Not many MPs bothered to turn up to debate the TV license fee in October 2008
Thanks to ToryRadio.com I was able to put a question to Jeremy Hunt MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport today. Via Twitter I asked: “Will you commit to abolish the TV Licence? If you do, what consequential changes to public service broadcasting are you planning?”
Mr Hunt replied:
“We won’t commit to abolishing the TV license. It’s a strange system. I think its a system which if you were starting from scratch no self-respecting free marketeer would ever set up a compulsory tax to pay a state broadcaster that everybody in the country has to pay. But, um, I think we have to be open minded and accept that actually the result has been a great success for British Broadcasting, I mean we probably have some of the best quality TV in the world and part of that is because we have diversity, we have some TV funded by the licence fee, some funded by subscription (that’s sort of Sky, Cable channels), some funded commercially by advertising. And the result is we are probably one of the only TV ecologies in the world where we have competition both at the popular end of the broadcasting and at the quality end, and its that maintenance of competition, that all parts of the broadcasting spectrum that’s what we have to fight to preserve. I think there’s a real danger that if there’s a shake out in broadcasting as we know is happening at the moment with ITV and Channel Four and Five the BBC could become the only people who are able to afford to produce quality TV”.
This was a worthwhile question to ask, as the question of the TV license is one the Conservative party is currently split on. I genuinely didn’t know what answer Mr Hunt would come out with when asked, and am quite surprised he has been so categorical. I applaud him for answering my question directly and stating: “We won’t commit to abolishing the TV license”. However I don’t agree this is the best way forward for Britain and think the Conservatives might change this point of view before they go into the next general election.
The day after Mr Hunt’s interview, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture and Media Committe didn’t say scrap the TV Licence, but did call for it not to be increased by the 2% proposed this year. Not increasing the fee is an untenable – sitting on the fence – position, as over time it will result in a fee which is uneconomic to collect.
Technology advances have made the TV licence a tax on computers and mobile phones. Any equipment capable of recieving live TV, even via the internet, needs a license. I think this means that the TV licence has become unenforceable, and a selectively enforced and collected tax is unacceptable and a recipe for anarchy. The TV license needs to be scrapped and replaced with public service broadcasting funded from general taxation, commercial activity and advertising.
The TV license system has not only been overtaken by advances in technology, but the fee is collected aggressively and wastes court time and prison spaces. Enforcement also unfairly targets women who are statistically most likely to be at home when enforcement officers visit and therefore become the person who is prosecuted. Reform is needed in the funding of public service broadcasting in the UK, and the Conservatives are too conservative to propose it.
I am a huge fan of the BBC, Channel Four, the world service and other public service broadcasting service, much of which is already funded through general taxation.
We need to support the media industry in the UK, it is one of our valuable exporters and in my view ought to form a key part of the UK’s knowledge based economy in the next few decades. State funding is essential, as is editorial independence for the BBC and other recipients of state funding. None of this needs to be risked by moving away from the licence fee towards a fairer, easier to enforce and cheaper way of collecting money to fund public service broadcasting, in fact removing inefficient collection costs might result in more funds being available.
While editorial control needs to be independent of the Government, funding from general taxation might enable more control to be exercised over waste and excess particularly at the BBC.
I support scraping the TV tax. The argument put forward by the Liberal Democrats is that this will result in their members, many of whom don’t watch TV, paying for something they don’t use is nonsense. These people do benefit from the services of the BBC, in terms of resilience and contribution to UK culture, and many of them will benefit from BBC output be it online, or on the radio. Those without TVs will benefit as they will no longer be persecuted for payment of a tax they do not owe. There are many things that are good for, and necessary for the good of the county which not everyone benefits from directly. Not everyone drives but all are expected to contribute to the roads, not everyone has children in state schools yet all contribute to the provision.