The latest discourse on making the aged pay for TV Licences raises the question of why any of us are paying a TAX for a broadcaster.
Over the decades, the BBC has grown, and now has 6 national TV channels, many local TV centres, 8 UK-wide radio stations and numerous local radio providers in places as small as Stoke-on-Trent and Northampton. Oh, and plus the World-service and a huge web-presence.
Throughout it’s life, the BBC has been determinedly “establishment”. But it is caught in a dilemma. On one hand, it tends to be staffed by arts graduates who cannot help themselves but produce programmes aimed at other arts graduates. However, aware of the danger of losing too much market share – and the danger of its validity being questioned – it gets drawn into more low-brow schedule fillers such as Eastenders or Homes Under the Hammer.
What is the BBC for? Is it to provide specialist high-brow content not provided by other stations, or mass-entertainment in direct competition with the commercial sector?
Either answer raises questions about justification. Why should the general public pay tax for high-brow shows they don’t want to watch? But if the BBC is going for a mass audience, why is it tax-funded when other operations do a great job without any subsidy?
Don’t get me wrong, I love their news output, especially the Radio 4 shows. But other television funding models are available. ITV does well with advertisement funding, as does Government-owned Channel 4. Meanwhile, subscription based models such as Sky, Netflix, Amazon and even BT are growing their market. Nowadays, there is Youtube and many other internet content providers. Why are we taxed to provide such specialist content as Radio 3? There can be no actual justification for mass-taxation to fund such narrow-interest entertainment. It is like suggesting that the Government should fund, say, national ferret-racing – except the audience for ferret-racing is probably less well-connected to lobby for their interests to be subsidised by everyone else.
And the greatest worry for the BBC – their viewer demographic is aging fast. Young people are watching less TV, and especially less terrestrial TV. Families just do not gather together around the black and white TV furniture any more.
The TV Licence is just a tax, purely to fund a Government owned broadcaster that has grown and grown over the years. It will never have enough (unearned) income for its ambition. Like most centrally funded organisations, it can always think of good reasons why it needs more money. As a flat tax, levied on every household in the country, the TV Licence is extremely regressive. An unemployed single person in a grotty studio (haha, a flat, not a sophisticated and expensive broadcasting centre) pays the same amount of TV Licence Tax as a huge family living in a stately home.
The BBC also distorts the market for local newspapers, local radio and national television. Every organisation trying to operate in these markets has to compete against a well-funded operator who can give away their content for free. What is the largest obstacle to our press businesses moving to charge for their quality and costly journalism online? The FREE BBC news website! Our democracy is founded on a free-press. And yet such businesses are undermined by a competitor which has no commercial pressures. No doubt the BBC would turn it’s nose up at grubby actions to earn income as beneath them. It has all the outdated class-based opinions where it considers “trade” businesses are inferior to them.
The BBC is a national treasure, but the funding regime is completely untenable. No politician would propose the creation of a government owned broadcaster to be paid for by what is effectively a poll tax, so why do we put up with one now?
We support the organisers of the Abolish TV Licences petition. Time for the BBC to be funded by subscription and/or advertising. The current approach is undemocratic, unfair, regressive, and stinks of elite-ism.