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The BBC is set to get another ten years of public money. Technology is undermining the case for much more after that
AS A boy growing up in the 1930s in the Midlands, Norman Painting, the son of a railwayman, listened to a new radio service from the British Broadcasting Corporation. His mother hoped he would get a job as a manager at the mine, but listening to the voices from London talking about world affairs, culture and music gave him other ideas. “The radio opened a door to the world,” says Mr Painting, who went on to Oxford University on a scholarship and became an academic before later working for the BBC's Radio 4 in its long-running soap, “The Archers”. “I often say that really I was educated by the BBC.” (来源:英语麦当劳 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

Mr Painting's story helps to explain Britain's devotion to what it calls “public-service broadcasting”, and why the state has spent increasing sums of money—£3.3 billion ($5.9 billion) in the year to March 2006—on the BBC. Last year, after acrimonious debate, the government renewed its financing for the next decade through a compulsory flat “TV licence” on all households with televisions. It will soon announce the precise amount of money the broadcaster will get over the next six years. According to recent reports, the BBC will have to make do with annual increases below retail-price inflation, less than it asked for. Even so, it is fortunate to be handed a guaranteed income over several years. Among developed countries, only Germany's government spends more than Britain's on broadcasting as a share of GDP. America's dispenses next to nothing, preferring to leave it to the market.

For the next ten years the BBC's position looks secure. Yet it is getting harder to argue that the state should
pay for it. The BBC's purpose, according to its first director-general, John Reith, was to “inform, educate and entertain”. “A redundant piece of voodoo,” said Michael Jackson five years ago when he was head of Channel 4, a commercially financed public-service broadcaster. He called Reith's mission “a paternalistic exercise in adult education by the wing-collared classes”.

Whether or not his charge was correct, the BBC cannot now have anything like the educative effect it used to have. Though it remains Britain's dominant source of in-depth news and most reliable provider of high-quality programming, changes in technology and media habits are splintering its audience and making it harder to tag improving shows on to entertaining ones.

 
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