The BBC and the license fee
The BBC’s charter is to be reviewed in 2016. The question of how the BBC should be funded will be one of the items under consideration. At present it is funded through the license fee, and everyone with a TV has to have a license, whether or not they actually watch any BBC programmes.
Mr. Ryan Bourne, at
addresses two blog posts put out by the BBC’s Director of Policy James Heath, who maintains that the license fee is the best way of funding the BBC, while direct subscription would be a worse option.
Mr. Bourne points out that when the license fee was established during the early post-war period, the broadcasting situation was very different from what it is now. He asks, “If the BBC did not already exist, would anyone today seriously suggest creating it?” He examines in detail the changes that have taken place in the broadcasting world during the past sixty or so years, concluding that almost everything which the BBC provides can be – and indeed is – now provided through commercial channels. One of the few exceptions is children’s television, as regulations make it impossible to place advertising on programmes aimed specifically at children. Mr. Bourne points out that “There is nothing democratic about someone in the BBC deciding what to produce divorced from the wants and needs of customers – and it is vastly economically inefficient. In modern broadcasting, it is simply not necessary for one broadcaster to provide a full range of services”. He adds that “There is no real mechanism for consumers to hold the BBC to account for the quality and content of its output”.
The BBC’s charter requires it to provide news, information and comment with impartiality. Mr. Bourne feels that this is an impossible requirement for an organisation such as the BBC, when “all editorial decisions of what to cover and how to cover it entail partial judgments”. Indeed, he says “Everybody believes the BBC is biased against them (see Gaza coverage, the debates over welfare reform, discussion of the EU etc). We would never complain that the Guardian is biased because we know its broad worldview and can judge what it says against that”.
Mr. Bourne concludes that “The real unfairness of it is not that it costs poorer people a higher proportion of their incomes, it’s that there is absolutely no link between the amount you pay and the amount of BBC you are willing to pay for the option to watch - to the extent that you have to pay even if you want to watch no BBC television. This final point may not affect many people, but it seems to me an utterly indefensible principle.”
By the Prayer Crusader under the patronage of St Theresa of Avila