We’re launching Business Insider UK this week (yay!).
As part of the launch, I have the privilege and pleasure of visiting our team in London and talking with many members of the British media. I’m also getting a firsthand look at a part of East London known as the “Silicon Roundabout,” where many of the city’s tech startups are located.
(It’s cool! Looks like a cross between Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Berkeley, California. There are universities, cafes, sleek new apartment buildings, street football games, and old “Iron Monger” factories.)
This morning, Simon Jack and the team at the BBC’s “Today” program were kind enough to host me for an interview at the BBC’s stupendous headquarters in downtown London.
The BBC is a remarkable organisation. It’s the oldest and biggest national broadcasting company in the world. It has 23,000 staff. The building I visited this morning, a gleaming, glass-filled tower with an open core, houses more than 5,000 journalists producing top-notch journalism across radio, television, and digital.
The BBC would be the envy of any media organisation. The size and stability of its budget and relative freedom from commercial concerns (see below) allow it to produce an extraordinary amount of exceptional journalism and programming.
But it’s also controversial.
The BBC is established and governed by the British government, and the vast majority of the its budget comes from a tax on British television users.
Everyone who watches TV in Britain, even those who pull signals out of the air, has to pay a tax of 145 pounds (about $US200) a year to fund the BBC.
Avoiding this tax is a criminal offence.
According to Wikipedia, in 2012, “‘more than 204,000 people in the UK were caught watching TV without a licence during the first six months of 2012’. Licence fee evasion makes up around one tenth of all cases prosecuted in magistrate courts.”
Not surprisingly, because of this source of funding, the BBC’s very existence is controversial. And the organisation is perpetually under intense scrutiny for signs of bias in its reporting.
In the United States, where many citizens reflexively hate the government and taxes of all kinds, and where most media organisations (including the small and modestly subsidized National Public Radio) are viewed by some conservatives as liberal propaganda networks, the existence of the BBC would be almost unfathomable.