Thursday, 16 September 2010

Television licensing

So the BBC Trust has condescended not to demand yet another increase in the cost of a TV licence. Perhaps they should look at a progressive reduction in the fee, now that the major investment in iPlayer and their web pages is behind them.

It is instructive to look back to 1964, when BBC-2 - clearly a major investment - was launched. BBC had long since lost its monopoly, but still provided rather more TV proportionately than it does now in this multi-channel age. Yet the licence fee was £4, or about 22.7% of the average weekly wage. [Figures from The Times newspaper of that year, via their online archive.]

The average weekly wage now is £446.50. If the broadcasting licence now cost the same proportionately as it did in 1964, it would be just over £101. Instead, it is £145.50. Where is the extra £44 going? Those of us of a cynical disposition wonder whether it is spent on expensive star names, an inflated political news department and non-jobs such as the director of the advisory centre for politically correct reporting - all right, I made that last one up, but Janet Street-Porter, a former BBC executive, has referred to similar horrors in her occasional reminiscences of her time at the Beeb.

One can quite understand government reluctance to abolish the licence fee in favour of funding the BBC from general taxation - it raises questions of perceived independence, for one thing - but they should remember that the licence fee is a regressive tax. It is probably the UK's worst example, next to vehicle licensing. They should therefore bear down on the BBC to continue to cut costs.

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