15 March 2006

Simon Jenkins rants about the BBC as usual.

Simon Jenkins along with Max Hastings make up some of the new big name right wing commentators in the Guardian and Simon is continuing the right wing rants he was famous for in the Times. Today his target is the BBC.

The thrust of his argument is that the BBC is poor value for money in this advancing digital and internet world and should have the licence fee cut because it is a 'poll tax' and the BBC is in direct competition with the commercial channels that provide better value for money.

As I have argued previously the BBC has 37% of total TV viewing and only 23% of total TV revenue. This suggests that purely in terms of viewing figures, rather than being poor value, it is actually much BETTER value than the commercial sector.

Not only this of course, it makes programmes that enrich our culture and provide a uniquely British feel to our TV programmes that otherwise would be even more dominated by US imports.

The 126 pound licence fee is in terms of entertainment the best 126 pounds a year most people in this country spend. For a diet of US imports and sport that is ultimately intellectually unchallenging you can pay 400 pounds a year. This to me seems poor value. Entertainment is subjective. I find BBC4's recent programmes 'Tory, Tory, Tory' and 'Time' as immensely entertaining as well as illuminating. Some people only find 'you've been framed' type programmes entertaining. Am I being elitist? Maybe I am.

As for the licence fee being a 'poll tax', to be more accurate it is more like a 'council tax' because it is a flat rate levied per property not individual. While flat rates are regressive, over 75s are already exempt and the licence fee is still the best way to keep the BBC independent of government and is still fantastic value for money compared to the commercial alternative, which is also paid for by everyone. TV advertising costs us all over 200 pounds a year, for those who subscribe fully to satellite programmes they are paying nearer 500 pounds. Weakening the BBC will only reduce the public's choice and quality of programming and save them little or nothing as the commercial costs would increase.

The UK was recently voted the most admired culture in the world. One of the main reasons for this in my opinion, has been BBC programmes that are admired around the world. The BBC is a big success story for the UK, we should be expanding it and valuing it not winding it down.

Over the next ten years the media market is going to go through big changes. All new radical British oriented BBC programmes should be available online. I don't see a problem with allowing overseas viewers to have access to this. Some may see this as unfair for 'foreigners' to get these programmes free, when it is UK residents who pay. But as the Arctic Monkeys have shown with music, new programmes that have not been established that promote UK culture is of benefit to the UK brand and ultimately helps with exports and would establish the market for more established programmes to be exported. This is why the BBC world service is funded by the government because of the immense value to the country of promoting our culture worldwide.

It is time we valued the BBC. Its competitors will always run it down because they want to eliminate competition. We should ignore these self interested cries and the consumer will benefit.


  1. The BBC is in effect a subscription channel which we are required to pay for before we are allowed to watch any other channel. Personally I rarely watch it, so it is terrible value for me. We could make it a voluntary channel (not now, but in the near future), so that only people who paid for it could watch it, but people who did not pay for it could watch other channels. Then we would discover if it was , on average, value for money.

  2. Even if you don't EVER watch BBC, and you are in about 1% of the population is that is true, it surely can't take much daily viewing (or listening to radio) to get 36 pence's worth! It costs more than that for a crappy newspaper!

    But even if you never watch it, the effect of the quality of educational programmes and challenging drama in improving the knowledge of the general populace and improving Britain's cultural image around the world (just think of the best British comedies over the last few decades for example and the positive image it has fostered of the UK) is worth the money! Radio 4 alone is worth the money in my opinion.

    I hardly ever watch ITV or SKY but I have to pay nearly 200 pounds a year for something that most definitely is rubbish and contributes little to our culture (it is all US imports and tat).

  3. TV advertising raise 5bn pounds a year and is a hidden subscription charge on everyone in the prices they pay. Nothing is free, I prefer the licence fee because it is more honest.