The Adam Smith Institute recently called for the BBC licence fee to be scrapped. But it’s incredible value and without it the BBC wouldn’t produce the same range of high-quality programmes.
You can’t buy much for 39p. Yet that’s all the licence fee costs each day. And for that you get access to a whole world of entertainment, with two TV stations, five national radio stations, plus local services and even more available digitally and online.
Yet some people still object to paying even this tiny amount. Their argument seems to be ‘why should we have to pay for something that we might not use?’
Read Mike Briggs argue this view in his Conversation ‘Why I want the TV licence to go.’
An unfair tax?
The reality is that we accept the principle of paying for stuff we don’t use every day. I don’t have children but have to pay for schools and teachers, for example.
Libraries, museums and galleries are all financed from public funds (albeit through general taxation) and it’s accepted that we benefit from their presence, irrespective of how often we visit them. And TV and radio plays a more prominent role in our lives than any of these institutions.
And unlike in these examples, you do have a choice – you don’t have to buy a TV licence. You can even watch TV by going online (probably using the BBC’s excellent iPlayer service).
Opponents of the licence fee argue that the BBC should be self funding. Yet output from its rivals shows the limitations of commercial TV. The guaranteed income from the Licence fee allows the BBC to produce shows to suit every taste and to invest in high quality programmes. Could you seriously imagine a commercial station spending five years, and £16m, creating Planet Earth?
The dire alternative
In contrast, the commercial stations have dumbed down outrageously as they chase ratings and slash costs with reality programmes, Z-list celebrities and American reruns.
And that’s before you consider the annoyance of adverts. Oh, and if you find ads a pain, get ready for product placement in programmes, which the commercial channels are desperate to introduce in 2011.
When you consider all this, is it really any surprise that eight of the ten greatest British TV programmes (as chosen by the BFI) were shown on the BBC?
Replacing the licence fee with a subscription model wouldn’t work either. Unless it was set at an extremely high level (thereby excluding all but the wealthiest) it wouldn’t generate enough revenue, so programme quality would fall.
An independent, trusted voice
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shows on the BBC that I could live without. But the BBC isn’t run for my benefit, its for us all. And we’re tuning in – 97% of the population uses BBC services each week.
We trust it too. Polls show that over 50% favour the BBC’s political reporting over any other source (Sky came second with a measly 7%).
That’s not to say the licence fee is perfect (the limited concessions are totally insufficient), but it’s something that needs tweaking, not replacing. Without it, British TV, one of the few institutions that we can still be proud of, would wither away. And I, for one, am happy to pay 39p a day to prevent that happening.
What do you think about the BBC TV licence fee?
I agree with Jon and think it's worth the price (58%, 156 Votes)
I agree with Mike and think it should be optional (42%, 112 Votes)
Total Voters: 268