BBC Charter Review 

13 December 2003

BBCi Charter Review page

BBC Charter Review

At the top of a webpage there was a large advert-style link entitled “WANTED Your opinions about the future of the BBC. All views welcome. Click here.”; normally I don’t bother to click such links but since this was on the BBCi front page I decided to give it a go to see what would happen. It turns out (quite logically) that it links to a page devoted to the BBC’s charter review, though the actual DCMS site is linked to separately as a “related link” as is standard BBC policy (the usual disclaimer “the BBC is not responsible for the content of non-BBC sites” has an added sense of irony in this case).

Anyway all this talk of “Charter Review” set me thinking: do we still need to have a BBC funded by a licence fee? The answer in my opinion is a resounding “YES”, and unless you never ever watch or listen to BBC services the case for a licence fee has never been stronger; indeed the more commercial channels there are, the stronger the case becomes for guaranteeing the BBC a fixed income that is unaffected by advertiser loyalties.

The commercial sector may occasionally whinge at the BBC’s power and influence, but the fact is that if the BBC became even partly funded by advertising/sponsorship, all the major channels that are solely advertisment-funded and produce large quantities of original programming (ITV, Channel 4, Five) would be hardest hit whilst the Murdoch-owned Sky channels would continue to churn out predominantly imports and premium content safe in the knowledge that they are still guaranteed a fixed income which might even increase as well. Result: Sky 1, Opposition 0.

Lowering the licence fee would weaken the BBC to such an extent that it would be forced to cut back on core services, meaning that more and more people would start to question the value of the licence fee even if they had been happy to pay for it so far. And even if you never watch or listen to BBC services (which is still very unlikely), lowering or removing the licence fee would simply be an open invitation for Sky to raise its subscription charges as well as the rest of the commercial sector suffering as a result, so you would be unlikely to be much better off and nobody really wins except BSkyB. Game over.

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