The BBC dated back to 18 October 1922; 97 years ago (as British Broadcasting Company) and 1 January 1927; 93 years ago (as British Broadcasting Corporation) has remained in the system, and is now the world’s oldest broadcasting station.
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The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, it is the world’s oldest national broadcaster, and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 22,000 staff in total, more than 16,000 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.
The BBC is established under a Royal Charter and operates under its Agreement with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Its work is funded principally by an annual television licence fee which is charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts and iPlayer catch-up. The fee is set by the British Government, agreed by Parliament, and used to fund the BBC’s radio, TV, and online services covering the nations and regions of the UK. Since 1 April 2014, it has also funded the BBC World Service (launched in 1932 as the BBC Empire Service), which broadcasts in 28 languages and provides comprehensive TV, radio, and online services in Arabic and Persian.
Around a quarter of BBC’s revenue comes from its commercial subsidiary BBC Studios (formerly BBC Worldwide), which sells BBC programmes and services internationally and also distributes the BBC’s international 24-hour English-language news services BBC World News, and from BBC.com, provided by BBC Global News Ltd. In 2009, the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of its international achievements.
From its inception, through the Second World War (where its broadcasts helped to unite the nation), to the popularisation of television in the post-WW2 era and the internet in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the BBC has played a prominent role in British life and culture. It is also known colloquially as “The Beeb”, “Auntie”, or a combination of both (as “Auntie Beeb”).
The birth of British broadcasting, 1920 to 1922
Britain’s first live public broadcast was made from the factory of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company in Chelmsford in June 1920. It was sponsored by the Daily Mail’s Lord Northcliffe and featured the famous Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. The Melba broadcast caught the people’s imagination and marked a turning point in the British public’s attitude to radio. However, this public enthusiasm was not shared in official circles where such broadcasts were held to interfere with important military and civil communications. By late 1920, pressure from these quarters and uneasiness among the staff of the licensing authority, the General Post Office (GPO), was sufficient to lead to a ban on further Chelmsford broadcasts.
But by 1922, the GPO had received nearly 100 broadcast licence requests and moved to rescind its ban in the wake of a petition by 63 wireless societies with over 3,000 members. Anxious to avoid the same chaotic expansion experienced in the United States, the GPO proposed that it would issue a single broadcasting licence to a company jointly owned by a consortium of leading wireless receiver manufacturers, to be known as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd. John Reith, a Scottish Calvinist, was appointed its General Manager in December 1922 a few weeks after the company made its first official broadcast. L. Stanton Jefferies was its first Director of Music. The company was to be financed by a royalty on the sale of BBC wireless receiving sets from approved domestic manufacturers. To this day, the BBC aims to follow the Reithian directive to “inform, educate and entertain”.
From private company towards public service corporation, 1923 to 1926
The financial arrangements soon proved inadequate. Set sales were disappointing as amateurs made their own receivers and listeners bought rival unlicensed sets. By mid-1923, discussions between the GPO and the BBC had become deadlocked and the Postmaster-General commissioned a review of broadcasting by the Sykes Committee. The Committee recommended a short term reorganisation of licence fees with improved enforcement in order to address the BBC’s immediate financial distress, and an increased share of the licence revenue split between it and the GPO. This was to be followed by a simple 10 shillings licence fee with no royalty once the wireless manufacturers’ protection expired. The BBC’s broadcasting monopoly was made explicit for the duration of its current broadcast licence, as was the prohibition on advertising. The BBC was also banned from presenting news bulletins before 19:00 and was required to source all news from external wire services.
Mid-1925 found the future of broadcasting under further consideration, this time by the Crawford committee. By now, the BBC, under Reith’s leadership, had forged a consensus favouring a continuation of the unified (monopoly) broadcasting service, but more money was still required to finance rapid expansion. Wireless manufacturers were anxious to exit the loss making consortium with Reith keen that the BBC be seen as a public service rather than a commercial enterprise. The recommendations of the Crawford Committee were published in March the following year and were still under consideration by the GPO when the 1926 general strike broke out in May. The strike temporarily interrupted newspaper production, and with restrictions on news bulletins waived, the BBC suddenly became the primary source of news for the duration of the crisis.
The crisis placed the BBC in a delicate position. On one hand Reith was acutely aware that the government might exercise its right to commandeer the BBC at any time as a mouthpiece of the government if the BBC were to step out of line, but on the other he was anxious to maintain public trust by appearing to be acting independently. The government was divided on how to handle the BBC but ended up trusting Reith, whose opposition to the strike mirrored the PM’s own. Although Winston Churchill in particular wanted to commander the BBC to use it “to the best possible advantage”, Reith wrote that Stanley Baldwin’s government wanted to be able to say “that they did not commandeer [the BBC], but they know that they can trust us not to be really impartial”. Thus the BBC was granted sufficient leeway to pursue the government’s objectives largely in a manner of its own choosing. The resulting coverage of both striker and government viewpoints impressed millions of listeners who were unaware that the PM had broadcast to the nation from Reith’s home, using one of Reith’s sound bites inserted at the last moment, or that the BBC had banned broadcasts from the Labour Party and delayed a peace appeal by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Supporters of the strike nicknamed the BBC the BFC for British Falsehood Company. Reith personally announced the end of the strike which he marked by reciting from Blake’s “Jerusalem” signifying that England had been saved.
While the BBC tends to characterise its coverage of the general strike by emphasising the positive impression created by its balanced coverage of the views of government and strikers, Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History and the Official BBC Historian, has characterised the episode as the invention of “modern propaganda in its British form”. Reith argued that trust gained by ‘authentic impartial news’ could then be used. Impartial news was not necessarily an end in itself.
The BBC did well out of the crisis, which cemented a national audience for its broadcasting, and it was followed by the Government’s acceptance of the recommendation made by the Crawford Committee (1925–26) that the British Broadcasting Company be replaced by a non-commercial, Crown-chartered organisation: the British Broadcasting Corporation.
2011 to present
Further cuts were announced on 6 October 2011, so the BBC could reach a total reduction in their budget of 20%, following the licence fee freeze in October 2010, which included cutting staff by 2,000 and sending a further 1,000 to the MediaCityUK development in Salford, with BBC Three moving online only in 2016, the sharing of more programmes between stations and channels, sharing of radio news bulletins, more repeats in schedules, including the whole of BBC Two daytime and for some original programming to be reduced. BBC HD was closed on 26 March 2013, and replaced with an HD simulcast of BBC Two; however, flagship programmes, other channels and full funding for CBBC and CBeebies would be retained. Numerous BBC facilities have been sold off, including New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in Manchester. Many major departments have been relocated to Broadcasting House in central London and MediaCityUK in Salford, particularly since the closure of BBC Television Centre in March 2013. On 16 February 2016, the BBC Three television service was discontinued and replaced by a digital outlet under the same name, targeting its young adult audience with web series and other content.
Under the new royal charter instituted 2017, the corporation must publish an annual report to Ofcom, outlining its plans and public service obligations for the next year. In its 2017–18 report, released July 2017, the BBC announced plans to “re-invent” its output to better compete against commercial streaming services such as Netflix. These plans included increasing the diversity of its content on television and radio, a major increase in investments towards digital children’s content, and plans to make larger investments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to “rise to the challenge of better reflecting and representing a changing UK.
Governance and corporate structure
The BBC is a statutory corporation, independent from direct government intervention, with its activities being overseen from April 2017 by the BBC Board and regulated by Ofcom. The Chairman is Sir David Clementi.
The BBC operates under a Royal Charter. The current Charter came into effect on 1 January 2017 and runs until 31 December 2026. The 2017 charter abolished the BBC Trust and replaced it with external regulation by Ofcom, with governance by the BBC Board.
Under the Royal Charter, the BBC must obtain a licence from the Home Secretary. This licence is accompanied by an agreement which sets the terms and conditions under which the BBC is allowed to broadcast.
The BBC Board was formed in April 2017. It replaced the previous governing body, the BBC Trust, which in itself had replaced the Board of Governors in 2007. The Board sets the strategy for the corporation, assesses the performance of the BBC Executive Board in delivering the BBC’s services, and appoints the Director-General. Regulation of the BBC is now the responsibility of Ofcom. The Board consists of the following members.
The Executive Committee is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the broadcaster. Consisting of senior managers of the BBC, the Committee meets once per month and is responsible for operational management and delivery of services within a framework set by the Board, and is chaired by the Director-General, currently Tony Hall.
The Director-General is chief executive and (from 1994) editor-in-chief.
The corporation has the following in-house divisions covering the BBC’s output and operations:
Content, headed by Charlotte Moore is in charge of the corporation’s television channels including the commissioning of programming.
Radio and Education headed by James Purnell is in charge of BBC Radio and music content across the BBC under the BBC Music brand, including music programmes on BBC Television, events such as the BBC Proms and the numerous orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic, as well as the children’s channel CBBC.
News and Current Affairs headed by Fran Unsworth operates the BBC News operation, including the national, regional and international output on television, radio and online, as well as the output of the BBC Global News division. It is also in charge of the corporation’s Current Affairs programming and have some responsibility for sports output.
The Deputy Director General Group headed by Anne Bulford, contains Design & Engineering, which is in charge of all digital output, such as BBC Online, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button service and developing new technologies through BBC Research & Development. The division also includes other pan-BBC functions including Finance, HR, Strategy, Security and Property.
Nations and Regions, headed by Ken MacQuarrie is responsible for the corporation’s divisions in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the English Regions.
The BBC also operates a number of wholly owned commercial divisions:
BBC Studios, headed by Tim Davie, is the former in-house television production; Entertainment, Music & Events, Factual and Scripted (drama and comedy). Following a merger with BBC Worldwide in April 2018, it also operates international channels and sells programmes and merchandise in the UK and abroad to gain additional income that is returned to BBC programmes. It is kept separate from the corporation due to its commercial nature.
BBC World News department is in charge of the production and distribution of its commercial global television channel. It works closely with the BBC News group, but is not governed by it, and shares the corporation’s facilities and staff. It also works with BBC Studios, the channel’s distributor.
BBC Studioworks is also separate and officially owns and operates some of the BBC’s studio facilities, such as the BBC Elstree Centre, leasing them out to productions from within and outside of the corporation.
MI5 vetting policy
From as early as the 1930s until the 1990s, MI5, the British domestic intelligence service, engaged in vetting of applicants for BBC positions, a policy designed to keep out persons deemed subversive. In 1933, BBC executive Colonel Alan Dawnay began to meet with the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, to informally trade information; from 1935, a formal arrangement was made wherein job applicants would be secretly vetted by MI5 for their political views (without their knowledge). The BBC took up a policy of denying any suggestion of such a relationship by the press (the existence of MI5 itself was not officially acknowledged until the Security Service Act 1989.
This relationship garnered wider public attention after an article by David Leigh and Paul Lashmar appeared in The Observer in August 1985, revealing that MI5 had been vetting appointments, running operations out of Room 105 in Broadcasting House. At the time of the exposé, the operation was being ran by Ronnie Stonham. A memo from 1984 revealed that blacklisted organizations included the far-left Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency, as well as the far-right National Front and the British National Party. An association with one of these groups could result in a denial of a job application.
In October 1985, the BBC announced that it would stop the vetting process, except for a few people in top roles, as well as those in charge of Wartime Broadcasting Service emergency broadcasting (in event of a nuclear war) and staff in the BBC World Service. In 1990, following the Security Service Act 1989, vetting was further restricted to only those responsible for wartime broadcasting and those with access to secret government information. Michael Hodder, who succeeded Stonham, had the MI5 vetting files sent to the BBC Information and Archives in Reading, Berkshire.
The BBC has the second largest budget of any UK-based broadcaster with an operating expenditure of £4.722 billion in 2013/14 compared with £6.471 billion for British Sky Broadcasting in 2013/14 and £1.843 billion for ITV in the calendar year 2013.
The principal means of funding the BBC is through the television licence, costing £154.50 per year per household since April 2019. Such a licence is required to legally receive broadcast television across the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. No licence is required to own a television used for other means, or for sound only radio sets (though a separate licence for these was also required for non-TV households until 1971). The cost of a television licence is set by the government and enforced by the criminal law. A discount is available for households with only black-and-white television sets. A 50% discount is also offered to people who are registered blind or severely visually impaired, and the licence is completely free for any household containing anyone aged 75 or over. However, from August 2020, the licence fee will only be waived if over 75 and receiving pension credit.
The BBC pursues its licence fee collection and enforcement under the trading name “TV Licensing”. The revenue is collected privately by Capita, an outside agency, and is paid into the central government Consolidated Fund, a process defined in the Communications Act 2003. Funds are then allocated by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Treasury and approved by Parliament via legislation. Additional revenues are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions to compensate for subsidised licences for eligible over-75-year-olds.
The licence fee is classified as a tax, and its evasion is a criminal offence. Since 1991, collection and enforcement of the licence fee has been the responsibility of the BBC in its role as TV Licensing Authority. The BBC carries out surveillance (mostly using subcontractors) on properties (under the auspices of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and may conduct searches of a property using a search warrant. According to TV Licensing, 216,900 people in the UK were caught watching TV without a licence in 2018/19. Licence fee evasion makes up around one-tenth of all cases prosecuted in magistrates’ courts, representing 0.3% of court time.
Income from commercial enterprises and from overseas sales of its catalogue of programmes has substantially increased over recent years, with BBC Worldwide contributing some £243 million to the BBC’s core public service business.
According to the BBC’s 2018/19 Annual Report, its total income was £4.8 billion (£4,889 billion) a decrease from £5,062 billion in 2017/18 – partly owing to a 3.7% phased reduction in government funding for free over-75s TV licences, which can be broken down as follows:
£3.690 billion in licence fees collected from householders;
£1.199 billion from the BBC’s commercial businesses and government grants some of which will cease in 2020
The licence fee has, however, attracted criticism. It has been argued that in an age of multi-stream, multi-channel availability, an obligation to pay a licence fee is no longer appropriate. The BBC’s use of private sector company Capita Group to send letters to premises not paying the licence fee has been criticised, especially as there have been cases where such letters have been sent to premises which are up to date with their payments, or do not require a TV licence.
The BBC uses advertising campaigns to inform customers of the requirement to pay the licence fee. Past campaigns have been criticised by Conservative MP Boris Johnson and former MP Ann Widdecombe for having a threatening nature and language used to scare evaders into paying. Audio clips and television broadcasts are used to inform listeners of the BBC’s comprehensive database. There are a number of pressure groups campaigning on the issue of the licence fee.
The majority of the BBC’s commercial output comes from its commercial arm BBC Worldwide who sell programmes abroad and exploit key brands for merchandise. Of their 2012/13 sales, 27% were centred on the five key “superbrands” of Doctor Who, Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing (known as Dancing with the Stars internationally), the BBC’s archive of natural history programming (collected under the umbrella of BBC Earth) and the (now sold) travel guide brand Lonely Planet.
The following expenditure figures are from 2012/13 and show the expenditure of each service they are obliged to provide:
A significantly large portion of the BBC’s income is spent on the corporation’s Television and Radio services with each service having a different budget based upon their content.
Technology (Atos service)
In 2004, the BBC contracted out its former BBC Technology division to the German engineering and electronics company Siemens IT Solutions and Services (SIS), outsourcing its IT, telephony and broadcast technology systems. When Atos Origin acquired the SIS division from Siemens in December 2010 for €850 million (£720m), the BBC support contract also passed to Atos, and in July 2011, the BBC announced to staff that its technology support would become an Atos service. Siemens staff working on the BBC contract were transferred to Atos; the BBC’s Information Technology systems are now managed by Atos. In 2011, the BBC’s Chief Financial Officer Zarin Patel stated to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that, following criticism of the BBC’s management of major IT projects with Siemens (such as the Digital Media Initiative), the BBC partnership with Atos would be instrumental in achieving cost savings of around £64 million as part of the BBC’s “Delivering Quality First” programme. In 2012, the BBC’s Chief Technology Officer, John Linwood, expressed confidence in service improvements to the BBC’s technology provision brought about by Atos. He also stated that supplier accountability had been strengthened following some high-profile technology failures which had taken place during the partnership with Siemens.
The BBC’s online presence includes a comprehensive news website and archive. The BBC’s first official online service was the BBC Networking Club, which was launched on 11 May 1994. The service was subsequently relaunched as BBC Online in 1997, before being renamed BBCi, then bbc.co.uk, before it was rebranded back as BBC Online. The website is funded by the Licence fee, but uses GeoIP technology, allowing advertisements to be carried on the site when viewed outside of the UK. The BBC claims the site to be “Europe’s most popular content-based site” and states that 13.2 million people in the UK visit the site’s more than two million pages each day.
The centre of the website is the Homepage, which features a modular layout. Users can choose which modules, and which information, is displayed on their homepage, allowing the user to customise it. This system was first launched in December 2007, becoming permanent in February 2008, and has undergone a few aesthetical changes since then. The Homepage then has links to other micro-sites, such as BBC News Online, Sport, Weather, TV and Radio. As part of the site, every programme on BBC Television or Radio is given its own page, with bigger programmes getting their own micro-site, and as a result it is often common for viewers and listeners to be told website addresses (URLs) for the programme website.
Another large part of the site also allows users to watch and listen to most Television and Radio output live and for seven days after broadcast using the BBC iPlayer platform, which launched on 27 July 2007, and initially used peer-to-peer and DRM technology to deliver both radio and TV content of the last seven days for offline use for up to 30 days, since then video is now streamed directly. Also, through participation in the Creative Archive Licence group, bbc.co.uk allowed legal downloads of selected archive material via the internet.
The BBC has often included learning as part of its online service, running services such as BBC Jam, Learning Zone Class Clips and also runs services such as BBC WebWise and First Click which are designed to teach people how to use the internet. BBC Jam was a free online service, delivered through broadband and narrowband connections, providing high-quality interactive resources designed to stimulate learning at home and at school. Initial content was made available in January 2006; however, BBC Jam was suspended on 20 March 2007 due to allegations made to the European Commission that it was damaging the interests of the commercial sector of the industry.
In recent years, some major on-line companies and politicians have complained that BBC Online receives too much funding from the television licence, meaning that other websites are unable to compete with the vast amount of advertising-free on-line content available on BBC Online. Some have proposed that the amount of licence fee money spent on BBC Online should be reduced—either being replaced with funding from advertisements or subscriptions, or a reduction in the amount of content available on the site. In response to this the BBC carried out an investigation, and has now set in motion a plan to change the way it provides its online services. BBC Online will now attempt to fill in gaps in the market, and will guide users to other websites for currently existing market provision. (For example, instead of providing local events information and timetables, users will be guided to outside websites already providing that information.) Part of this plan included the BBC closing some of its websites, and rediverting money to redevelop other parts.
On 26 February 2010, The Times claimed that Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, proposed that the BBC’s web output should be cut by 50%, with online staff numbers and budgets reduced by 25% in a bid to scale back BBC operations and allow commercial rivals more room. On 2 March 2010, the BBC reported that it will cut its website spending by 25% and close BBC 6 Music and Asian Network, as part of Mark Thompson’s plans to make “a smaller, fitter BBC for the digital age”.
BBC News is the largest broadcast news gathering operation in the world, providing services to BBC domestic radio as well as television networks such as the BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC World News. In addition to this, news stories are available on the BBC Red Button service and BBC News Online. In addition to this, the BBC has been developing new ways to access BBC News, as a result has launched the service on BBC Mobile, making it accessible to mobile phones and PDAs, as well as developing alerts by e-mail, digital television, and on computers through a desktop alert.
Ratings figures suggest that during major incidents such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings or royal events, the UK audience overwhelmingly turns to the BBC’s coverage as opposed to its commercial rivals. On 7 July 2005, the day that there were a series of coordinated bomb blasts on London’s public transport system, the BBC Online website recorded an all time bandwidth peak of 11 Gb/s at 12.00 on 7 July. BBC News received some 1 billion total hits on the day of the event (including all images, text and HTML), serving some 5.5 terabytes of data. At peak times during the day there were 40,000 page requests per second for the BBC News website. The previous day’s announcement of the 2012 Olympics being awarded to London caused a peak of around 5 Gbit/s. The previous all-time high at BBC Online was caused by the announcement of the Michael Jackson verdict, which used 7.2 Gbit/s.
The BBC has ten radio stations serving the whole of the UK, a further seven stations in the “national regions” (Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), and 39 other local stations serving defined areas of England. Of the ten national stations, five are major stations and are available on FM and/or AM as well as on DAB and online. These are BBC Radio 1, offering new music and popular styles and being notable for its chart show; BBC Radio 2, playing Adult contemporary, country and soul music amongst many other genres; BBC Radio 3, presenting classical and jazz music together with some spoken-word programming of a cultural nature in the evenings; BBC Radio 4, focusing on current affairs, factual and other speech-based programming, including drama and comedy; and BBC Radio 5 Live, broadcasting 24-hour news, sport and talk programmes.
In addition to these five stations, the BBC runs a further five stations that broadcast on DAB and online only. These stations supplement and expand on the big five stations, and were launched in 2002. BBC Radio 1Xtra sisters Radio 1, and broadcasts new black music and urban tracks. BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra sisters 5 Live and offers extra sport analysis, including broadcasting sports that previously were not covered. BBC Radio 6 Music offers alternative music genres and is notable as a platform for new artists.
BBC Radio 7, later renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra, provided archive drama, comedy and children’s programming. Following the change to Radio 4 Extra, the service has dropped a defined children’s strand in favour of family-friendly drama and comedy. In addition, new programmes to complement Radio 4 programmes were introduced such as Ambridge Extra, and Desert Island Discs revisited. The final station is the BBC Asian Network, providing music, talk and news to this section of the community. This station evolved out of Local radio stations serving certain areas, and as such this station is available on Medium Wave frequency in some areas of the Midlands.
As well as the national stations, the BBC also provides 40 BBC Local Radio stations in England and the Channel Islands, each named for and covering a particular city and its surrounding area (e.g. BBC Radio Bristol), county or region (e.g. BBC Three Counties Radio), or geographical area (e.g. BBC Radio Solent covering the central south coast). A further six stations broadcast in what the BBC terms “the national regions”: Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These are BBC Radio Wales (in English), BBC Radio Cymru (in Welsh), BBC Radio Scotland (in English), BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (in Scottish Gaelic), BBC Radio Ulster, and BBC Radio Foyle, the latter being an opt-out station from Radio Ulster for the north-west of Northern Ireland.
The BBC’s UK national channels are also broadcast in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (although these Crown dependencies are outside the UK), and in the former there are two local stations – BBC Guernsey and BBC Radio Jersey. There is no BBC local radio station, however, in the Isle of Man, partly because the island has long been served by the popular independent commercial station, Manx Radio, which predates the existence of BBC Local Radio. BBC services in the dependencies are financed from television licence fees which are set at the same level as those payable in the UK, although collected locally. This is the subject of some controversy in the Isle of Man since, as well as having no BBC Local Radio service, the island also lacks a local television news service analogous to that provided by BBC Channel Islands.
For a worldwide audience, the BBC World Service provides news, current affairs and information in 28 languages, including English, around the world and is available in over 150 capital cities. It is broadcast worldwide on shortwave radio, DAB and online and has an estimated weekly audience of 192 million, and its websites have an audience of 38 million people per week. Since 2005, it is also available on DAB in the UK, a step not taken before, due to the way it is funded. The service is funded by a Parliamentary Grant-in-Aid, administered by the Foreign Office; however, following the Government’s spending review in 2011, this funding will cease, and it will be funded for the first time through the Licence fee. In recent years, some services of the World Service have been reduced; the Thai service ended in 2006, as did the Eastern European languages, with resources diverted instead into the new BBC Arabic Television.
Historically, the BBC was the only legal radio broadcaster based in the UK mainland until 1967, when University Radio York (URY), then under the name Radio York, was launched as the first, and now oldest, legal independent radio station in the country. However, the BBC did not enjoy a complete monopoly before this as several Continental stations, such as Radio Luxembourg, had broadcast programmes in English to Britain since the 1930s and the Isle of Man-based Manx Radio began in 1964. Today, despite the advent of commercial radio, BBC radio stations remain among the most listened to in the country, with Radio 2 having the largest audience share (up to 16.8% in 2011–12) and Radios 1 and 4 ranked second and third in terms of weekly reach.
BBC programming is also available to other services and in other countries. Since 1943, the BBC has provided radio programming to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which broadcasts in countries where British troops are stationed. BBC Radio 1 is also carried in the United States and Canada on Sirius XM Radio (online streaming only).
The BBC is a patron of The Radio Academy.
Controversy and criticism
Throughout its existence, the BBC has faced numerous accusations regarding many topics: the Iraq war, politics, ethics and religion, as well as funding and staffing. It also has been involved in numerous controversies because of its coverage of specific news stories and programming. In October 2014, the BBC Trust issued the “BBC complaints framework”, outlining complaints and appeals procedures. However, the regulatory oversight of the BBC may be transferred to OFCOM. The British “House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport” recommended in its report “The Future of the BBC”, that OFCOM should become the final arbiter of complaints made about the BBC.
The BBC has long faced accusations from conservatives of liberal and left-wing bias. Accusations of a bias against the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party were often made against the BBC by members of that government, with Margaret Thatcher herself considering the broadcaster’s news coverage to be biased and irresponsible. In 2011, Peter Sissons, a main news presenter at the BBC from 1989–2009, said that “at the core of the BBC, in its very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left”. Another BBC presenter, Andrew Marr, commented that “the BBC is not impartial or neutral. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.” Former BBC director Roger Mosey classified it as “liberal defensive.”
Conversely, writing for The Guardian, the left-wing columnist Owen Jones stated “the truth is the BBC is stacked full of rightwingers,” and he cited as an example of bias its employment of “ultra-Thatcherite” Andrew Neil as a politics presenter. Paul Mason, the former Economics Editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, criticised the BBC as “unionist” in relation to its coverage of the Scottish independence referendum campaign and said its senior employees tended to be of a “neo-liberal” point of view. The BBC has also been characterised as a pro-monarchist institution. The BBC was accused of propaganda by conservative journalist and author Toby Young due to what he believed to be an anti-Brexit approach, which included a day of live programming on migration.
A 2018 opinion poll by BMG Research found that 40% of the British public think that the BBC is politically partisan, with a nearly even split between those that believe it leans to the left or right.
In 2008, the BBC was criticised by some for referring to the men who carried out the November 2008 Mumbai attacks as “gunmen” rather than “terrorists”. In protest against the use of the word “gunmen” by the BBC, journalist Mobashar Jawed “M.J.” Akbar refused to take part in an interview following the Mumbai terror attacks, and criticised the BBC’s reportage of the incident. British parliamentarian Stephen Pound has supported these claims, referring to the BBC’s whitewashing of the terror attacks as “the worst sort of mealy mouthed posturing. It is desperation to avoid causing offence which ultimately causes more offence to everyone.”
A BBC World Service newsreader who presented a daily show produced for Kyrgyzstan was claimed to have participated in an opposition movement with the goal of overthrowing the government led by president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The BBC presenter resigned from his post in 2010 once the allegations of his participation in the revolution became public.