Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The BBC and the Licence Fee

The licence fee is a unique broadcasting arrangement. It started out as a permit to receive broadcasts, and originally cost about the same as a dog licence. You had the choice to have a dog or not to have a dog and, back then, the choice to have or not have a wireless set.

The only licensed broadcasters were the British Broadcasting Company (later Corporation), so the few shillings you paid for your licence from the Post Office mainly went to them.

Right and proper, in principle, because the BBC was a ‘public service broadcaster’, at least in name.

By 1936 these paltry sums from radio listeners were sufficient, it seems, to finance the World’s first public television service, though. there being no imaginable propaganda value in television in those innocent times, the whole thing was mothballed at the outbreak of World War II.

When it resumed, it was no longer the staggering, amateurish thing it had been pre-war. There had been a big influx of talent; entertainers, musicians, writers, directors and boffins – mainly people brought to both the arts and emerging technology while in the armed services and their entertainment division, ENSA.

Within a short time, television moved from novelty to drama and comedy production and, with the decision (and gracious royal permission) to televise the Coronation of Her Majesty, the present Queen, from a rich man’s toy to a must have.

A mere two years into the new queen’s reign, Britain acquired a second public service television broadcaster, the similarly unique ITV. So-called Independent TeleVision raised money through advertising and various commercial connections, so it could put on much more extravagant things than could be paid for by the pocket money the Beeb had to make do with.

Thus began the rise in cost of the Television Licence and increasing pressure on TV set owners to pay it, the BBC eventually employing broadcast detector vans and actual (though questionable) legal enforcement on the viewing public – even if they chose to watch only ITV, which received none of the proceeds.

Of course, there has always been debate about whether the BBC was in the service of the public or the powers that be. It had a theoretical charter of strict impartiality which tended to make it more toothless than inclusive, and it probably wouldn’t have realised there were ordinary folk in existence if it hadn’t been for ITV exposing them on Coronation Street. Likewise, it had such a deference for authority that it had never questioned a political leader or member of the upper crust until ITN (Independent Television News) crashed onto the scene in 1955.

The more licence collection became enforced and belligerent, the more people came to resent it.

But BBC types were envious of the bigger budgets at ITV, whom they felt the need to imitate. Furthermore, the more commercially oriented people at ITV, under the direction of rare geniuses such as Lew Grade – ‘We spread our bread upon the water and hope that it comes back as smoked salmon sandwiches’ – , began to sell their products abroad for even bigger money, which in turn sponsored still glossier programmes with still bigger budgets.

During the Falklands debacle, Mother Thatcher had finally got the idea about Television and propaganda. The BBC and the ITV might be nominally there for the public but, to her mind, it was their patriotic duty to place themselves at the service of her government.

The BBC rolled over, carrying nightly po-faced official briefings that looked like something out of Duck Soup. ‘Hail Freedonia!’ Only ex-ITN newsman Robin Day provided a dissenting voice, causing then Defence Secretary John Nott to have a hissy fit and flounce out of the studio.

That was enough for Thatcher who set out to neuter both organisations for their respective treasons in not glorifying her war. ITV was dismantled by her rewriting of the franchise set up to exclude small local companies and impoverish the majors. The job of taking the wind out of the BBC was later completed by Thatcher’s homunculus, Blair, when it let the cat out of the bag on his weapons of mass destruction, and Greg Dyke, the corporation’s most capable Director General. was forced to resign.

Despite public marketing slogans claiming ‘it’s your BBC’, it’s been so compromised and become so propitiative to dark forces that it seems to be anybody’s and nobody’s these days, helping to explain its abandonment of the iconic Television Centre in London, the very symbol of its glory days, for sanctuary in the new media fortress in Salford, Lancashire, where its news personnel are reduced to interviewing each other.

Its claims to balance and impartiality are mostly fictional. It has always taken one side – materialism, Darwinism, global warming, the medical monopoly – against all comers; has unapologetically put out faked ‘crisis actor’ sequences as news and prostituted its once-respected Panorama strand to the screaming personal vendettas of the visibly unbalanced John Sweeney.

During the 60s and 70s, despite the competition from ITV, much of the corporation’s output was garnering well in excess of 20 million viewers. Since then, whatever the excuses about fragmentation, for which the BBC was one of the prime movers, viewing figures and quality have sagged, while budgets have soared. From the kind of quality TV drama once done with fine actors and writers as a kind of people’s theatre, most drama is now shot as if it is a feature film, with plenty of visuals but little use for writers or actors. All fur coat and no drawers.

We’re currently promised a drama series on Troy that will cost two million quid an episode. Spot the public service element in this if you can, and figure out how many licence fees will self-destruct per screen minute.

But the current DG will point out that the thing will be sold all over the world and more than make back its investment.

To which we are forced to ask, ‘Whose investment?’

The licence fee was extracted with menaces, it enabled the corporation to do whatever whimsical thing it thought fit to do with it, and it gets to keep the profits.

Some deal. Our BBC, huh?

Those of us who grew up with it all miss the old Beeb. But it’s already dead and gone. Dumbed down, commercialised and, in every other sense than the public funding that removes the necessity (or excuse) for commercial breaks, it’s just another broadcaster. It thinks it is providing a public service by putting on something fatuous against something else fatuous on the other channel and getting 15m viewers.

Most of its best classic comedies and dramas are flogged second-hand to other stations where people put up with watching them with ad breaks.

If it is to be stripped of the public fee, let’s hope it can come to an arrangement by which sponsorship and ads on the two main TV channels can generate enough spare cash to support the real jewels in its crown – its radio channels – and the last bastion of culture, BBC4.

More articles by:

Dave Randle is a British author and journalist with 30 years experience in print and online media. His latest book, Blinded with Science, is published by Bank House Books and is available from all major retailers. He can be contacted at daverandlemcij@aol.com

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail