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Friday, April 11, 2008

Whose licence fee?

Today's Western Mail reports on the findings of communications regulator Ofcom, that licence fee funds may be needed to secure ITV Wales’ future as a public service broadcaster. Putting aside the fact that ITV Wales is not a public service broadcaster but a profit making company, it is nevertheless an intriquing idea.

I am no fan of the licence fee but at present I do not have an alternative which would secure the future of public sector broadcasting. It seems to me that the American model of wholly commercial companies competing through producing programmes which appeal to the lowest common denominator is not the way forward.

It is only subscription channels such as HBO that manage to raise their programming above the mediocre and in that particular case produce a very high quality product. I suspect though that the British audience is not large enough to sustain such a company here.

I believe that there is merit in allowing the BBC to raise more funds commercially, whilst using the licence fee to fund programmes produced in the public interest irrespective of the channel concerned. In that instance it may well be legitimate to use licence fee money to help ITV Wales sustain a rival Welsh news service to the BBC, so as to ensure that we have choice and competition. I would expect the quality of ITV Wales' news service to improve however as part of such a deal.

Surely though, Ofcom have a role in insisting that a strong regional news service is a condition of any licence to broadcast, forcing commercial companies to put more resources into this aspect of their work. They already do that in insisting on a national evening news programme from ITV so there is no reason why that remit should not be extended to the regions.

The Assembly has just set up a Broadcasting Committee to look at this and many other subjects. I am a member of it and the first meeting is Monday. I have an open mind and I am keen to listen to the evidence so as to learn more about this sector. Feel free to contribute in the comments.
It would be a pity to lose ITV Wales News & Current Affairs. They have been more even-handed in their political coverage than BBC (with some honourable exceptions among individual broadcasters) over the years.

ITV may not be a public service broadcaster (the market view is that it is not especially profitable, either!), but it does have a public service legal remit.
'The American Model...'

Have you been to the states and watched TV there? It's loads better in every genre.

Tell us your experience in that regard. Stop just repeating the U.S. straw man rubbish...
I agree. Ofcom are passing the buck on this. Yes, ITV Wales are hitting harder times but the public service element is part of their licence. It should be down to Ofcom to monitor and police the quality of ITV Wales' offering. The public will now swallow any extension of the licence fee - the answer has to lie in the quality an innovation of ITV and the quality control of Ofcom.
Yes, I have been to the States and watched TV there. It is my view that you need cable if you want to get decent programming but that is a personal view. The quality of the stuff that is exported to Britain is very high and better than a lot of our home grown stuff. Most of that is produced for cable though.
Torchwood and Dr Who is worth the TV licence fee just by themselves

Perhaps Peter's comment that you really need either cable or satalite to get decent TV is a good one, but having seen Sky, there are some good TV programmes in the way of the Discovery Channels and UKTV History, but even these programmes are repeated.

Having wasted many hours watching the Discovery Channel, he says, "ask me anything about sharks and Nazis". Ricky Gervais
My comment about cable or satellite referred to American TV. You can still get good quality programmes on terrestial TV in Britain.
Your comment Peter: "It seems to me that the American model of wholly commercial companies competing through producing programmes which appeal to the lowest common denominator is not the way forward."

Do you live in the USA? You are clearly promoting a false stereotype of American TV - Modern Marvels for one is FANTASTIC.
There are always exceptions but isnt Modern Marvels produced for the History Channel which is a subscription service? My point related to the free to view channels and I made it clear that there is some good programmes being produced by subscription channels.
Peter - in the UK it is illegal to own a TV without paying a licence fee. So there is no 'free' TV in the UK - in fact one of the biggest reasons single mothers go to jail is failing to a court fine for not paying for a TV licence.

Also Peter - you assume too much, there are free channels in the USA - and they broadcast some of the leading shows. Where are you getting your information from?

The free broadcasting channel have good local news coverage, international news coverage too, and several main line shows are on the free channels. PBS is on the free channels - in fact in the DC metro area one can tune into Maryland, DC and Virginia PBS stations, which often run good theatre/drama shows ... and they are FREE. In the UK one has to pay for a TV licence. I don't know where on earth you are getting your WRONG information about the USA - I've lived here some 10 years now, the first TV I had didn't have the cable channels - wasn't even hooked up. I had a metal coat-hanger as my aerial and watched lots of movies like the Untouchables on Saturday night c/o the FREE broadcasting channels - WAKE UP!
Peter - visiting the US you don't get a good picture of what's on the freebie channels - hotel rooms have cable (some of the channels on cable are actually the freebie ones that were availble via antenna/aerial. I used to watch the latest episodes of Seinfeld on an old black and white portable with an aerial - same goes for Charlie Rose - there is a good international news roundup on PBS, local news is on the freebie channels, and if memory serves FOX and ABC have freebie channels local news too, there's a really good international news program on one of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) channels.

I really don't like it when you pontificate on things American when you have never lived here - visiting is not the same as living here, hotels have cable - but several of the channels on cable are still available for FREE with an aerial.

Then there's NPR - for a year or so I didn't bother to have a TV and listened to NPR on the radio (National Public Radio). Great shows on NPR - and this is a freebie service! In the UK we have to pay for a TV licence or risk a big fine.
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