What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

January 06, 2007

Old arguments revisited

I was intrigued by this graph in the Economist’s analysis of ‘The future of the BBC’:

"… the BBC is not equally loved by everyone. The rich and the old are keener on it than the poor and the young, who in effect subsidise the viewing and listening of more prosperous households."

There has been much holiday discussion about the need for the Lib Dems to regain our risk-taking cutting edge, to dare to be different.

I have to confess to some degree of amusement, though, that I can imagine our party more happily agreeing to scrap Trident than the BBC licence fee.

5 comments:

Andy Mayer said...

I rather fear Stephen that our media policy is decided by richer, older members of our party rather than those living in the fast changing media revolution happening around us.

Alex Wilcock said...

Well, purely by your Trident analogy…

Which one’s in constant use (hopefully)?

Which one makes Britain loved and admired round the world, and which hated and feared?

Which one does the Prime Minister have the greater difficulty firing?

And, in a world where there isn’t a huge opposing nuclear bloc to deter, call me a broadcasting hawk, but I’m no unilateralist against the Murdochian threat to the British way of life ;-)

Tom Papworth said...

It raises a very interesting question.

At a recent debate on the licence fee, a Treasury official admitted that HMT view the Licence Fee not as a fee at all but as a tax.

The BBC had a genuine public service role back in the 1950s, but these days one can buy access to hundreds of channels for only a few pounds a week. Why we are required to pay c.£11/month for just two terrestrial channels that one might not even choose to watch?

There is nothing the BBC provides that competitors cannot also provide without public subsidy.

Bishop Hill said...

As Brian Micklethwait said in his recent post on the LibDems, you guys need to decide if you are actually liberals or not.

Standing up against the licence fee would be a great start. You can do it on grounds of the media market place having changed if you like. Better still would be to argue against TV tax on grounds that it is illiberal.

Andy Mayer said...

To answer Alex's 'head in sand sentimentality point' There is an intelligent way out of the political inertia around this issue. You can reform the licence fee without scrapping 'much-loved' aspects of the BBC or jeopardising their independence.

If there is political consensus that there is a public service niche in media that we call public service broadcasting then it is clearly not one and the same thing as the institution of the BBC anymore than all good public education is provided by state schools or public health by the NHS.

Public Service Broadcasting should be properly defined and the money raised to support should be both 'fair', i.e. not from a poll tax on a piece of furniture, and open to any media body to bid for.

In that respect you could retain the much loved 'advert-free' aspect of any broadcast that has successfully bid for PSB money from a PSB regulator independent of government, while programming with no public service justification would need to become advert funded.

It would also answer the criticism that you need to pay for Eastenders to ensure enough people are watching the channels that also carry Walking with Dinosaurs and a non-commercial news service. Clearly that would be more true not less if Sky One and ITV1 as well as BBC2 is carrying PSB programming.

Further if you eliminate the nonsense definition of light entertainment as a public service, that currently means we're using tax revenue to pay for Pop Idol and give Johnathan Ross half a million quid to provide a radio show utterly similar to a dozen commercial alternatives, and the fund was set at £2billion, the current cost of the BBC, then it would provide dramatically more scope for public information and education than is currently true on the Beeb with a lot more chance of local and community broadcasting becoming a financial possibility. Which all should be appealing to Lib Dems.

In respect of what replaces the licence fee, general taxation would be the most obvious source, but there is also an interesting notion of creating a media monopoly tax to combat the Murdoch or Berlusconi problem. Simply put, across a range of media markets, market share, say above 10% incurs a progressive level of corporation or turnover tax that incentivises diversity.

I'm not going to hold my breath though.