NEW POLL: time to scrap the BBC licence fee?

by Stephen Tall on October 28, 2008

In his Lib Dem News column this week, reprinted on his Liberal England blog, Jonathan Calder poses what he terms “an awkward question that won’t go away”:

How can you justify financing the BBC through the licence fee in a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-everything world? Increasing numbers of people rarely watch its programmes and the fee is the nearest thing we have to a poll tax. If the BBC has its way, it will cost us all £180 a year by 2013.

Those arguing the case for the continuation of the BBC licence fee have not had their case made any easier by the weekend’s controversy over Jonathan Ross’s and Russell Brand’s prank phone calls. The Daily Hate-Mail’s overblown faux outrage is beside the point. The bigger issue is that stars such as Ross would be equally at home on ITV or Channel 4 – but the state-funded BBC outbid their advertising-dependent rivals.

Where once the licence fee levelled the playing field, allowing the BBC and ITV to compete to ratchet up standards, the BBC is now completely dominant, and commercial channels are rapidly withdrawing from their public service obligations. As recession reality bites, and advertising revenues dwindle, this process will only accelerate. ITV and Channels 4 and Five are certain to be looking for further programme budget cuts, leaving only the BBC to cater for those who value quality telly and radio. Which is fine, I guess, if you’re happy with the idea of a state-run monopoly, answerable only to a quango, funded by a regressive poll tax. But that’s not my liberal cup of tea.

So, two questions to ponder: (i) does the state have a role in the funding of broadcasting? (I say yes); and (ii) if it does, what’s the most efficient and effective way of funding public service broadcasting? In this poll, we’re looking only at the second question – but feel free to ponder (i) in the comments section – and asking you, LDV’s readers, the question: How do you think the BBC should be funded?

Here are your options:

> As at present, through the BBC licence fee
> Scrap the licence fee, but pay for the BBC through general taxation
> Scrap the licence fee, and let the BBC become a subscription-based members’ service
> Scrap the licence fee, and let the BBC compete for advertising revenue

Over to you…

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No comments

Radio 2 is doing a lot of things that aren’t done in the commercial sector. The depth and diversity of its programming is huge. Where else could you get Chris Evans at one end of the spectrum and David Jacobs at the other not to mention music documentaries of real depth, comedy and almost every genre of music covered. While commercial radio has become homogenised, Radio 2 shows difference does work. You would never ever be able to achieve that purely in the commercial sector. I’m in favour of keeping the licence fee but re-focussing the money. Despite the huge salaries that keep being bandied about in the press, those of us who make programmes for the BBC (as independent suppliers) are increasingly making them on smaller and smaller budgets. I can’t go into detail for client confidentiality reasons but you can barely scrape a living as an independent radio producer. So keep the licence fee but plough the money more directly into programme making. As for the Ross/Brand affair, i’m sorry but it says more about the state of broadcast journalism in this country than it does about anything else. Our TV and radio journos should be following their own agendas not jumping on bandwagons. “One Story’ news is getting oh so very boring.

by Ashley on November 9, 2008 at 12:12 am. Reply #

No Nick, that’s not a principled defense, it’s circular logic at its most imbecilic.

“You need a license, therefore that license is justified”.


by iainm on November 9, 2008 at 12:13 am. Reply #

Nick Reynolds writes: “They also have a choice as to whether they own a television. If you are too poor to buy a television and pay £10 a month for a TV Licence, don’t buy a television.”

What a remarkably stupid reply. Some people have had their TVs for years. Like me. Some poor bods only watch black and white; that is how old their TV sets are. So, less of the ‘don’t buy..’ garbage.


by Euphrosene Labon on November 9, 2008 at 7:49 am. Reply #

You can live without a TV: I myself do. I make arrangements to go to someone’s house & watch University Challenge when it’s on, & I otherwise ignore the medium altogether.

by asquith on November 9, 2008 at 8:28 am. Reply #

It’s all very well for someone who works for the BBC to pontificate about how you don’t have to have a television, but in my experience the level of harrassment the licensing agency give you if you don’t is intolerable. And of course that is how the system works – if it wasn’t enforced, the BBC wouldn’t get its money.

So yes, you don’t have to have a TV, but expect a lot of threatening letters, courtesy of the BBC, to arrive through your door if you do.

by James Graham on November 9, 2008 at 11:17 am. Reply #

What James said.

Furthermore, access to media is, I’d have thought we all agree, crucial in a liberal society – and as the Licence Fee is a barrier to media, this is more damaging than other taxes.

I also believe that one is hunted down to pay some kind of fee even if one doesn’t have a TV. Don’t they also ask about radio and even internet use?

by Julian H on November 9, 2008 at 11:25 am. Reply #

None of these comments are about principle. They are saying “the licence fee is enforced in a too tough way”. This may or may not be true but it’s about practice not principle.

We need roads for everyone. Society has decided that everyone who uses them should pay for them through a tax.

We need public service broadcasting for everyone. Society has decided that everyone should pay for that through a licence fee.

Or is the “principle” that we don’t need public service broadcasting or that it should be only for a few people?

I’m struggling with the idea of “principle” here. What do people in this thread mean by principle?

People who say “I don’t watch the BBC so I shouldn’t pay the licence fee” are saying “I have a car but I don’t use all the roads so therefore I shouldn’t pay car tax”.

In what way is the Licence Fee a barrier to media?

by Nick Reynolds on November 9, 2008 at 1:35 pm. Reply #

@Nick Reynolds

OK, you’ve rather enjoyed this road tax analogy, so let’s have a look at your argument.

‘People who say “I don’t watch the BBC so I shouldn’t pay the licence fee” are saying “I have a car but I don’t use all the roads so therefore I shouldn’t pay car tax”’.

This is sophistry.

1. Roads are a public good. Everyone uses roads, even if it’s just the way that the food is delivered to their supermarket. I agree that we should all pay for them.

2. I can’t use my car without using roads. I can use my TV without watching the BBC.

What these people are really saying is ‘I use my own car, I don’t see why I should pay for my neighbours’ cars’.

Let’s have a look at another argument:

‘The Licence Fee could be described as a “regressive tax”. So is car tax as this is not adjusted so the poor pay less.’

This one’s quite easily dismissed – road tax is unfair too.

To answer your question, no, it’s not principled. I want to watch Channel 4, but I’m taxed as if I’m watching the BBC. Should I pay for ‘The Economist’ if I read ‘Heat’ magazine? Well, you might say, you can always just not read magazines, but does that make it fair? Should I be taxed at Tesco to pay for Waitrose? Well, you might say, you can always not use supermarkets, but does that make it fair? The principle is not difficult to grasp.

by Andy on November 9, 2008 at 7:34 pm. Reply #


sounds to me like you don’t think that broadcasting is a public good.

Since car tax is unfair, are you going to campaign for its abolition and replacement with a pay as go/toll system where you only pay for the roads you use?

Like car tax, the small amount of unfairness in the licence fee system is compensated for by the large amount of public benefit that results.

But it’s a perfectly reasonable position to say that broadcasting is not a public good, and therefore should be left entirely for the market to provide.

Is this a “liberal” viewpoint? Is this a “liberal democrat” viewpoint?

And will it result in better broadcasting than we have now?

I don’t think you are being taxed “as if” you watch the BBC. You are being taxed because society has decided that public service broadcasting should be available to everyone, and that best way to provide that is through a compulsorary fee on everyone and for all the tax to go to the BBC, regardless of whether you individually actually watch the BBC.

Do you believe that public service broadcasting should NOT be available for everyone?

Or do you believe that not all the tax should go to the BBC? (In which case you should be avocating that it is shared, rather than abolished).

by Nick Reynolds on November 9, 2008 at 9:31 pm. Reply #

No, public service broadcasting is not a “public good” in the strict economic sense of the word. If it was, there would be no argument about paying for it out of a (hypothecated) element of income tax. The BBC could set its own rate, just as the police and fire authorities do for council tax.

Of course, not all public service broadcasting is actually paid for out of the license fee. It would be novel, to say the least, to hear a BBC employee argue that ITV and Channel Four should be entitled to a slice. Meanwhile, plenty of things which would not count as public service broadcasting in a million years, DOES come out of the license fee, or are we now expected to believe that Strictly Come Dancing and EastEnders exist for the improvement of our collective souls?

Furthermore, while you can choose whether or not you own a TV, you can’t choose to pay the license fee whether you watch the BBC or not.

I wouldn’t be quite so dubious about the license fee if its supporters weren’t so gung-ho about increasing it to ever greater levels. I’ve already suggested a solution that would, at the very least, stop it from getting out of control: a tax exempt trust paid for by the bandwidth sell off and topped up by individual contributions. I notice no licence fee defender has agreed with this suggestion so I can only presume they oppose it. But is it too much to ask why?

by James Graham on November 9, 2008 at 9:41 pm. Reply #

I doubt so many people would have a problem with the BBC license fee if it only concerned itself with public service broadcasting, but really, what percentage of the BBC’s total output can reasonably be claimed to be pubic service broadcasting?

A vanishingly small percentage in both terms of total air time and total cost, I’d have thought.

by iainm on November 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm. Reply #

“I wouldn’t be quite so dubious about the license fee if its supporters weren’t so gung-ho about increasing it to ever greater levels”. Where’s your evidence for this statement James?

I believe that both Strictly and Eastenders are public service broadcasting.

If by “individual contributions” you mean “subscription”, then funding the BBC by subscription would undermine the commercial broadcasters which is one of many reasons why it’s not a good idea. See my comment above.

by Nick Reynolds on November 9, 2008 at 9:47 pm. Reply #

I was going to ask what is meant by ‘public service broadcasting’. If it is the likes of Eastenders, then I definitely want my money back.

Since mindless pap (like Eastenders) is available on the commercial channels, what is the differentiator?

by Euphrosene Labon on November 9, 2008 at 9:55 pm. Reply #

I think there are a lot of people in here who are saying that because they don’t like something, it’s not public service. This is bollocks. I can’t stand Eastenders, and do’t watch it, but am happy that it’s there. It brings up issues and social comment in a way that something like Question Time doesn’t and can’t. I also agree with pretty much everything else Nick has said, and I’m not a BBC employee.

Nick: a Liberal Democrat position is to have a bloody good row about it, generally 😉

by Jennie on November 9, 2008 at 10:26 pm. Reply #

“I believe that both Strictly and Eastenders are public service broadcasting.”

Then you are insane, and there is no point in even trying to engage with you.

by iainm on November 9, 2008 at 10:58 pm. Reply #


Thanks for a well-reasoned and intelligent answer.

With regards to your first point, let’s leave discussion of road taxes to a different day.

Let’s have a look at part of your argument here:

‘society has decided that public service broadcasting should be available to everyone, and that best way to provide that is through a compulsorary fee on everyone and for all the tax to go to the BBC, regardless of whether you individually actually watch the BBC’

As somebody said before, your argument is circular:

The BBC and the licence fee should exist because society has decided it should exist as evidenced by the existence of the BBC and the licence fee.

Or do you have another justification for your statement?

In essence, this is what this debate is about: even if we ever did give our consent to the licence fee (a moot point), do we still give our consent? I’m arguing that it’s deeply unfair, and we shouldn’t. Whether we should have public service broadcasting or not is an entirely different matter, and one on which I have made no comment.

I think it’s entirely consistent with Liberal Democratic viewpoints that we should be considering the fairness of the licence fee.

by Andy on November 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm. Reply #

“I can’t stand Eastenders, and don’t watch it, but am happy that it’s there. It brings up issues and social comment in a way that something like Question Time doesn’t and can’t.”

I’m not happy that it is there Jennie. I don’t think it is the role of the BBC to provide a running social commentary via the medium of a dreary and clichéd soap opera.

Here’s another case: Children in Need. Why does the BBC think it can monopolise national charitable giving at this time of the year? It’s hard to argue against what is presumably a good cause, but it’s totally inappropriate in my view.

by Laurence Boyce on November 9, 2008 at 11:42 pm. Reply #

My argument is that the licence fee is a little unfair (not deeply), but no more unfair than lots of other ways of paying for things which have a public benefit.

And that the unfairness is outweighed by the large amount of public benefit.

You pay for public libraries out of your taxes. That’s unfair if you never use a library. Is that “deeply unfair” too?

by Nick Reynolds (BBC) on November 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm. Reply #

Nick, public libraries are not paid for by a special poll tax on bookshelves.

by Andy Mayer on November 10, 2008 at 1:31 pm. Reply #

So if they were to cancel the license fee, and put up general taxation by a commensurate amount, you wouldn’t have a problem, Andy?

I rather LIKE ring-fenced taxes that you know what they are going to cover.

by Jennie on November 10, 2008 at 1:49 pm. Reply #

Thanks for your reply Nick.

‘My argument is that the licence fee is a little unfair (not deeply), but no more unfair than lots of other ways of paying for things which have a public benefit.’

Sorry, I never meant to suggest that you did think that it was deeply unfair. But I don’t know how you can justify the statement that it’s no more unfair than other ways of paying for things. It’s a regressive poll tax. I agree with Richard:

‘I am staggered at how otherwise compassionate people are happy to support a poll tax just because its public faces are David Attenbrough, Simon Schama and Basil Brush’

I feel sure that there are fairer ways of funding the BBC.

‘And that the unfairness is outweighed by the large amount of public benefit.’

You seem to think it’s the licence fee, or nothing. You can have the public benefit, without the licence fee.

‘You pay for public libraries out of your taxes. That’s unfair if you never use a library. Is that “deeply unfair” too?’

Not at all. I’m not saying that something that society has consented to paying for collectively is therefore unfair on people who don’t use it. I’m a democrat: that would be an untenable position. What is “deeply unfair” is the method of taxation.

@ Jennie

That’s a good question. You’ve grasped my point, which is just about the fairness of the licence fee. We can argue the pros and cons of hypothecated taxation. However, there’s no reason to equate it with the licence fee. Any fairer replacement could be hypothecated.

by Andy Bones on November 10, 2008 at 9:21 pm. Reply #

This seems to boil down to a couple of questions:

How unfair is the licence fee? “Deeply”? Or no more unfair than other ways of raising public money?

Andy – what ways of paying for the BBC would be fairer, would produce a BBC as good as we currently have, not undermine the commercial broadcasters, and maintain the BBC’s editorial independence from government?

by Nick Reynolds on November 11, 2008 at 9:06 am. Reply #

“sounds to me like you don’t think that broadcasting is a public good”

Indeed, it is not; and while Mr Graham has alluded to this already…

A “public good” is not anything that a bunch of bureaucrats and politicians decide the state will take money for and (attempt to) provide.

A public good is one for which there is non-rivalry and non-excludability, in so far as either can exist.

Additionally, just because something is used by or affects a lot of the population, this also does not make it a “public good” nor a “public issue”.

The “debate” in Parliament yesterday on what the BBC should or should not be doing was absolutely farcical. Why do we elect politicians to have such ridiculous and futile discussions over what a television channel broadcasts? Can’t we think for ourselves and, you know, choose? Future generations are going to look back on this and think we were all completely insane.

by Julian H on November 11, 2008 at 9:21 am. Reply #

It doesn’t matter how much you inflate the perceived social value of the BBC, it will never be enough to alter the inherent unfairness of forcing people who don’t want, don’t use and don’t value an entertainment service, because fundamentally that’s all it is, to pay for it for the benefit of those who do use it, or of criminalising those who can’t pay for it.

The BBC is not an essential service. It is not the road network. It is not the health service. It is not even the provision of public libraries. It is just an entertainment company.

by iainm on November 11, 2008 at 9:30 am. Reply #

Scrap the license fee and let the BBC compete how it likes.
Given that the BBC has been paid for for so long by tax money, I think its a nice idea to place it in public ownership – give each license holder an equal share in the privatised service.

I haven’t had a chance to read this thread, but I can guess at some of the objections-
One will be “the commoners don’t know what’s good for them so we must tax them to make good things” (usually put in terms of the evils of commercial media and the lowest common denominator fallacy).

Another will be “The BBC does all these things which commercial media doesn’t do” – well, who is going to try if a tax funded provider is doing them, its no competition, the BBC has a massive advantage and raises the barriers to entry enourmously.

by Tristan Mills on November 11, 2008 at 1:41 pm. Reply #

The Beeb has become, by virtue of many of the senior people they employ, conceited, arrogant, closed-minded, hypocritical and condescending. Those who claim to offer choice, yet remove any by demanding unconditional payment. Who claim impartiality in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Iain (and others) have repeatedly hit the nail on the head, but until the public are actually given a choice, Auntie won’t be listening.

by DanM on November 17, 2008 at 11:02 am. Reply #

Nick Reynolds is a BBC employee which should show everyone just how corrupt the BBC is these days. Yes people the BBC does pay individuals to troll the internet and post untruths about the BBC in order to try and keep down discontent.

The sooner the BBC TV Licence is scrapped and we aren’t forced to fund people like this the better!

by Sao Paulo on November 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm. Reply #

Nick, surly if your precious BBC is so great then the BBC would do just fine under a subscription service in fact it should do better if we believe the hype.

Also I think you are well out of order by trying to speak for commercial rivels who don’t get BILLIONS forced from the public like your employer.

The truth is if your employer doesn’t think a subscription method would be enough for them perhaps they’ve grown too big and should reduce the dinosaur to 1 channel and 1 radio station!

Ps I wish I could get paid to service the internet all day trying to put down discontent regarding my employer…

by Defiant on November 18, 2008 at 1:26 pm. Reply #

“Nick Reynolds Says:

Andy – what ways of paying for the BBC would be fairer”

Those like you who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread paying for it.

I have cable TV myself but that is down to choice MY CHOICE and it works out a damn site cheaper than the BBC as I don’t watch or listen to the biased rubbish they produce.

I’m proud to admit I follow Noel Edmonds approach –

by Defiant on November 18, 2008 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

The BBC has become far too large, and has far too much influence over all of us – swamping the competition.
More to the point, with all its TV channels, radio stations, vast website, and that blasted iPlayer, it is probably the single biggest contributor to the massive increase in morbid obesity in the population (all ages) of this country.
Utopia – in the eyes of the fat cats of the BBC – is a constant supply of licence fee cash, and all its TV channels, radio stations, website, and iPlayer heading the ratings around the clock.
What with the “news is updated every five minutes” (what the hell for?), and constant trailers for “the one to watch tonight”/”coming on BBC2 tomorrow night”/”award-winning (says who?) drama starting on BBC 99 next Thursday” and – of course – the iPlayer “making the absolutely appalling unavoidable”, it is little wonder the nation is becoming overweight, morbidly obese, and workshy.
The BBC should carry a government health warning.
The sooner the licence fee goes to a more deserving cause (any cause is more deserving), the better. I would like to see it go to better equip our armed forces, and/or provide better care for the elderly.
PLEASE can someone start a boycott of the Licence Fee – you can count me in, and if it means prison, so be it.

by Peter Ashman on November 19, 2008 at 8:25 pm. Reply #

If the nick reynolds posting in this thread is the same one writing that blog then the man is a disgrace, a parasite, and the living embodyment of everything that is wrong with that organisation.

by Iainm on November 19, 2008 at 10:02 pm. Reply #

To go back to Nick’s question about what might be more fair… the first question that needs to be asked is ‘what is public service broadcasting’?.

Evidentially the answer is not ‘what the BBC does’, nor is it likely to be ‘there is no such thing’. Any definition should be based on what the market doesn’t or can’t provide for which there is a wide consensus that it is socially useful… maybe news & education for example, but I think it would be hard to argue that the market doesn’t provide enough light entertainment.

If a definition of PSB can be agreed the next question is how it should be funded and for how much.

How much is a political toss-up, but I’d suggest the lottery fund might be more a more appropriate source than the license fee if not general spending within the DCMS budget. Another more quixotic idea might be a media monopoly tax that placed an escalating premium on corporation tax for market concentration. The more concentrated the market the more PSB funding to mitigate against that market failure.

Who should get that money…? It should be an open competition… and any programme in receipt of PSB funding cannot carry advertising. That way you might get the best of both worlds, the BBC would have to carry advertising on it’s market broadcasting, whilst Sky, ITV etc. could run shows without ads if from that source.

That system then discredits the BBC fantasy that they have to dominate every media market segement in order to provide the audience to justify the occasional Walking with Dinosaurs type show.

And there are many other options. However until the BBC starts addressing the modern world, where they are just one player amongst many in an international market, one that provides much good stuff, but are not unique in that, one that can quite happily mix public and private broadcasting, and don’t need their own tax to preserve their independence, then they can expect growing hostility from outside.

Where is the BBC plan to ween itself off the licence fee?

by Andy Mayer on November 19, 2008 at 10:19 pm. Reply #

So under your plan BBC ONE would have adverts on but BBC FOUR would not?

Would BBC TWO take advertising?

Would perhaps certain programmes on BBC ONE – for example Gavin and Stacey – have adverts while the Ten O Clock News (which follows it) would not?

Apart from the fact that people like the BBC being free of advertising, your solution would probably put ITV out of business and would effect Sky’s revenues so you haven’t answered my point above about a solution that doesn’t damage the commercial broadcasters.

(Just so people are clear, I work for the BBC but these are my personal views and I am not doing this on work time)

by Nick Reynolds on November 22, 2008 at 11:46 am. Reply #


I don’t know if BBC Four would or wouldn’t exist, or what advertising it would it wouldn’t carry, it would depend how public sector broadcasting was defined and whether the producers at BBC Four were any good at winning tenders. Similarly on your question on BBC2 it would rather depend what it produced.

It should though be a matter of blinding irrelevance to government policy how many channels the BBC deems itself fit to run and what programmes it puts in them. Those are matters for a regulator if those channels or programmes are in receipt of public money for public service.

The point about people liking the BBC being free of advertising is very dishonest of you. Given a choice people would like all TV to be free of advertising. I doubt though they would be happy to pay a massive tax to fund that.

It’s not then an argument in favour of either the BBC or how it is funded, simply a statement of the obvious that people prefer broadcasting to advertising. That preference though does not justify forcing people who don’t watch the BBC, ads or no ads, into paying for it. Particularly not with a poll tax on a piece of furniture.

For that you need a genuine public service justfication, and for that you must define what public service broadcasting actually is. As noted before, “it’s wot the BBC does” or “TV without ads but only on the BBC” is not coherent, fair, or reasonable.

I further note your point about the commercial broadcasters. Presumably you assume that deregulating the BBC and putting about 80% of it’s output into the commercial sector would crash the TV advertising market. I have to say this is economically illiterate.

While it’s certainly true prices would fall in the short-term it’s also true the market would have become markedly larger creating many more opportunities for different types of advertising. Lower advertising prices would further stimluate marketing budgets, overall the price of the pie might be lower, but the pie would be larger.

And you’ve also neglected the other salient feature of the plan to diversify PSB funding, ITV and Sky could bid for that money as well, so it is simply not clear that ITV or Sky would lose any money at all, they might offset any falls in their commercial revenue by winning tenders against the BBC for PSB funding. In that respect, they might even gain.

So return the questions to you…

Do you object to the notion that PSB should be properly defined?

Do you believe that properly defined PSB should be financed then from the public purse?

If so do you believe that only one organisation, the BBC, should receive that money or it should be open to competitive tender?

by Andy Mayer on November 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm. Reply #

Nick Reynolds certainly seems to have alot of ‘personal’ time to search the net and put down discontent. Why not be truthful Nick and admit you have to say their your personal views because the BBC has had to admit they don’t pay people to troll the net doing what you are right now even though you work for the BBC blog team and as Google shows do this all over the internet!

I’m sure you have opened a lot of eyes here who are extremely annoyed at having to pay your wages if this is the only thing your able to do all day, everyday!. I hope others have noticed that Nick and other BBC employees keep pushing the same old pitch which is what about ITV and what about Sky, well what about them Nick it’s nothing to do with you and you can’t pretend to know exactly what will happen. I myself think the BBC would die if unable to force the public to pay for them and I won’t miss a thing!. Lets be honest if your precious employer is so great they’ll thrive under voluntary subscription so lets have it.

If people wish to know more and how to deal with the harassment you’ll get from the BBC I suggest you check

Ps, again if people don’t believe me about Nick and the time he spends doing this check google

by Sao Paulo on November 22, 2008 at 2:18 pm. Reply #

Unfortunately the Google search linked to is largely about a different Nick Reynolds who sadly died recently. This is a link to my personal blog in the unlikely event that you want to know more about me:

by Nick Reynolds on November 23, 2008 at 8:42 am. Reply #

Andy Meyer

Firstly I object to your definition of “public sector broadcasting” as opposed to “public service broadcasting”.

ITV, C4 and C5 all currently have public service obligations but don’t currently get public money to fund them. And in the current Ofccom PSB review only C4 has asked for public funding, ITV and C5 have not. They want to remain funded by advertising and commercial revenue alone.

If you want a definition of public service broadcasting then “educate, inform and entertain” is good enough for me. The OFCOM PSB review offers many definitions but interesting these tend to be about things like UK origination rather than narrowly defined around types or genres of programmes.

The Licence Fee is not a poll tax on a piece of furniture. It’s levied on any device capable of recieving live TV. It’s about what you get, not what you get it on.

To answer your questions:

Do I think public service broadcasting should be properly defined? Yes, and there are plenty of good definitions around.

Do I think public service broadcasting should be financed from the public purse? Some of it, but by no means all of it. Commercial money can fund public service programmes.

Do I think any public money put into PSB should be put up for competitive tender? No, because I think this is a bad way of funding broadcasting. It increases red tape for one thing.

Should the BBC get all the licence fee? Yes.

Your solution sounds a bit like the “Arts Council of the Airwaves” idea which was ruled out by the Minister at the start of the year.

by Nick Reynolds on November 23, 2008 at 9:07 am. Reply #

Nick the Google search works when using “nick reynolds bbc”

My personal opionion is you should be sacked with the rest of the people abusing their positions. You are clearly being paid by the BBC TV Licence to try to convert those that are extremly annoyed at having to pay for the likes of yourself!

by Sao Paulo on November 23, 2008 at 10:50 am. Reply #

I recommend everyone watches these two streams. Robin Aitken was a 25yr veteran of the BBC and gives you insider knowledge of this bias and corrupt organisation –

by Sao Paulo on November 23, 2008 at 10:53 am. Reply #


Sector/Service, typo, should say service.

In respect of defining PSB, I’ll buy inform and educate, but entertain…? Maybe in the 1940s, but we now have plenty of TV entertainment provided commercially. What possible justification is there for state-funded soap operas and reality TV? Both formats, I might add, invented by the private sector.

In respect of obligations, I agree the current system is messy, with different obligations on different broadcasters, but I don’t follow your logic that it’s good thing, particularly not now that network television no longer has a natural monopoly.

On your TV license definition, you rather duck tackling the problem that it is a poll tax, whether or not you are personally offended by the imprecision of the reference to furniture. I further don’t think highlighting that some wrist-watches and mobile phones fit the legal prescription helps your case. This is a mad bad tax left over from a world of near ubiquitous state monopolies, long gone.

You are right though that commercial money can fund PSB, and on your 1940s ‘state entertainment’ definition, well nearly everything that ITV and Sky do is apparently a warm-hearted public service, as is Triple-X-TV. My question though is should it, or should there be a level playing field between the BBC and other institutions to compete for that money? And frankly should the definition to be tighter to exclude light entertainment, porn and other items which evidentially don’t need public subsidy.

As for competitive tendering increasing red tape, could you enlighten us as to what proportion of the BBC staff base currently works directly in programming versus management and administrative functions?

by Andy Mayer on November 23, 2008 at 1:05 pm. Reply #

The TV Licence is a poll tax. It bears no reraltion to ability to pay or even to the services used (there’s no radio or web licence).

There is a need for public service broadcasting. Just as their is a need for public subsidies to the arts, there are quality programmes that wouldn’t get on TV, or radio, without a public subsidy.

The conclusion must be to scrap the licence fee and fund public service braodacsting through general taxation. This could include local radio. Providers can bid to deliver the needs of public service broadcasts, with bids based not just on price but their record in communicating with key target audiencies.

The worldwide power of the BBC brand is enormous. Compare the respect for the BBC world service with any other country’s alternative. There may be a case for continuing to brand public service braodcasting with the BBC, but the case for it to be delivered by a single monolithic corporation has gone.

I surprised to find myself writing this, as one who generally objects to the the worship of the market in delivering public services. There is just too much on the BBC that has nothing to do with public services and compulsory taxes should not be funding them. With the arrival of multi-media, the TV licence is just out of date.

Scrap the TV licence, help people on low incomes and probably a great many other people too.

by Richard Church on November 23, 2008 at 1:47 pm. Reply #

“The conclusion must be to scrap the licence fee and fund public service braodacsting through general taxation.”

“There is just too much on the BBC that has nothing to do with public services and compulsory taxes should not be funding them.”

In the words of the Virgin Mary – come again.

Oh no, I see, is the point that much stuff the BBC produces isn’t a “public service”, so it should be scrapped, but some of it is, so should be funded?

In which case who decides this? No, don’t tell me – committees? And what if we disagree with these committees who are throwing our money, sorry, “public money”, around as they wish? Ah yes, we can debate it through the media, especially when the Daily Mail gets all offended after a hairy nimpho-comedian reminds the world that they wrote kindly about the Nazis.

by Julian H on November 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm. Reply #

Uch, I meant nympho-comedian, of course.

Of all the words to get wrong…

by Julian H on November 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm. Reply #

“The conclusion must be to scrap the licence fee and fund public service braodacsting through general taxation”

Here’s a radical idea, why not have those who love the BBC pay for it and then the millions who want setting free will be!

by Sao Paulo on November 24, 2008 at 9:41 am. Reply #

I gave examples in the Nursery Britain thread of the nanny state retreating; the scrapping of ID cards, ration books, the death penalty and national service. It’s hard not to group the TV license with these.

Mill wrote that a good test of the public institutions was if they increased the moral and intellectual virtues of the population. The BBC clearly does not do this. Yes, it produces some excellent stuff, especially nature programmes. But this is drowned out by the torrent of tawdry, celebrity-focused rubbish. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it proselytises a celebrity-obsessed lifestyle.

I remember feeling guilty as a child that I was not interested in the ‘latest showbiz gossip’ that was already creeping into the BBC’s children’s output. Now young people are even more aggressively targeted. The Newsround website has an entire category dedicated to ‘showbiz’ news, containing such edifying stories as ‘Ashlee Simpson names baby Bronx’ and ‘Madonna: Is she the Queen of pop or just plain past it?’

by Anax on November 24, 2008 at 10:32 am. Reply #

Anax – I couldn’t disagree with you more. In fact I disagree with you so much I’ve written a blog post:

by Nick Reynolds on November 30, 2008 at 8:31 pm. Reply #

Anyone else noticed the new YouGov Poll –

The BBC has already tried rubbishing this because it wasn’t carried out by one of their flavoured companies which are run by former BBC employee’s like the ‘Work Foundation’. It should send alarm bells ringing that the government and the BBC never use YouGov, Mori or ICM to get a true reflection of the hatred the public feels towards them and the BBC TV Licence –

5 Do you think the BBC’s £139.50 TV licence fee is good value for money?

Yes 10%

Just about but they could do a bit more 24%

No, it’s a rip-off 64%

Don’t know 2%

by Sao Paulo on December 1, 2008 at 8:02 am. Reply #

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