Is it time to end licence fees for the BBC and Japan’s NHK?
As an experienced broadcast journalist, I was horrified when I learned that the BBC used deceit and manipulation to get an interview with Princess Diana in 1997.
I wasn’t working for the BBC at that time. I was still with their commercial rival, ITN.
But a report into the case has found that journalist Martin Bashir conspired with a graphic designer to create fake bank statements, which were then used as part of an elaborate plot which was presented to the princess.
Not surprisingly, the BBC’s critics have seized on this to say that the system by which it’s funded, a licence fee, is “not fit for purpose”.
The UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the BBC needs far-reaching change in the wake of the scandal.
The BBC also has prominent critics inside the governing Conservative party.
One of them, Shipley MP Philip Davies, complained recently that the BBC “has over-representation of people with left-leaning, woke, politically correct beliefs that in no way reflect the views of the majority of the British people.”
Mr Davies said: “The BBC could also focus on the wages of BBC presenters who get rich or richer on the back of the licence payer. Like the politically opinionated football presenter and pundit Gary Lineker – with his eye-watering earnings – the equivalent of thousands of free TV licences.”
Japan’s NHK is funded in a similar way to the BBC but its critics tend to come from the left, rather than the right.
They claim that NHK Television – also known as the Japan Broadcasting Corporation — is in danger of becoming the government’s public relations agency.
Last year, its president Katsuto Momii appeared to say it would give priority to official government sources and offer less airtime to people with other points of view.
He was reported as saying: “If various assessments by experts were broadcast, it would only end up unnecessarily raising concerns among the public.”
Some newspapers, including the Asahi Shimbun, complained, saying Mr Momii has ignored the basic premise of broadcast journalism, which is to accurately reflect a range of views on controversial subjects and not just the opinion of the government.
In Japan, the relationship between the government and the media has a troubled legacy.
In the run up to the Second World War, almost all the Japanese media was turned into a propaganda tool for the military regime. Dissenting voices were suppressed with intimidation and violence.
So the culture of freedom of speech which has emerged since the War is relatively new. It is also relatively unusual in East Asia, where countries such as China routinely censor media reports.
Japanese journalists who work for the major newspapers and broadcasters tend to have a fairly deferential approach towards the government.
This is in contrast to the more adversarial approach of the press in the UK and America, where journalists see it as their role to point out the shortcomings of their leaders.
As a journalist, I see good aspects of the media cultures of both countries. But I still wonder if, in an age when paid-for subscription services such as Netflix are so popular, a licence fee system really makes sense.