The BBC’s 2003 Annual Report stated that the BBC receive close to i?? 2 billion from the public in the form of licence fees. Several campaigns are currently active to abolish or rethink the licence fee. With time ticking on to 2006, these resistances are gathering pace. BBC Resistance is one of the most active online opponents to the licence fee. They feel that the compulsive restriction of the licence fee intrudes on their rights. The group lead by Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Miller instigated a court case against the BBC. He said he did not want to pay the fee because he felt it was “anachronistic, unfair and cruel”.
Mr Miller said that he did not want to pay for something he did not use, and felt that the licence fee was unfair because it did not take into consideration those who cannot pay. Mr Miller lost his court battle but succeeded in raising questions about the BBC and the way that it is funded. Supporters of the fee say that although people might have to pay the licence fee, they are under no obligation to actually own a television. If radio and online services were not paid though the licence fee, then other means of collecting the revenue would have to be found.
Furthermore, the argument that you shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t use, could apply to anything “I shop at Tesco’s but do not receive a bill for Sainsburys, or equally, my national insurance contributions go towards funding the health service/transport etc but “I am never sick” so why should I pay for it? ” The ‘real’ issue that this argument actually leads to is that of personal freedom and choice in a democratic society. Personally, I think that the opponents of the fee have a valid point when it comes to discussing the funding of the BBC.
Why isn’t there a more democratic, public process for deciding whether or not the licence fee should be sustained, or simply how much it is? Critics have campaigned for the government to allow a vote amongst the British public to decide the fee. A simple democratic poll has been suggested by opponents of the charge. However, this idea does seem a little daft. I am sure that if the majority of the British public were asked “Do you want to pay i?? 121 for your television” most would say no (and I would say no with them). The financial sustainability of the BBC is less important to people than it is to saving themselves i??
121 a year. However, I do think that a public consultation on the price of the licence fee would go a long way in helping to satisfy those who think that the BBC is nothing more than a stealth tax placed on them by the government. “Is it really right to levy a tax against people just because there is not another ‘viable option'” (tvlicensing. biz) Other ‘viable options’ for funding the BBC include advertising. Other commercial stations gain the majority of their funding through advertising. In 1985 the Peacock report investigated the effects on the BBC if advertising was undertaken.
They came to the conclusion that “… allowing one minute of advertising per hour on BBC television would in the short run reduce total television advertising by 15%, ITV and Channel 4 revenue by 25% and press revenue by 7%”. (Peacock Report 1985) Although the sums raised through advertising on the BBC would be massive I think that the effects on quality would be detrimental. Programming would have to be altered to maintain solvency (as happens with other channels), commercial pressures could mean that the channel would be aiming to satisfy advertisers and not viewers.
Furthermore, I think that funding the BBC through advertising is a very risky decision. With the influx of such a great number of other commercial broadcasters, advertising as a source of income would become less certain, purely because of the number of broadcasters competing for the revenue. A further argument perhaps most felt by viewers is that the licence fee maintains the ‘ad-free’ breaks. For example, when the Euro 1998 final was broadcast on both ITV and BBC1, the BBC took a much larger share of the 24 million audience. (BBC Website quotes 17. 2 million watched BBC and 6.
8 million for ITV). It seems viewers chose to watch the coverage on BBC1 because they would not be ‘disturbed’ by advertising in the breaks, or, breaks at all. Challengers of the licence fee point to the way that the BBC advertises its own products on the channel. If advertising is suitable for the BBC only when it is their own products they are selling why is commercial advertising not suitable? Furthermore, critics indicate that commercial stations such as Channel 4, ITV, Sky etc have adverts that do not detract from the channels popularity (viewing figures).
Audiences do not seem to mind the prevalence of adverts when choosing to watch a programme. “If people want to view the BBC without these ad breaks they could be provided with their own ad-free, digital subscription version of the corporations output, instead of expecting the rest of us to pay for their preference”. (Mullan 1997:23) Another suggested way of funding the BBC is that of subscription. The idea is that people pay for what they want to watch. Either by paying for individual programmes or for certain BBC services. It would work in the same way as Sky’s ‘package buying’.
The idea of paying for single programmes pay-per-view as it is commonly referred to has worked extremely well on Sky. This is demonstrated through football matches (purchasing a ‘season ticket’ which costs around i?? 50 or by paying for an individual match i?? 5). This pay-per-view theme is also extended to movies and other sporting events (most commonly boxing). Further support has been given to this premise by commentators who say that if the BBC is so highly regarded by viewers that they, (the BBC) should not fear a move to subscription. Surely everyone would happily volunteer what is now compelled?
This idea is interesting and perhaps a little nai?? ve. I believe that subscription would be unfair. As Goodwin suggests “The privatisation of informational and cultural resources may well create a two-tiered society of those who are rich and poor in such resources. Such a development would undercut the fundamentally democratic principles upon which public service broadcasting rests” (Goodwin 1990:26) Furthermore, the Reithan principle of universality for all would be lost. Lord Reith’s view that the BBC should be used as “the glue that binds us together” would suffer.
Momentous events in history such as the Coronation or the World Cup Final that so cemented the country in previous years could become pay-per-view phenomena’s. On the other hand these events are few and far between in today’s culture and really the only programmes that ‘have got us talking’ in recent times include “Pop Idol”, “I’m a celebrity… ” on Channel 3 and “Big Brother” on Channel 4. However, I do think that people need to be able to reach information that is not predicated on if they can afford to receive it or not.
I also think that if the BBC was funded by subscription the packages they might offer would include all the ‘best’ offerings on one expensive package which would lead to an inferior service for those who could not afford them. Whatever the whys and wherefores surrounding the future of the BBC, it does need to be recognised that the Corporation is facing a tumultuous but exciting time. It seems that in order for the BBC to survive it needs to create a new identity for itself and get away from what Goodwin calls “the patrician values of a middle-class intelligentsia” (Goodwin 1990:26).
This transformation came to the nation’s consciousness two weeks ago when new Director-General Mark Thompson announced that he was eliminating 2,900 jobs – or more than 10% of its workforce to save i?? 320 million – which he says will be redirected into programming. Further savings include the transfer of some programmes out of London and into Manchester. This is to reduce the concentration of much of the corporation’s output coming from London. CBBC, radio Five Live and BBC Sport will move to Manchester.
Thompson said “My vision for the future of the BBC has three parts: a bold new programme and content strategy based above all around the idea of excellence; a transformation of the BBC into a state-of-the art digital broadcaster, and an irreversible shift in the culture of the BBC towards simplicity, opportunity and creativity” (Guardian, 7 December 2004) It seems that BBC has woken up to the fact that they have a bit of a battle on to retain the licence fee and is making the changes required to achieve this.
Therefore, I think that the BBC should keep its licence fee. The argument that the fee gives the company an unfair advantage has to take into account that other commercial channels do not have to rigidly adhere to criteria set out in a Charter. For example, providing programming for minority groups. I think that the British people should be proud of the BBC for providing a world renowned information service. This is highlighted by the general consensus that BBCi (the corporations website) is the most used website in Europe.
Again, fierce oppositions puts forward the argument that this website is provided by people paying the licence fee although can be used by people from other countries (who do not pay the fee). To that, I say bah humbug! We should be proud that one of our broadcasters provides an excellent service and this tradition should be maintained. Furthermore, by selling some of its programmes abroad through BBC Worldwide and the proliferation of consumerable goods (such as magazines, toys etc) the BBC actually manages to keep the licence fee down.
I think that without the licence fee British television would turn into an American hit and miss style of programming with thousands of adverts and lack of quality material. The licence fee manages to give people from all walks of life a chance to receive programming that ‘informs, educates and entertains’. Although this ethos is laughed at in the 21st Century I think it has more reverence now than it did all those years ago – when the idea to form a British institution that was celebrated for pioneering, flawless broadcasting celebrated by British people was nothing more than a few radio waves.
Bibliography Buscombe, E (2000) British Television: A Reader Oxford; Oxford University Press Collins, R (1998) From Satellite to Single Market: New Communications Technology and European Public Service Television. London; Routledge Crisell, A (2002) An Introductory History of British Broadcasting. London; Routledge Curran, J (2002) Power Without Responsibility: The Press, Broadcasting and New Media in Britain. London; Routledge Goodwin, A (1990) Understanding Television London; Routledge Mullan, B (1997) Consuming Television: Television and its Audience. Oxford; Blackwell.
Stokes, J (1999) The Media in Britain: Current Debates and Developments. Basingstoke; Macmillan Tracey, M (1997) The Decline and Fall of Public Service Broadcasting Oxford; Oxford University Press Williams, R (1997) Normal Service Won’t Be Resumed: The Future of Public Service Broadcasting. St Leonards, NSW; Allen and Unwin Reports Review of the BBC’s Royal Charter December 2003 by Department for Culture, Media and Sport Webography www. bbci. co. uk www. mediaguardian. co. uk www. tvlicensing. co. uk www. tvlicensingbiz. co. uk www. bbccharterreview. org.