Image by James Cridland via Flickr
The perennial argument over the television licence fee was brought to mind again recently after a friend was dithering over whether to pay the £145 for a TV licence. They are from the Ukraine which doesn’t have a TV licence so it seems like an extra payment too far. And that’s the main bone of contention with the TV licence in that it’s a very visible ‘tax’ (in the minds of many).
Now that are many taxes that we have no opt out over. We can’t dictate how our taxes are spent. National Insurance is paid in case we fall ill and need free medical attention even if we rarely use the service. If the government instead payed the BBC out of general taxation then maybe it would feel less like a tax we could opt out of but would give the government of the day much greater control over the withdrawl of funds. At the moment the licence fee money goes straight to the public service broadcasters and isn’t handled by government. Would such a move quell the licence fee carpers?
Another option would be to allow the opt out of the licence fee for those that genuinely do not watched the stations funded by it. I include radio stations in this arrangement. This leaves the need for a complicated way of blocking the reception of public service stations on Freeview, Freesat, satellite and cable boxes unless you can key in some kind of authorisation code gleened from your payment of the licence fee. Another solution that reduces the income to the BBC and pushes the price up for those that opt in. A divisive and petty solution?
Others have argued for a tax/levy on television sets sold. Well we don’t buy a TV set every year and if we take 2009 as an example of recent peak TV sales then around 10 million sets were sold during that year. What sort of levy would provide an equivalent sum to that currently provided by the current licence revenues? Surely that would require a considerable levy unless we merely used a token sum to help lower the current yearly fee to more politically acceptable level.
Perhaps a licence fee and government grant hybrid would be a compromise. Slash the visible fee to say £65/£70 and make up the rest from direct government support or take the controls off the profits that offshoots like BBC Worldwide can make in order to help subsidise the reduced income from the collected licence.
There is an argument for just cutting back on the digital channels. BBC Four is accused of an output similar to the old BBC2 whilst the latter has somewhat diluted its identity.
The BBC has also considered the unthinkable by suggesting they decimate their local radio presence by syndicating radio 5Live and retaining only local options for breakfast and drive slots. Maybe they could be sacrificed to local media and commercial radio who constantly complain that they can’t compete.
I’m all for reducing round the clock broadcasting. I remember the days when some hours of the day were merely filled with the testcard. Many digital stations only start at 7pm. Do we really need so much daytime programming especially if all we’re going to do is fill so much of it with so much property obsessed programming.
The Uk certainly does not have the highest TV licence fee in Europe. Germany has a higher TV licence fee than the UK but has concessions for the very poorest and and the availability of a radio only licence. Food for thought.
I’m old enough to remember the days when TV content wasn’t always available and the testcard filled the screen. Maybe its time to embrace the less is more mantra. These are times of austerity.