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Friday, December 22, 2006

A Licence to print money?

It is possible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had just read the Christmas Radio Times before deciding to limit the BBC's licence fee to a below-inflation increase. With only one or two exceptions, the choice being offered to viewers by terrestial TV stations is absolutely dire.

Much as we would all like to cling onto the concept of a public service broadcaster, the time has come when we have to recognise that in television terms a great deal has changed. Long gone are the days of my childhood when we only had the choice of three channels. The excitement of the launch of Channel Four and the damp squib of Channel Five are in the past.

With the switch-over to digital due to be completed in a few years time, the vast majority of people will soon have the choice of between 20 and 500 channels. A lot of what will be shown on these channels will be dross, but the BBC no longer have the monopoly on quality programming. They now commission a lot of their work from independent companies rather than make them in-house. Other channels give commissions to the same companies.

In the circumstances can we any longer justify the existence of a publicly owned broadcaster paid for by a poll tax? In the past the BBC have argued that if they were forced to compete in the market with everybody else then the quality of their programming would suffer. Can we honestly look at the schedules, even over the period of a year or more, and say that this argument still stands up to scrutiny?

For me the only justification for the licence fee at the moment lies in the quality of the BBC's news operation. There is no doubt in my mind that the depth and range of their reporting is unrivalled. They are setting the standard on both TV and radio against which everybody else must be measured. Nevertheless, that should not preclude a debate about the licence fee nor the fact that it needs to have been had and resolved before the price reaches its predicted £150 per household. Was this at the back of Gordon Brown's mind when he scaled back the BBC's plans?
Stephen Pollard and Oliver Kamm have a running disagreement about BBC funding and their arguments make interesting summaries of the pro and anti positions.

I think, with Kamm and you, that the only possible defence is the quality one; but I don't think even that's a sufficient argument and anyway the BBC news isn't good enough.

Take the Litvenenko story. First the poison was thorium, then radioactive thorium, then Litvenenko's X-ray showed mysterious disks, then finally Polonium was revealed as the poion. What was all that other rubbish about?

Take the fog story over the last few days. So there's fog, so it's caused travel disruption, especially in the South-East (of particular interest to BBC journalists). Do you have much idea what's been going on in the rest of the world now the BBC has been going fog-crazy?

Have another think about the quality of their main news bulletins.

The other stuff's worse. I listened to a call-in on R4 yesterday that presented CBT (Cognitive Bahavioural Therapy) as a new advance in psychiatric counselling. In fact it goes back 50 years

I'll pay for Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time. Er... that's it.
BBC News is not 'impartial', it is a blatantly left-wing tax-and-spend propaganda organisation that is anti-Tory and anti-Thatcher and pro-Brown and pro-Saddam Hussein.
"The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias"

Andrew Marr, the Daily Mail, Oct 21st, 2006

Marr's accurately representing the Beeb here, don't you think? So it has a bias and I'm happier it's Marr's 'cultural liberal' one than if it were, say, a BNP-supporting one.

The problem is I have no choice to support it or not support it. A liberal bias enforced by mandatory flat-rate taxation? That's not liberal, is it? That's nannyish, even authoritarian.

Here's BBC 1 this evening:

Question of Sport
Big Cat Diary
Outtake TV
Jam and Jerusalem
The Worst Christmas of My Life
Friday Night with Jonathan Ross
The Girl Next Door

So there are the two major news bulletins. Cheap outtake stuff with Anne Robinson. Tedious misery soap. Terrible sitcom. The Ross is a repeat, and of The Girl Next Door I found this said:

It's perfect for Maxim magazine subscribers, and an airbrushed, empty-headed bore for everybody else.

Why not let us choose? I wouldn't choose this dross - would you?
No David, i wouldn't choose it at all. I certainly wont be watching any of that nonsensical rubbish this evening!

Get a grip BBC!

No wonder Michael Grade resigned to join ITV.
Neither you nor the other commenters give more than a passing mention to BBC radio, but I think this is where the Corporation's claim to quality lies, on Radios 4, 3 and indeed 2: would a commercial broadcaster give even half an hour a week to the niche market of cinema organ fans, as Radio 2 does? And what about the Proms? The late Sir John Drummond was once forced, at the behest of higher management, to seek commercial sponsorship of the Proms; he hired one of the best fundraisers in the business to help him but most potential sponsors wanted only the last night.

I must declare an interest: I don't have TV so don't pay the licence fee and do not feel qualified to say whether it is good value or not. But, having no answer myself, I invite you to consider a) whether the TV programmes you complain of are really bad or merely demotic: the BBC's old aim "to make the good popular and the popular good" still seems worthwhile; are they succeeding at it? And b) if Gordon Brown did indeed give the corporation a low increase because the Christmas schedules are full of rubbish, is he not building a self-fulfilling prophecy as they have to buy in more cut-price trash in future?
I have another problem with the BBC and it's licence fee. I can't afford the licence fee at the moment, nor do I want or need one because 99% of the programmes are dire, I have no ariel and only want to use my television to watch DVDs and video games. Yet I have to pay the government just to use my own TV to use my own electrical consummer goods on it because if I don't pay, I'm breaking the law. IS THAT FAIR!

I would be very grateful if Cllr Black could raise my grivance in the Assembly so that our elected representatives can put pressure on both Labour and the BBC to change the law so that people like I who only want to use our televisions to watch our own DVDs and video games are no longer subject to unjust legal persecution from the BBC and TV Licencing.
I grew up listening to R4 so I'm in half-sympathy. But really - where are such smug news presenters bred? Eddie Mair? Naughtie? Humphreys? The stupidly giggling Sarah Montague?

So, let me choose whether to pay or not. You can't demand that people with a limited budget and no desire to listen to classical music be obliged to subsidise performances of Shostakovich for the rest of us, who could afford to pay to listen.
Tim Worstall says:

When the Royal Opera House is subsidized out of general tax revenues, when every household in the nation must pay a flat fee so that the middle classes can get their 'wonderul documentaries' , then you're not being serious about the iniquities of the British tax system
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