In his Lib Dem News column this week, reprinted on his Liberal England blog, Jonathan Calder poses what he terms “an awkward question that won’t go away”:
How can you justify financing the BBC through the licence fee in a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-everything world? Increasing numbers of people rarely watch its programmes and the fee is the nearest thing we have to a poll tax. If the BBC has its way, it will cost us all £180 a year by 2013.
Those arguing the case for the continuation of the BBC licence fee have not had their case made any easier by the weekend’s controversy over Jonathan Ross’s and Russell Brand’s prank phone calls. The Daily Hate-Mail’s overblown faux outrage is beside the point. The bigger issue is that stars such as Ross would be equally at home on ITV or Channel 4 – but the state-funded BBC outbid their advertising-dependent rivals.
Where once the licence fee levelled the playing field, allowing the BBC and ITV to compete to ratchet up standards, the BBC is now completely dominant, and commercial channels are rapidly withdrawing from their public service obligations. As recession reality bites, and advertising revenues dwindle, this process will only accelerate. ITV and Channels 4 and Five are certain to be looking for further programme budget cuts, leaving only the BBC to cater for those who value quality telly and radio. Which is fine, I guess, if you’re happy with the idea of a state-run monopoly, answerable only to a quango, funded by a regressive poll tax. But that’s not my liberal cup of tea.
So, two questions to ponder: (i) does the state have a role in the funding of broadcasting? (I say yes); and (ii) if it does, what’s the most efficient and effective way of funding public service broadcasting? In this poll, we’re looking only at the second question – but feel free to ponder (i) in the comments section – and asking you, LDV’s readers, the question: How do you think the BBC should be funded?
Here are your options:
> As at present, through the BBC licence fee
> Scrap the licence fee, but pay for the BBC through general taxation
> Scrap the licence fee, and let the BBC become a subscription-based members’ service
> Scrap the licence fee, and let the BBC compete for advertising revenue
Over to you…