The TV License: A Defence

For some time now, there has been uneasiness over the subject of the TV license. First introduced in 1946, many have questioned the license fees relevancy in a world populated by ad breaks, on-demand, and Netflix. The issue is rearing its ugly head again with the upcoming election (which you may or may not have heard about from every outlet available).

The fee covers “any television receiving equipment such as a TV set, digital box, DVD or video recorder, PC, laptop or mobile phone [used] to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV.” It isn’t needed for those who simply own a television (only used for DVDs and the like), or those who solely use catch-up services. One big issue comes as the fee, as of 1991, is enforced and collected by the BBC, while other broadcasters receive payment through advertisements and product placements.

From the late 1980s, the fee has risen annually, but in 2010, it was fixed for six years at £145.50 for colour TV, and £49 for monochrome. Concessions are applicable for the legally blind and those in nursing homes. What do we get for our money? Well… BBC One; BBC Two; BBC Three; BBC Four; BBC News; BBC Sport; CBBC; Cbeebies; BBC Parliament; Red Button content; BBC Alba; BBC Radio 1 to 6, plus Radio 1 and 4 Extra, 5 Live, and 5 Live Sports Extra; BBC Asian Network; radio stations in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland; local radio; BBC World Service; online content; and arguably BBC iPlayer.

Born into a society whereby TV is paradoxically very important and entirely trivial, being asked to fork out £145.50 a year is going to cause a bit of cognitive dissonance…

Those complaining that they never watch anything on the BBC or listen to the radio are really limiting their entertainment. Across 2013 and 2014, the BBC rationed each license fee into what they pay for, so per month, each household contributes £8 to television, £2.30 to radio, 61p to online content, 49p towards actual enforcement of the fee, and 73p towards other services and production costs. Let’s take that larger amount: would you pay £8 each month for the BBC content you consume? Alongside Doctor Who, this may include year-round productions like BBC Breakfast, EastEnders, and Pointless; one-off shows like Marvellous, We’ll Take Manhattan, and United; children’s TV including The Sarah Jane Adventures, Tree Fu Tom, and Wizards Vs. Aliens; comedies like Not Going Out, W1A, and Miranda; and ever-popular programmes including Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear, Sherlock, The Great British Bake-Off, and The Apprentice. This is without mentioning sporting coverage and charity event screenings. There’s something for everyone, and chances are, you’ve likely spent more than £8 on a DVD of one of these series at least.

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of entertainment from the fee, but even looking over the last few months, we’ve had quality shows that should be enough to warrant the license: The Musketeers, Death in Paradise, The Casual Vacancy, Wolf Hall, Last Tango in Halifax, for instance.

Nonetheless, you’ll always get those who will proclaim with odd pride how they don’t watch anything on the BBC, and actually, they don’t even watch that much TV.

Perhaps this is part of the problem. Since its mass production, the television has been undervalued, underrated, and yet entirely captivating. We’ve since forgotten the wonder of having little people contained in a box in our lounges, how someone can have their images and voices trapped and broadcasted across the nation. Most of us don’t know the science behind it; even fewer care. But that’s fine. We’re just accustomed to it. That’s how life works. Complacency goes hand-in-hand with underappreciation, however, and so we’ve grown up with connotations of a couch potato, or Homer Simpson-esque nations, staring blindly at the Idiot’s Lantern. TV, somehow, doesn’t matter. It’s a triviality used to see us through our days.

Idiot's Lantern - The Wire

This, of course, is over-simplification, but it’s true that the majority of people don’t realise the amount of work that goes into even the dumbest of shows. I hate The X Factor, but I still hold an appreciation for the plethora of people involved, from those on screen, to those behind-the-scenes, from the runners furiously holding things together, to the PR teams tasked with drumming the brand into our heads.

And people also see the content as, to some degree, unimportant. What does it matter what happens to a fictional family when I’ve got bills to pay? But we do get involved with people we’ve never met, people who aren’t real. This is one of the core differences between humanity and other animals: storytelling. It is how we understand the world, or at least attempt to understand and relate to what’s happening around us.

Television really does matter; after all, you’re currently reading an entire site dedicated to a long-running show.

But born into a society whereby TV is paradoxically very important and entirely trivial, being asked to fork out £145.50 a year is going to cause a bit of cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t help that even the Establishment tells us there is something inherently wrong with paying for television. Politics, after all, is finding ways to gain from public divisions, and the current Conservative-Lib Dem coalition is in power only due to our dissatisfaction with life.

Remembrance of the Daleks - eye stalk

The license fee isn’t safe. The major parties all have questionable plans. The most damaging looks to be UKIP’s plans, with Nigel Farage claiming the BBC should be “cut back to the bone.” It would see a reduction in the license fee to just £48.50. This may sound a good thing to disgruntled homeowners, but it would certainly be a dark day for television. Farage’s reasoning is that the BBC should focus purely on international news coverage, not on entertainment, drama, or sports – which is obviously a huge threat to not just Doctor Who but also popular shows like Strictly Come Dancing, whatever remains of Top Gear, and Sherlock.

And that’s not even mentioning the non-headline-grabbing TV programmes.

Interestingly enough, this sounds a lot like the recommendations of John Whittingdale, chairman of the House of Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Committee. Arguing that the fee is “becoming harder and harder to justify and sustain,” he went on to advise that the BBC shouldn’t cover areas already featured by commercial stations, that it shouldn’t aim to cater for everyone. In a previous article, Kasterborous noted:

“In fact, this whole thing stinks somewhat, seen as it’s the Government advising what a broadcaster should disseminate. In that same set of recommendations, the Committee has highlighted the importance of the BBC World Service, as the UK shouldn’t lose ground to China and Russia in the “global information war.” That is the stench of irony.”

The Tories hint at a further license fee fix, while ‘top-slicing’ it and using the BBC as a crutch to support superfast broadband, local TV, the World Service, and even C4, according to Broadcast. Concerns have been raised about the Conservatives getting rid of the BBC Trust.

Capaldi in Torchwood 2

Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, already gets its fair share of programming, but the SNP want more business through BBC Scotland.

The Greens would scrap the license fee entirely, replacing it with a tax linked with inflation to ensure it’s “free of government interference,” and the Lib Dems plan something similar: they would keep the fee, but make sure it “does not rise faster than inflation.” They also make a pledge to keep the corporation’s independence by removing ministers from positions at the BBC Trust and Ofcom.

Labour perhaps has the most positive plans for the Beeb. They admit that “the BBC makes a vital contribution to the richness of our cultural life,” calling it “one of Britain’s greatest strengths,” but will decriminalise non-payment of the fee. Before full implementation, however, civil penalties would begin with a smaller pilot area. They would keep the license fee, but a further answer to what else they would actually do remains elusive, something that can be said about many topics when it comes to Red Ed and co. Ed Milliband told The Guardian:

“I think it’s incredibly important that we protect the BBC. It’s recognised around the world and is a benchmark for standards in Britain.”

And this is another reason we need to keep the license fee. Whether you as an individual like it or not, it’s an enviable position. This is a corporation supposedly free from Government influence, free from agenda (though admittedly, has left-wing leanings at times), and free of advertisements. Thanks to their pledge to make programming for a wide audience, we get niche shows that may otherwise not find enough advertising support to warrant their broadcast.

cb-dads-army1

Make no mistake: we are lucky to have the BBC.

Yes, we get repeats, but really our only complaint is with repeats of shows we don’t like. If every repeat was Doctor Who, this readership may find fewer issues, but the crowd supporting Dad’s Army et al. would justly have something to moan about. Repeats are a necessity, and some of us are pleased with the ones we do get nonetheless. Nostalgia and entertainment drive many a trade.

At this crucial time, when politics can tether our creative industries so dramatically, we need to look for the good – especially with the Government using the BBC and its licence fee as a scapegoat. Of course it’s important we consistently question where our money is going. However, if we’re displeased with the fee, it is only because our political leaders are forcing us to be. Society isn’t happy, and that negativity has to be funnelled. If it can be aimed partly at a corporation the Government doesn’t wholly approve of, one which does admittedly eat up money to serve us with 24/7 coverage, then it’s all the better.

Let’s keep the BBC free from Government interference. Let’s nevertheless question the BBC. But let’s appreciate it too. There’s a lot to appreciate.

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  1. garethothelass says:

    I have never got the beef with the License Fee, the BBC is absolutely superb value for money!

  2. Dr. Moo says:

    It’s fees or advertising. A no-brainer.

    • richpreston@mac.com says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Moo and garethothelass. When you consider what most people pay for the ‘other services’ on offer, being able to watch, listen and read quality programmes and articles free from constant advertising and other irritating interruptions the BBC fee (which only cost just over the price of a book of 1st class stamps a week or a couple of pints of decent refreshment) is, as you say – a no brainer.

    • DaHitman says:

      Ah right the left-wing argument to force nation to fund his propaganda, its got no adverts but its own before, during and after each program

      • Dr. Moo says:

        Exactly. One minute of non-commercial advertising in the same spot where other broadcasters would put ten minutes of commercialised garbage.
        Stop being a troll and go away.

        • DaHitman says:

          Oh I see so if someone objects to being forced to fund your entertainment their a troll, just pay up and STFU is it……………and to think some people object to being called a fascist but the hat fits

          • Dr. Moo says:

            It seems to fit you very well indeed. I wouldn’t want to take that away from you. 🙂

          • DaHitman says:

            Communist is dead, comrade

          • Dr. Moo says:

            I’m not a communist. If anyone here is acting like one it’s you. And I advise that you stop it now.

          • DaHitman says:

            I’ve never demanded my neighbours or anyone else funds a broadcaster for me, that would be you guys and the site owner by the looks of it

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          Dr. Moo, I think we should have symapthy for and take pity on DaHitman. It seems more than likely going by his incoherent gibberish that he may very well be suffering from some sort of mental retardation.

  3. McJohnson says:

    We should not ever get rid of it. Never. Don’t be stupid!

  4. Individual of Doom says:

    I think if the government do wish to be off with the TV license they should at least put it to referendum and let the people have their say. I expect it would be a landslide victory in favour of keeping it.

    • Namnoot says:

      That’s what they need to do. Put it to the people. One thing that really struck me during the Scottish referendum was that at one point a major issue coming from the people was whether or not they’d still get the BBC. Salmond himself had to reassure people they would (though people on the other side of the debate suggested they wouldn’t). With everything else on the line, the BBC found itself part of the referendum debate from the people. I think a referendum result on the issue might surprise people who think everyone in the UK wants to dump the BBC and the fee. The actual cost of the fee is a matter of debate, of course, but as I mentioned in my earlier post, it’s definitely good value for money when compared to what people are paying for cable services and the like elsewhere. There’s always room for streamlining, of course. That’s a separate debate.

  5. DaHitman says:

    We live in the 21st century where NO ONE should be forced to fund one left-wing broadcaster over all the others and anyone who thinks we should is a selfish left-wing fascist.

    STOP FUNDING THE BBC http://www.tvlicenceresistance.info/forum

    • Dr. Moo says:

      Look at the comments I’ve made on this post already. I’m not against the license fee. Now let me tell you this: I’m not left-wing, I’m not selfish and I’m certainly not fascist. Come back when you have something to say that you can back up and that the facts don’t disprove.

      • DaHitman says:

        Give the public the choice then instead of acting like a communist

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          They do have a choice, each and every one of us do.

          • DaHitman says:

            I SEE YOU ARE STILL IGNORING THE QUESTION AND WE BOTH KNOW WHY, CAN WE WATCH TV WITHOUT FUNDING YOUR BELOVED BBC YES OR NO?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            I see you still haven’t taken your meds. Trust me, we are having a lot more fun laughing at your posts than you are trying to wind people up 🙂

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Just plain weird, isn’t it? I think they’d suit Twitter better than they would Kasterborous.

          • DaHitman says:

            See people he’s still ignoring the question because he knows its wrong to force people to fund his left-wing propaganda, this is their mentality to insult anyone who doesn’t agree

          • Dr. Moo says:

            “This is their mentality to insult anyone who doesn’t agree”

            Are you hearing yourself????????

          • DaHitman says:

            I see you and your fascist colleagues are voting up each other, is the BBC website down?

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            I voted you up just so you don’t feel left out. Have a nice day 🙂

          • DaHitman says:

            I’m off now as your leader has threatened me, again others will see how you ignored my question twice

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Haha, you are hilarious! Thanks for giving me a good laugh.

          • DaHitman says:

            I’ve just been reading your histories, you guys are going to need sectioning when the BBC TV Licence is abolished, you are like parasites and if the admin doesn’t like that I’d suggest he looks the meaning up

            “an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense.”

          • Dr. Moo says:

            So attaching itself onto something bigger than itself and draining it of what makes it good. Right. You mean like what you’ve been doing on this comments section?

            And attacking the site owner is never going to be a good idea.
            I’m done with you now. So long! Have a nice day!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            ALL HAIL OUR KASTERBOROUS OVERLORDS!!! haha 🙂

          • Dr. Moo says:

            HAIL CHRISTIAN!!! HAIL PHILLIP!!! HAIL TO THEM ALL!!! WE MUST BOW BEFORE THEM!!!

            As if. I appreciate their work, that is all.

          • Philip says:

            Whoa, whoa, whoa. So now you’re NOT hailing us? I’m gonna have to go away and have a good cry, perhaps re-evaulate my life. Maybe this Hitmad – sorry, hitman bloke has a point after all. 😉

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            DEATH TO DR. MOO haha!!!

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Please have mercy!

          • Ranger says:

            No, no mercy! For daring to refuse to kowtow to our Kasterborous lords and masters, you must suffer! You fascist communist, you!

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            I think you forgot ‘selfish’! Pretty sure that is one of the words Madman used to describe everyone 🙂

          • Dr. Moo says:

            I’m sorry. Please don’t cry!!!

            WHAT HAVE I DONE?! 🙁

          • Dr. Moo says:

            Doesn’t appear to be: http://www.bbc.co.uk

          • DaHitman says:

            Once again I’m merely pointing to your attitude of fund our viewing habits or else, I’m not doing that you lot are

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            OK, thanks for pointing that out to us. Now, bye bye!

        • Ranger says:

          OK, so now he is both a fascist and a communist, both idealistically opposed. Make your mind up mate!

          Instead of calling people names and making bald statements without supporting arguments, just explain to us calmly and rationally why you disagree with keeping the licence fee. Everyone’s opinion is welcome here, as long as it is given with respect to the other members. You never know, you may persuade one or two of us to change our minds!

          • DaHitman says:

            Yes they both go together after all you are the parasites that demand everyone fund your left-wing propaganda, I certainly don’t.

            Why don’t you people go to North Korea, live like the commies you are

          • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

            Either you are acticng very well at being incredibly stupid and ignorant or more worryingly it is not an act. I fear the latter is the case.

          • DaHitman says:

            FASCIST

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      You are not ‘forced’ to pay it. Who is pointing a gun at your head and ‘forcing’ you to watch/listen to any BBC content whatsoever? If you don’t want to pay it then don’t, but also be prepared to lose all the ad-free content that the vast majority of us enjoy and appreciate and have no qualms about paying a meagre sum for.

      • DaHitman says:

        So we can watch live TV without being forced to fund YOUR left-wing propaganda can we?

        You know you lot are pathetic, if the BBC are so good you wouldn’t mind a voluntary subscription fee, the truth is you’re parasites.

        GET A LIFE BECAUSE THE COMMUNIST IDEOLOGY IS DEAD, COMRADE

        • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

          It is volutary. I choose to pay it because I enjoy the services and programs that come with it – Doctor Who more than any other I may add. There is absolutely no political or idealogical motive whatsoever. I just want to watch shows like Doctor Who without adverts.
          And thanks, but I already have a life – and a very enjoyable one too. And please refrain from addressing me as your ‘comrade’.
          Now, I assume you have missed your medication this morning so I strongly urge you to take it now before you give yourself a heart attack.

          • DaHitman says:

            I SEE YOU ARE STILL IGNORING THE QUESTION AND WE BOTH KNOW WHY, CAN WE WATCH TV WITHOUT FUNDING YOUR BELOVED BBC YES OR NO??

        • K Doctor Who News says:

          DaHitman, I have a certain amount of sympathy with your viewpoint, but your attitude is out of order.

          Please modify your behaviour and deal with the needless, childish insults you have cast, or you will leave me no choice but to block you.

          Thank you.

          • DaHitman says:

            Agree with us or else, ok I’m gone I’ll leave it to lurkers to see how this site operates and judge for themselves how the left-wing mindset works, comrade

          • K Doctor Who News says:

            You don’t have to agree, you have to behave like a reasonable human being. As per our (hardly revolutionary) comments policy (http://www.kasterborous.com/2014/05/change-kasterborous-comments-policy/):

            “comments must be on-topic, not insulting to other readers and treat the contributors of Kasterborous – who offer their time free of charge – with appropriate respect.”

            Also, you’re devaluing the more eloquent arguments against the license fee. Unfortunately you’ve refused to accept the site rules, so it’s goodbye from me.

    • Philip says:

      No.

  6. bar says:

    John Frobisher illustrates what’s extra about the beeb: it’s not just that the good programmes would be paid for by ads, it’s that the smaller audience, newer writers, experimental stuff WOULD NOT BE MADE. Torchwood 1 & 2 had been ok, but hadn’t grabbed everyone nor had the approval that SJA did. One hour of prime time BBC1 for five consecutive nights was brave – and turned out to be brilliant. But advertisers do not take such risks, and they don’t nurture creative people through their learning years. CofE had a fantastic team of people behind it and in it, who owed a lot to the Beeb.
    yes referendum, yes decriminalisation, but I’d pay it for Who, Radio 4, and test match special!

    • Ranger says:

      Can’t add anything to the superb comments made by the others on this thread (except for one person…!). I’ve made my feelings plain in other related threads, the BBC is great and I have no problem with the licence fee at all.

      Bar – you and me think alike. it’s worth it just for Who, Radio 4 and I really couldn’t survive without test match special (anyone else dreading/can’t wait for the Ashes this summer?! TMS so much better than Sky coverage). Another excellent article from Philip – and this is where Kasterborous scores over other DW sites – the intelligent and thought-provoking articles. Thanks Philip, Christian and all other contributors and, of course, the intelligent, funny and no doubt sexy, members.

  7. Dr. Moo says:

    Okay everyone, there’s a certain commenter here who seems to have some kind of axe to grind for no reason. Can I suggest we don’t give that person any more of our time and let them be?

    • Doc7 says:

      Yes and may I offer a thanks to Dr. Moo, Ranger and FrancoPabloDiablo for their polite responses to them. This is a respectful forum and we should never let it be anything else.

  8. Doc Whom says:

    To be fair, if you want to avoid trolls, it’s advisable not to hold out hostages for them.

  9. Doc Whom says:

    As for not being forced to pay it because you can choose not to watch BBC programming, I think that FrancoPabloDiabo misunderstands the licence fee. You don’t have to pay it to watch the BBC. You have to pay it to watch any broadcast TV in the UK – BBC, ITV, Sky, whatever. I once spent ages on a certain large DW forum (admittedly not the go-to place for logical arguments) arguing with people who flatly denied that the paying the licence fee (or not) was anything other than a voluntary commercial decision. They insisted that it’s not a tax because watching TV is voluntary but they happily accepted that excise duties on other voluntary activities (tobacco, alcohol, petrol) counted as taxes. No, when it commes to the BBC, its defenders are happier to start from a position of conceding the basic argument of its enemies. Whatever we do, we mustn’t admit that the licence fee is a tax because taxes are bad. Says who? The Daily Mail. Defenders of the BBC should reach down our collective pants, find a pair of big hairy balls and challenge the whole idea that taxes are bad as a basis for a defence of the licence fee. But we should have the moral courage not to defend the indefensible. Pointing out the evident truth that the BBC is obscenely bloated is not being anti-BBC any more than asking for more doctors and fewer managers is being anti-NHS. Everyone knows that the corporation comprises about 1,000 fabulously talented and inventive people being crushed under the weight of 20,000 incompetent managers (those figures may not be entirely accurate).

    • FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      I do understand that but admit that from the way I put things it looks like I was saying it was only about the BBC. Truth is I love the ad-free programming the BBC offers as a direct result of the fee and the quality of a lot of their output and that is the point I was trying to get across. And there are plenty of, admittedly less than legitimate, ways to watch TV without having to pay the fee – though lets not go there. And I stand by my thoughts that if you feel so incredibly strongly against the BBC and the licence fee then don’t pay it and go without. If you are so adamant it is intrinsically evil and wrong then it surely must be a small sacrifice to make to go without TV and not contribute financially towards what for the vast majority of people enjoy and are happy to pay such a small amount to – and all with no political motivations or thoughts. Like I’ve said, each of us have a choice. Nobody is forcing anybody to pay it.

    • Ranger says:

      You make some very valid points, Whom. I agree with you totally that the BBC needs to sort out the management situation and that the licence fee is basically a tax; but it is a tax that I am very happy to pay (as I am happy to pay other taxes – no taxes=anarchy). But I can understand that some people feel that it is a tax that is unwarranted as they don’t watch the BBC and that therefore a subscription fee would be more sensible. But I would argue it is analogous to a lot of people not going to museums or art galleries and yet our taxes help to keep these institutions free of entry charges, which I feel it is very important. Once you start developing a homogeneous cultural/artistic society based on the majority’s desires than you have a society that stagnates and fails to innovate. The BBC’s current ability, based on the licence fee, to be able to produce minority interest programmes is a part of a diverse, rich, educational, dynamic cultural UK society that I am very proud of.

      PS, can I find my ovaries rather than some big hairy balls? 😉

  10. garethothelass says:

    Oh rarely have I been so entertained on a thread. I’ll be going out to get my municipal popcorn from the glorious people’s republic convenience store in a mo, please do keep it going for my return!

  11. Philip says:

    Thanks for all your positivity, everyone. And thank you for the debate too. I’m pleased most of you agree with me, even if you’re probably fascist communists. 😉

  12. Namnoot says:

    In the US, HBO – one single broadcaster – costs about US$15 per month. That comes out to US$180 per year. For one single station. That converts to roughly 120 British pounds (the symbol doesn’t want to work for some reason here). I think 145 for all the different stations and products is a heck of a good deal. Other things to consider – without standard advertising there is less pressure for cancellation. Yes, it means you get crap too, but a show like Doctor Who gets a lot more leeway on the BBC than it does elsewhere. And yes I’m aware the BBC considered canning the show when Tennant left and Michael Grade and all that. But I do believe that had a commercial network produced Doctor Who’s revival, whether one of the commercial or satellite UK networks or something like BBC America in the US, the show would not have made it to 9 seasons or 10 years. I can understand people disliking the idea of being forced to pay the fee, but no one’s holding a gun to their head to have a TV either. And it’s been stated that people who don’t watch broadcasts (and apparently all broadcasts in the UK are nothing but “left-wing propaganda” anyway. I bet 99% of people have no idea what that means) don’t have to pay. There are options. In some respects a 145 pound licence fee works out better than the highway robbery prices we’re forced to pay for cable here in Canada, which in some cases is even necessary to receive local broadcasts now that we once used to be able to watch for free with a TV and set of rabbit ears. And we’re already forced to pay environmental taxes and the like whenever we buy phones, computers, TVs, etc.

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