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A licence to kill? Funding the BBC

On 1 September the BBC TV licence fee will be extended to the iPlayer. The licence fee is however bad for the BBC and bad for customers – and it should be abolished.

In a new report Licence to Kill: Funding the BBC, published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Thursday 1 September, Martin Le Jeune argues that the recent BBC Charter Review was a missed opportunity for reform of the Corporation, which would have been good for choice, good for viewers, good for taxpayers, and above all, good for the BBC.

The report explains that the scope of the BBC and the licence fee are intertwined – restrict the BBC’s expansion and the licence fee becomes less defensible; take away the licence fee and the requirement for the BBC to offer something for everyone on every platform is ended.

Therefore the problem remains that the public is legally required to pay the BBC to get bigger even though the choices from alternative media providers are better and wider than ever before.

Furthermore the report reveals that the iPlayer will now become the most expensive online streaming service for those considering what to watch:

 

Martin Le Jeune comments:

The BBC should no longer seek to be bigger and to provide everything to everyone. There is no reason for providing that universal service via a compulsory tax, when people could choose instead how to spend their own money on what they really want.

It should instead specialise in what no-one else can do. In doing so it will become not only a smaller organisation, but a better one – providing a genuinely necessary and distinctive service. Nearly everything the BBC provides, is now provided to the same or better standard by other organisations which have to compete with one another and fight hard for every consumer penny. That competition is the spur to improvements in quality, service and innovation.

The licence fee should be abolished and the BBC should instead be directly-funded by the government, in exactly the same way as the Arts Council or the NHS. The remit of the BBC should be simply and clearly defined as: ‘The task of the BBC is to produce audio-visual (including digital) news and other content which is distinctively different from that which the market provides, but which is important to the UK’s social, political and cultural wellbeing.’

Martin Le Jeune - Thursday 1st September 2016

Martin Le Jeune

Martin Le Jeune is a former head of public affairs at Sky, and former board director and head of corporate responsibility at consultancy Fishburn Hedges. Martin was a civil servant in the Cabinet Office for over a decade and worked for four years on the Committee on Standards in Public Life.