The Worldwide Weblog of Donald Pincher

by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Licence Fee

Saturday, 11th July 2015

The greatest long-term challenge faced by the BBC is to convince people of my age and younger that paying it a licence fee (or another tax-like contribution) is the right and natural thing to do. People must believe in the good reasons for a compulsory levy so that they are happy to pay it for the foreseeable future.

This is quite distinct from the short-term gain made by the BBC, in the deal struck with the government at the start of the week, which secures the licence fee funding mechanism for the next five years. Moreover, the corresponding gain made by the government – the Beeb will take on the £750-million cost of subsidising free licence fees for over-75s – actually makes the long-term challenge more difficult. Those who need most convincing will be subsidising those who need least: ‘Lord Reith, is he from Game of Thrones?’ will pick up the tab for ‘I’d pay the licence fee just for Radio 4’.

The fact that the Tory party sits atop a demographic time bomb may bring me solace, but their attempting to plant a replica under Broadcasting House is deeply troubling.


Tuesday, 12th May 2015

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 He believes that the licence fee is out of date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.

Monday, 9th February 2015

A prediction for if the free-trade-and-philanthropy crowd ever manage to get the BBC sold off: a few years down the line a charity will be set up to buy advertising space and ease people’s misery by not using it, thus leaving more time for programmes; the charity will campaign to ‘Make Adverts History’, promising to do so if people donate just a little more; eventually, they’ll have enough money to fulfil their promise – at just about the point when the average annual household donation reaches £145.50 (adjusted for inflation). This sensible and desirable state of affairs will be recognised with some sort of ‘charter’ and ‘licence fee’, and people will say, ‘What a brilliant idea this is. Why did no one think of it before?’

Sunday, 18th May 2014

Subscriptions, taxpaying, membership, a TV licence, the ownership of physical objects – all these things cost money, but in return come with some kind of pleasure: anticipation of the postman’s arrival, the community of a letters page, companionship with fellow members, the feel of a new book, belief in the fairness of ‘from each according to his abilities’; and, in the case of the licence fee, the knowledge that, even if you don’t like Gardeners’ Question Time, you don’t mind contributing because some people do and they in turn don’t mind contributing to what you like.

The problem with paying for arts and media in a digital, privatised economy is that the current model is to replace all these little squeezes of pleasure with as many little jabs of annoyance, which, no matter how “innovative” and “creative”, is what adverts are.

Saturday, 22nd March 2014

I have a dystopian dream that, after the success of last night’s Sport Relief, the Tories suggest a new model to fund the BBC: Licence Fee Relief, in which Tony Hall, Alan Yentob and David Walliams get up an annual pledge drive, seeking to supplement a devastated budget by begging customers (viewers) to ‘Keep the BBC Ad-Free’.

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