One defence of the BBC is that if it faces accusations of bias from the Right and the Left, or from Nationalists and Unionists, or Leavers and Remainers, then it must be maintaining its requirement of impartiality reasonably well. And Ofcom’s report, which concludes that “the current polarised political climate presents a challenge” to the corporation’s political neutrality, accepts that those who are most critical of the broadcaster tend to be those with the strongest political opinions.

Even so, the perception that the BBC gives too much coverage to extreme positions on several political issues, that it is inclined to mistake “false equivalence” for balance, and that it is too “white, middle class and London-centric” ought to give the corporation pause for thought. Dissatisfaction with the BBC, particularly pronounced in Scotland, cannot be written off as just malcontent cranks or political activists attempting to manufacture grievances. Ofcom points out that, in stories where a difference between policy on devolved matters might have been noted, fewer than half of the BBC’s reports troubled to do so.

Given the areas central to policy debate – including health, policing and education – that are entirely devolved, that is an obvious deficiency in reporting. The BBC’s response that, since the report covers only the period to March 2019, it fails to take account of the impact of the BBC Scotland channel might carry more conviction if it were apparent that the new station had been a resounding success.

Yet despite its annual budget of £32 million, figures released in the summer found that 21 programmes, including the 7 o’clock news bulletin, recorded no viewers at all under the BARB ratings, while the peak evening audience was no more than 3 per cent of the population.

If the BBC cannot adequately reflect differing national and regional policies and priorities, even when it devotes entire channels and numerous geographic opt-outs to that end, it’s because the corporation has become altogether too cumbersome. Even those who defend the case for a public sector broadcaster with a charter requirement of impartiality, or who admire the undoubted quality of much of the BBC’s output, may question whether it requires quite so many channels and digital outlets, which include areas – such as revision and university entrance guides for schoolchildren – which seem no obvious part of its remit.

The quality of programming on commercial channels, and the plethora of subscription and streaming services, considerably undermines the case for the licence fee. The BBC’s intention of removing free provision for over-75s (though their doing so was a condition of their last funding settlement) is another cause for discontent.

If there remains any argument for the BBC’s funding model, it can be one solely based on a limited, core service that cannot be replicated by channels that manage without an effective tax on the audience.

A single TV channel (probably more like BBC4 than BBC1), an independent news service, Radios 3 and 4, regional radio, and a manageable website might be a sensible ambition. A sprawling behemoth with tens of thousands of employees, a huge commercial advantage and a stranglehold on “mainstream” opinion, with countless outlets mixing brazenly commercial offerings and redundant “public service” streams divorced from the corporation’s primary purpose, which at the same time fails to engage younger, older, ethnic minority, and non-London audiences, is not.

Scotch potch

EVERYTHING is worth only what someone’s prepared to pay for it. But that doesn’t mean the buyer isn’t a mug. Whoever it was that stumped up £1.5 million for a bottle of whisky, even if it was a 1926 60-year-old Macallan single malt, can do only two things with it. One is keep it unopened in the cupboard and admire it every now and then, and where’s the fun in that? The other is drink it. And no matter how rare or delicious it might be, it can’t be 30,000 times better than a really good bottle that costs £50.