Monday 31 March 2008

Licence to drive you nuts

The political silly season continues, and now it's the Tories' turn to come up with a ridiculous idea - extending the TV licence fee to fund not only the BBC, but also fund ITV, Channel 4 etc (BBC News: Tories plan to share licence fee)

To achieve this, either the TV licence fee will have to rise even higher, or there will have to be even more cutbacks in the BBC. This will lead not only to yet more job losses (I never forgave the Tories for BBC Transmission making me redundant back in 1995, and I have 'no love lost' for New Labour for continuing to force the BBC to cut jobs), but also to poorer programmes - the reverse of what the proposal allegedly aims to achieve!

For ages, the alleged 'raisin d'etre' of having both the BBC and independent TV companies was: The BBC, being state funded and not reliant on advertising, did not need to chase ratings or impose self-censorship to please the advertisers. ITV, conversely, had a revenue stream independent of the state, and was therefore, theoretically, less prone to state interference in broadcasting. Yet, with creeping privatisation having taken place within the BBC for some time (starting with BBC Transmission in the late 90's), can we be 100% sure they are still free from commercial pressures? As for ITV, it has always de facto had to watch its @$ due to the ITV licencing system over the years, and bidding for state funding will surely only make matters worse in that respect.

The Tories' aim is to introduce competition into broadcasting, in the same way that contracting out and tendering within the BBC has introduced a form of competition there. Strange, then, that the capitalist Establishment's love of broadcasting competition has stark limits when it comes to free community radio. Birmingham unlicenced community radio station PCRL had already suffered over 100 DTI (now Ofcom) raids by 1998, and some London pirates got belted even harder :-(

Yet there is a point in having a state-funded non-commercial broadcaster, which can not only cater for minority groups, but also provide an alternative to populist carp (typo) like Big Bother, I'm A Nonentity and Brat Camp Xray. But the licence fee should be scrapped; it is a steeply regressive form of taxation, effectively making poor families with an old TV pay the same licence fee as a rich capitalist with a 2000" plasma-screen TV in every room. Instead, the BBC should be funded by income tax (which should itself be focused more on taxing the rich, but I've already covered that in earlier entries).

On the other hand, I also think there should be independent broadcasters. Independent not only of the state, but also of capitalist advertisers, fat cat shareholders, and the capitalist Establishment in general. They should be run by their workers - programme producers, actors, presenters, musicians, technicians, etc. Programmes should aim to serve the whole community, rather than doing the bidding of the rich and powerful by distracting us with alienated drivel and brainwashing us with biased, sensationalistic 'news and documentary' programmes.

In short, there should be radio and TV by the community, for the community!

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