standing around outside Parliament hours later, but there is no need for them to deliver a “live” report at all. It could all have been recorded hours previously.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine a few months ago. His reaction? “You know, that has really never occurred to me before, but now you have mentioned it, it is going to irritate me every time I watch the news.”

Fake Discussions

There has been a trend recently for scripted interview between the news anchor and the reporter of a particular piece. The reporter will first deliver their report to camera – this will normally have been pre-recorded, but in some cases it is delivered live. There then follows a “discussion” between the news anchor and the reporter. Normally this is with the reporter of the report that has just been broadcast, but it can also be with an entirely different correspondent.

But this is not a real discussion, it is an artificial device where the anchor prompts the correspondent with prearranged questions and the correspondent does most of the talking. It seems to be an attempt to make the news delivery less formal. The appearance that they are trying to achieve is that of a casual conversation about the news item between the two reporters. But that is not the case here – it is simply a way of prompting the reporter to deliver more pre-planned information. Why does it have to be done like this?

The situation is much different from the types of discussion that you get between a sports reporter and an expert commentator. A typical example of this is between frames in a snooker match. Typically the presenter will have a 1 or 2 ex-players in the studio, and when he asks the expert on his opinion of what has happened in the previous frame, it is a genuine question. This is a good format because the presenter will often ask the expert questions that an average viewer might wonder about, and very often it is a good way of getting interesting comments from the ex-players that might not otherwise have been forthcoming.

Asking the opinion of a random person in the street

This really annoys me. The scenario is typically as follows. The government has made some policy decision – something that has an impact on most of the population. Let’s say there has been a change made to immigration policy.

For some reason the BBC often feel it necessary to send their reporter out into the street and stop random people in the street to ask them their opinion about it. Well, in all honesty I am not interested in the opinion of some random person on the street. I want to hear what the experts have to say about it. In this case experts might include business leaders to assess the impact (positive or negative) on jobs, and planning officials to speculate on the impact to such things as housing and healthcare.

But instead we get to hear what someone chosen at random has to say about it. This is typically someone accosted by the reporter as they go about their daily business. But the thing is, to counter possible claims of political bias in the reporting, several people have to be chosen until a selection of people with suitably different opinions is found. This selection of interviews is then broadcast. So what have we learned from that? Not much is the answer. I saw an example of this on the news just this very evening. The government is planning a reduction in the speed limit on part of the M3 motorway from 70 miles per hour to 60 miles per hour. Out go the reporters to interview the random people on the street, and the selection of views they chose to broadcast were

  • “I think it is a good idea to help the traffic flow”
  • “I don't agree with cutting speed limits”
  • “Nothing they do will solve the traffic problems”
  • “I don't drive much so I don't care”

Not very enlightening…

To be fair on the BBC they did also include an interview with a representative from the AA (Automobile Association) who as it turns out are against the proposal arguing that the targeted reductions in air pollution would fail to materialize.

Reporting with the event happening in the background

On the BBC they have only recently started doing this. It happens a lot with sporting events but also for example at a political conference. The reporter has prepared some comments to make, but waits until the moment that speaker makes their entrance to the stage to deliver these comments to camera. They position themselves with their back to the stage so that they can be filmed whilst we can still the entrance being made in the background.

There is no point to this, and it is just irritating. Even worse is when they do the same trick when the speaker is leaving the platform. Given that they have to worry about the setup and timing of the shot, this will inevitably compromise the attention they can give to the speech. And since the comments are pre-planned, they won’t have been able to listen to all of the speech in any case. I would far rather that a decent report was made a few minutes, or even hours, later.

Pressure is Mounting

I don't think that the BBC are the only culprits here, but very often, after some indiscretion by a prominent figure such as a politician, or senior policeman, you hear a headline such as “Pressure is mounting on <name> to resign in the wake of …”. The fact of the matter is that the “pressure”, if there is any, is being applied by the Media in general, and the BBC in particular. If the BBC editors have decided that they do not approve of what has happened, or even if they just think there is a good story to be made out of it, they will ensure that pressure is applied until the person in question is forced to resign. All they need to do is repeat, day after day, news item after news item, that “pressure” is mounting, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Final thought

One programme that I really enjoy on the BBC is entitled “Grumpy Old Men”. The format of the programme is quite simple – various well known people, of a certain age, say 45 upwards, are questioned about their views on certain aspects of modern day life, in particular things that have noticeably changed since they were in their youth 4). The interviewer is never seen nor heard (although there is a narrator), and the programme consists simply of the pontifications of the various contributors on matters such as text speak, political correctness, social networking and youth culture. I am reading back everything I have written in this article and have to declare myself a perfect candidate for appearing on this programme (even though I am not in the public eye). Maybe I should apply to the BBC in any case…

Television | United Kingdom | Media

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