Tuesday, 12th May 2015

by Joshua Gaskell

I read on Guido Fawkes of the appointment of the anti-licence fee John Whittingdale as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He believes that the licence fee is out of date

because the way in which people watch television is changing. The old concept that you paid a charge, essentially for the television set in the corner of the room… that is no longer the case. More and more people are watching television on catch-up services, on laptops, on mobiles, video on-demand.

There’s no doubt about that. People in their twenties and younger want – in some case feel entitled to – and by hook or by crook will have high-quality telly, on-demand, without adverts. The question for John Whittingdale is: where’s the one place in this brave, new, online world – in the warp and woof of the Web – that they can get what they will have legally. The answer is your socialist Auntie, dinosaurus herself, the BBC. How thoroughly modern.

The licence fee is imperfect, but it’s not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. If the end is worth having – precious, even – and no alternative means seem viable in a media world of fragmentation and the deification of self-throttling choice, then we should stick with the imperfect means and keep what’s precious. It is easier to break then to build.

If you disagree and think the BBC is shit and a rip-off, then write to Points of View or Feedback, or submit a question on Question Time or Any Questions, and tell the BBC what a shit rip-off you think it is, and it will broadcast your view. And then reflect on whether its competitors would do the same. Do we want them filling a BBC-shaped hole?

Whittingdale and his ilk will pretend to sympathise with the single mother who struggles to pay the £12-per-month licence fee, and use this as a pretext for replacing it with subscription or advertising. But the poor should not take Tory sympathy at face value. In Sky we have a test-tube experiment of the kind of model that will step in if the BBC’s universalism is done away with: a model in which £30 per month is much more like it, yet still requires supplementing with ad money.

Correction re ‘subscription or advertising’: not one or the other – both. The BBC currently relies on neither, yet sustains a vast ecosystem of content and services, which everyone can access on-demand and freely at the point of use. We’ll be annoyed with ourselves if we allow anyone to convince us that this is not what we want.