Millennials

Dear BBC – please help kids without the internet in this pandemic.

Dear Director General Tim Davie,

The BBC is an institution of public service, made by public funding, and built for public use.

Over and above the vanity rhetoric that the BBC faces on a daily basis about it’s very existence, I would ask a more probing and specific question: why isn’t the BBC using its televisual and radio broadcasting power to help raise the millions of children in digital poverty, out of it?

Children and young adults who don’t have access to online learning – may well have access to television – and radio.

In fact – why aren’t any free-to-air broadcasters in the UK making good on their abilites?

Those aside, like everyone else with a TV licesnse, I pay for the BBC and expect more from you, so sadly I’ll have to aim the crosshairs for this large gripe at you. However if Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV and others want to snatch the mantle, they probably should.

So here it goes, Tim.

To inform

There is undoubtedly a Digital Divide – children without access to online learning who are losing out to an education they are prevented from accessing. The UK Children’s Commissioner this year estimates that 9% of families in the UK do not have a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.

Ofcom estimate that between 1.14m and 1.78m children in total in the UK have no home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.

The BBC has even covered this digital divide and therefore educational divide, in detail, (I’m guessing due to the online-remote modality of learning hoisted as the only solution by the Department for Education), in its own News coverage.

Yet, like a lost Yeti stumbling through the forest, the BBC seems to have forgotten that its own strength these days as a gentler giant, means it can go ahead do something about it.

Of couse, correct me if I’m wrong and you’re being stopped by your BBC Board from making the difference…

But even to them, I would remind them that they can play buzzword bingo, slurp about and non-exec your teams until the cows come home. First and foremost is: to inform, to educate and to entertain.

Three very simple, present tense verb participles that comprise the mission and indeed demand the BBC to be present to its public: to face up to what is happening in the UK as a whole, now – right now.

The BBC tries very hard to represent as many faces of UK society as possible. So why not now? The ‘educate’ part of the belief system at the Beeb, I would understand, has been lacking for the best part of a year.

As a former casual employee of the BBC, I’ve had the experience of a lifetime working in almost every ‘glamourous’ department and my privilege is having become a better person because of it. So then of course it also breaks my heart to see the org allow itself to be slapped and kicked about as the political football it has been reduced to over the 5 years or so, instead of using its might to prove everyone wrong. Honestly, I’ve even felt opposed to it myself in this regard.

And perhaps it’s worse now: the silence is deafening. The BBC is home to thousands of hours of publicly owned educational broadcasting, and retains the means with which to produce more should it so wish or be able to afford. This is something Netflix can’t do. It’s what the BBC does.

However, allowing the public to access such programming, through their TV licenses that they pay for has not been a BBC priority – at all. On a personal level, the opposition just turns to sadness: having previously succeeded in the traditional education system myself long ago, largely in part thanks to the resources developed by the teams at BBC Learning, which supported me when I was growing up, it feels deeply unfair that these materials’ reach cannot be extended for UK children today, 20 years down the line.

To Educate

The BBC – for the best part of a year – has long been in the position to equalise the playing field and use its bona fide, literal and figurative power as the largest national broadcaster, to show educational and informative programming which can help those who simply don’t have access to the internet, even if it’s only for a few hours per day.

And naturally, while it won’t be guaranteed to reach all those who may become lost forever from this locked-down system; (there are plenty of people without televisions and radios) – you’ll at least be making a difference to those that can reach these devices.

Don’t be another public pandemic failure: young people need to know they’re not going to become a forgotten generation. If I was young, I might think this was true given the unhealthy amount of eschatology and dopamine-inducing content that we all seem to be subject to now.

A failing Government, a failing Public Health England, a failing NHS – dont add the BBC to that.

Perhaps you’ve been so busy telling us what to do, that you’ve forgotten doing what helps.

Back in March last year, the BBC announced it would do the basics: keep us informed, retarget the BBC Food offering… delay the red button service, bring back shows that help people feel at home….

Right.

That’s great, but please can we do more? How empowering it could be for the BBC to set out its own ‘catch up on class’ styled broadcasting strategy for the UK to support young people who need to be informed, educated and entertained in a highly accessible, TV and radio format, even if only for a couple of hours per day; even if only for regions rather than nations. Preferably both, but there must be something.

To entertain

The BBC is also home to a plethora of Talent, who may be able to make schooling from home easier to manage for all involved. It might be a tall order, but in the age of ‘let’s bash someone’s wages’, the uniquely altruistic side of the BBC’s ambition is still in there somewhere, and you will have team members in there who will gladly volunteer their time. You just need to find them.

Dear Tim, dear BBC: this is your public role, your organisational job and part of the esteem of the “Auntie” – as a Royal Chartered organisation, I would also understand that the Nations and Regions deserve the world from you as a public service in this regard, quite rightly – by decree.

In a time of deep need, I don’t doubt that the BBC can dig deep, and step up.

I hope so, and I still believe that it can.

Yours sincerely

Jane


Refs

UK Children’s Commissioner: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2020/08/18/children-without-internet-access-during-lockdown/

Ofcom states (secondary source): https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/12488/html/

BBC 18 March 2020 statement: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2020/bbc-keeping-nation-informed-educated-entertained

Why we need to be proud of the BBC: https://culturegloss.com/2010/07/20/why-proudofthebbc-proud-of-the-bbc/

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