The fight for the future of the BBC | podcast

For more than a hundred years the BBC has been a mainstay of British life. The broadcaster’s news bulletins, soap operas, children’s programming, comedies, dramas, concerts, sport coverage and nature documentaries have shaped the nation’s identity, and won the enduring loyalty of audiences around the world.

Since 1922, the BBC’s offerings have been funded by its licence fee – a charge originally linked to purchase of a wireless radio, Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian’s chief culture writer and author of This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC, notes. Today, that fee comes to £159 per year, or 43p per day.

But this week, the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, announced that the government would be freezing the BBC licence fee for the next two years, forcing the BBC to make deep cuts to its programming. Though the announcement seemed clearly designed to distract from calls for Boris Johnson to resign as prime minister, it’s part of a much bigger fight about the broadcaster’s future.

Millions of pounds are at stake, and so is the very identity of a storied, civic-minded British institution, which arguably represents the very character of the UK itself. Guardian media reporter Jim Waterson tells Michael Safi there are practical reasons to do away with the licence fee – but the real question is whether or not politicians are willing to make a good-faith effort to find alternate sources of funding.

Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

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