Debate: Why I stand with a possible decriminalisation of the BBC License Fee

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The twenty first century, is, for all intents and purposes, the century of the media revolution. A century for networks and TV channels, not based around public subsidy, but on a new commercial level. In many nations, commercialisation and public funding go hand in hand, in order to transition from a taxpayer funded broadcaster, to a fully financially independent news network, which, with the Government as a major shareholder, would remain protected from being acquired by other media groups. This is what the twenty first century holds for state broadcasters and publicly owned media. Britain should adapt to such constantly changing circumstances. 

The British Broadcasting Corporation, once the flagship of world media, has for many years been in steady decline. Ofcom warns that the BBC is essentially “losing a generation of viewers”, with more than half of sixteen to twenty four year olds no longer tuning in to watch BBC channels. Rather than changing course of action, the BBC continued to do ‘business as usual’, not realising that the reason it is no longer appealing, is because it is not fit for modern times. The problem that the Broadcasting Corporation now faces is either to change, or perish. This is why I stand with the government’s decision to review the funding which the BBC receives, and consider decriminalising the non payment of the £154.50 License Fee. This is an extortionate fee, which at face value does not do justice to the scale of the problem. The very fact that 75.7% (3.83 billion pounds) of BBC funding comes from that very Licence Fee is symptomatic of the issues which beset the BBC. A truly innovative, modern BBC should not be propped up by a form of taxation, or the government, which still provides 17.1 % of those 3.83 billion pounds, in order to maintain free license fees for over 75s. Further, decriminalising it will make the process swifter and quicker, as nonpayment will face fines as a civil offence rather than a criminal one.

The BBC is essentially “losing a generation of viewers”.

The BBC was founded in an epoch where TV channels required government support. This was the case in most European nations, however, most countries have transitioned and reformed their systems of funding for state broadcasters. Complex, confusing, and at times downright questionable, the BBC has instead not only persisted on its path, but resisted proposed changes for years. In 2015, after David Cameron’s surprise victory, government officials hinted at BBC reform, yet such required changes never materialised. Whilst the speculations from the government in the past weeks, may be a media campaign against the BBC from Dominic Cummings, and the rest of the Johnson inner circle of ‘desperados’, it raises an issue of profound importance. Not only should the non payment of the BBC License Fee be decriminalised, but it should be done with a view to abolish the License Fee as a whole in the near future. 

Unlike other publicly owned networks in European countries, the British Broadcasting Corporation, survives of its License fee. In Spain, the State TV broadcasting system is almost entirely self funded through commercialised TV, and indirectly controlled by the government which leases individual channels to private enterprise, whilst holding strict regulatory checks on them. In France, the publicly owned networks are not fully dependent on the License Fee but share their funding with revenue from commercial advertisements. In Italy, the RAI, Italian equivalent of the BBC, can sustain itself by allowing advertisements, marketing from privates, and through the stock exchange and shareholders. This is why their have been numerous calls for the abolition of the RAI license fees which have come from both sides of the political spectrum; most famously from the conservative Berlusconi, and the former Democratic Party Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. If all these European nations can successfully separate state funding from taxpayers from public ownership, why can Britain not do the same. Why should the burden be on the people? If the BBC is really such an institution so cherished by the British people, then advertisements, and an increased viewership will be able to prop up the network. Let the people have the choice, rather than enforce an outdated, obsolete, and frankly illiberal method.

If all these European nations can successfully separate state funding from taxpayers from public ownership, why can Britain not do the same.

With such reforms the BBC would truly be a Broadcasting Corporation fit for modern times, and could perhaps salvage itself from the unpopularity which has formed against it. Speaking in strictly political terms, Johnson’s move is flawless. If he follows through with what he has hinted at, the BBC will truly, and quickly, have to do or die. If he does not decriminalise the non payment of the License Fee, he will have still sent a significant signal to both his electorate and the BBC. Yet there is more than party politics at stake with this issue. Yes, the BBC has faced criticisms for both its coverage of Brexit, and the alleged unfair treatment it reserved for Jeremy Corbyn in the general election. That is however, a normal situation. Criticisms of state broadcasters are the standard in all nations, and these critiques will never end. Nonetheless, the problem of a taxpayer funded broadcasting corporation is one which must be solved quickly. Britain should adapt to modern times, commercialise the BBC, whilst maintaining strict regulatory checks in order to avoid the problems which plague private news networks. Only in this manner will the BBC be fit for the decade ahead, and cast away the ancient relic of such an exorbitant License Fee.

Image Credit: Geoff Marshall, Wikimedia Commons



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