Friday, 17th January 2014

by Joshua Gaskell

What nobody has really ever tested is whether or not if you paid, say, a hundred pounds, and had access to the core BBC output, whether or not people might opt for that. […] [David Elstein, former BSkyB director of programmes] was arguing for different levels of subscription.

– John Whittingdale MP, speaking on The Media Show, 15th January 2014

Arguing for different levels of subscription. I bet he was. But anyone who thinks that a Sky Sports package model is appropriate for the BBC either hasn’t understood its value and what it’s for, or is harbouring ulterior motives. In either case, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

The idea of paying less to avoid contributing towards the kinds of programmes that other people like is appealing until you realise the repercussion: millions fewer people contributing towards the kinds of programmes that you like. It’s not possible for anyone to pay fifty per cent of a licence fee and then continue enjoying their favourite half of the output unchanged. That’s not how a social contract works. And, given that the fee works out at about 16p per person per day, it’s surely better to share than to shaft. To serve its adhesive function social glue must be evenly spread.

The people whose Broadcasting Corporation has always been the best in the world need only ask themselves a few simple questions. Given that cultural life is increasingly a photomosaic of brands and adverts, do we really want to dig up another unploughed pasture? A Yeoman of Merry England would no doubt have been in favour of more “choice” and “individual freedom,” but do we really want our lives to be more fragmented; to have less in common with our fellow citizens? And should panprivatisation elicit depressed fatalism, or does it make the remaining causes all the more imperative?

Finally, an N.B. for the politicians to whom Whittingdale and the Culture, Media & Sport Committee will report on the future of the BBC: don’t assist in precipitating a demise which the majority of your constituents will lament; don’t help kill something if you can imagine most people remembering it fondly, wistfully, sadly. Get rid of things that people don’t like.