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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
Should the BBC still be funded by the licence fee?
The BBC will continue to be funded by the television licence fee for the next 15 years, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has signalled.
But Ms Jowell said the prospect of funding the corporation without the licence fee lay "somewhere between the improbable and the impossible".
Her comments come ahead of the government's review of the BBC's charter, which is due to look at alternative ways of funding the corporation.
The Shadow Culture Secretary, Tim Yeo, said it was astonishing that Ms Jowell was dismissing alternative possibilities before the debate had taken place.
The BBC currently receives £2.3bn a year from TV-owning households paying a £109 licence fee.
Do you think the BBC should continue to be funded by a licence fee? What are the alternatives?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The licence fee may be the worst form of revenue generation, but it's the best one we've got. Although I only use the BBC's website these days, I'd be more than happy to pay for it - it has no equal.
Do not change the way the BBC is funded, you would not want it to follow a commercial model like the US. All of the comments about the shoddy quality of US TV are true, but they miss something much more important. All TV shows in the US are defined by the advertising revenue they can attract - obviously. And this includes the editorial content of "news" programs.
Ask yourself this, would you be happy knowing that the information you receive from TV news was indirectly (?) controlled by a handful of advertisers?
Restricting access to reliable information undermines democracy itself.
The BBC may not be perfect, but at least it doesn't rely on government press releases to keep the population "informed" of its activities.
Ray J, England
Here in Canada I have yet to see more than 7 minutes of television between adverts. Sometimes they are shown before the closing credits - thereby "tricking" the viewer into staying on the same channel. We bought a TV but didn't plug in the aerial - we use it for renting films. I would happily pay a licence fee for ad-free TV, especially as the BBC provides such high quality radio and internet services.
I don't have a TV and therefore don't have a licence. However, I would happily pay for a licence for the website and radio alone. Surely people should be able to see the huge benefits of the continuance of this organisation in a world of adverts, bias and even sponsorship impinging on programs. Placing company names to sell products in commercial channel programs is now the norm. Do we really want this for ALL channels. Let's keep the status quo, as there is currently something for everyone (well most people anyway).
I'm not sure the license fee is the best way to raise the money, but please keep the BBC funded by taxpayers. Having lived in the US for 3 years I can attest that while individual programs can be very good (ER, West Wing, etc), the TV experience is attrocious.
Surely mst of the money goes on expensive sporting coverage- for example how much is the world cup coverage costing us? I think blokes should foot the bill for these extravagant features. After all, TV is still male-dominated!
The BBC should not be charging a licence fee at all.
Too much of our licence fee goes on executive salaries and not enough on programmes we want to see. I feel very agrieved when I see highly paid actors having us pay for a jaunt round the world for a programme with details we could read in a book for free.
Have we learnt nothing from the NHS or Transport system? If we want the best, we all have to pay something. I can honestly say that the BBC offers a truly world class and diverse mix of programmes (despite the tedious line-up on Saturdays!) and a world renound news service. This web site is one of the best around. Let's be proud of this Great British institution!
Quality television/broadcasting is one of the things we must hold onto in this country. On average, the BBC produces better TV than the others. This costs us all, but it is worth it because it gives us more choice any quality. You only have to travel to the States to see what happens when your only choice is lots of independent TV Stations that look the same and are filled with advertising.
I can understand those people who don't want to watch quality TV being frustrated by having to pay a license fee - I am not one of them.
I watch very little TV on the BBC channels, I don't listen to BBC radio very often, but I love the BBC website. I would happily pay a subscription to the website but I wouldn't want to pay for the TV. Surely we could just scramble the channels so that anyone who wants them pays for them, this would suit me.
Chris B, England
A friend of mine is one of the few people left in the UK who does not own a TV. However he browses the BBC website regularly. My granny has a TV which she occasionally watches. She doesn't even know what the internet is. She pays for this website while my friend, and those around the world who visit it, don't. Can anyone explain how this is fair? Surely if we have this publicly funded website, logically it should be via a separate computer licence (a terrifying thought). Or is it just that detector vans for modems haven't been invented yet?
It is ludicrous that people are calling for yet another purely British institution to be scrapped so that they can keep their pockets better lined. The BBC was a pioneering service, one that has provided the people of Great Britain, and the World with an impartial, entertaining and informative service for the past 80 or so years. It is a public television channel, and thus has the interests of the people at it's heart. See what has happened to ITV - it's great commercialisation has resulted in the dull and dreary "You've been Framed"-style shows being forced down people's throats 24/7.
Ross Taylor, UK
We live in Australia but are from the UK. After a few months of watching Australian television we decided to get rid of our TV, because of the rubbish that was being dished up by the commercial stations and the endless, mindless adverts that drove us to distraction. Now when we want to catch up on the news and world affairs we log onto the BBC website. Nothing compares to the BBC for quality in particular, and UK television in general.
I don't think that the license fee is a fair way to pay for the BBC. To be honest, if it was a subscription channel, I would probably still pay to have it, but people all over the world benefit from our license money. I also find it bizarre that you only have to pay if you have a TV - what about all of those who listen to radio or use this website?? I think it's ridiculous that in this day and age that we have to pay for a world wide service, even if there is the possibility that we do not use it ourselves.
The fact that there are so many poor programmes on the BBC at the moment is exact reason that the should be a licence. On a purely commercial basis, the BBC would be forced to go for ratings only, and we'd be overwhelmed (or more likely underwhelmed) by even more poor programmes.
Steve Williams, North Wales
Abolish the licence, the Electronic Poll Tax.
It is an anachronism from the days when there was only one TV channel and one radio service. The non-news parts of the BBC should be sold off to private operators keeping only a basic news and information service funded from central taxation by the Government.
I also object to the bias inherent in the BBC. I pay to have information, not the opinions of the newscasters, reporters, "own correspondents" and interviewers.
I have no problems with paying the annual licence fee. Having recently had digital TV installed, I still find myself watching the BBC for 65% of the time because there is so much trash on pay TV. The BBC is the last bastion of quality media in the UK. Let's not forget that the BBC also provides quality radio and internet content in addition to their TV services. It would be a sad day if such content had to bow to the "American disease" of sponsorship and advertising that prejudices content.
Peter Nelson, USA
The issue of paying a TV licence will always be one of controversy. Some will see it as a Tax on owning a television. Others will see it as way of ensuring funding to an impartial broadcasting company for quality programs. The arguments about the BBC being non-political would seem ill-founded considering how many directors are invited to swanky number 10 parties and have friends in very high places.
My own personal opinion remains that the licence fee is worth the money. If only for the extraordinary amount of factual documentaries and possibly the best news-gathering service in the world. Plus I then don't have to watch two girls from Essex trying to sell me washing up powder or a supermodel trying to flog moisturiser every 5 minutes!
I always understood that the point of the BBC was to provide a certain quality of programming that - owing to government funding - could exist outside the "ratings wars" and so provide decent programming that would not need to dumb itself down to find wider commercial appeal. However that doesn't seem to be working anymore. The BBC is responsible for very little quality programming. So is it relevant anymore?
I find it interesting that the Prime Minister who likes to bleat on about the "forces of conservatism" is the same one who continues to recommend Bishops to the Queen, continues to use public funding to prop up a disastrous NHS, essentially takes the railways back into public ownership, and now wants to continue an outdated and unrepresentative method of funding the BBC with the excuse that change is between "improbable" and "impossible" - the typical excuse of the reactionary. It looks as though Britain is going to be stuck with fifty-year old ways of funding services for another couple of decades simply because new Labour has absolutely no imagination, and no willingness to look at how these services are funded in other countries.
As a Briton living in the US I may think differently to people who still live in the UK, but I find the idea of charging everyone a licence fee to fund a BBC which more and more tends towards a pro-European and politically correct political agenda that represents only a minority of voters to be a complete scandal.
Keep the licence fee, definitely. I agree with most of the comments here about the BBC being a world leader in broadcasting/news services, although I would make a few changes. I'd have a separate BBC commercial channel to show pleb fodder such as Eastenders etc which would free up the other channels to bring us quality news, current affairs, educational programmes and quality dramas.
The TV licence is a tax which hits poor families hardest. It should be scrapped.
The BBC still sets the world standard in broadcasting. I have been living in the States for four years and it is interesting to see just how bad the television is here. The best station is PBS and that is funded by voluntary private donations. Of course, whenever possible it runs BBC productions. Keep the licence fee, please!
Yes the licence fee should stay. The BBC is well known in the world for its world service and in-depth analysis and impartiality. In Canada we have the CBC, which in my opinion is severely under funded and even in the case of CBC radio out of touch with anyone under the age of fifty. If Canada had a licence fee for the CBC, perhaps we would have a public broadcaster that more people would actually watch. I feel that you people should be proud of the BBC and the top notch programming and services that it offers you and other citizens in the world.
As much as I appreciate the BBC Website, I fail to see why it should be funded by UK TV licence holders. Now that the BBC has mostly ceased producing and screening high quality programs and no longer follows an independent news presentation, it may as well be sponsored by the corporate sector that it champions.
While £109 per year isn't a lot of money to pay for the BBC, it doesn't follow that the licence fee is the best way to collect the cash. Let's face it: TV usage is now 99%+ so this is just a flat-rate tax on everyone in the country. Surely it would be more efficient to collect it from VAT or income taxes without all the bureaucracy of a TV licence?
The licence fee is what makes the BBC the great, independent, and unique British institution that it is. There is no doubt that we should all pay for our public services - especially if we want them to remain unaltered by commercial whims and advertising ploys.
The licence fee is a tax on the stupid. I would rather go to prison, and take from the beast than feed it.
As for unbiased! First of all no news can ever be unbiased. Least of all a state broadcaster (and that is what it is).
Even Albania didn't have a "TV licence" and there's no way we should!
Everywhere we look, there are adverts. Billboards, magazines, newspapers, radio, commercial TV, taxis, buses, and even the reverse-side of the bus tickets. BBC TV, Radio and Internet content are a breath of fresh air. I can listen to Coxy in the morning without someone's false voice telling me that I should get new windows from their company, I can watch My Family without Carol Vorderman telling me to "reduce my monthly outgoings", and I can read the news on this site without a pop-up window telling me that I have a chance of winning the holiday of a lifetime. Well worth the licence fee!
I truly believe that the BBC is one of the best broadcasting corporations in the world, it leads the way every media from TV to internet to radio and its new in-roads into interactive digital on TV is far beyond others I've seen. In my opinion the BBC should remain publicly funded however the idea of getting the money by way of a licence fee is ludicrous, wasting money on endless letters, posters, advertising, detector vans, administration - the list of nonsense is endless. Given that a vast majority of households have a TV, let's scrap the licence fee and put a tiny amount on income tax and stop wasting money on rubbish!
As internet broadband technology improves in terms of speed and availability, it is inevitable that TV channels will be offered through this medium, opening up the BBC to the whole world. At this point, the TV licence system will be rendered useless, but the potential volume of worldwide viewers who would be prepared to pay a subscription (equal to TV licence fee) in order to receive the high quality content of BBC material would dwarf any problems caused by such a changeover. You only have to see the amount of international visitors to the BBC web site to see how highly regarded the BBC is worldwide.
Just spend 10 minutes looking at the huge amount of content in this web site. I think it's one of the best in the world and I look at it constantly. The BBC offers a truly massive array of high quality output over a large variety of media. Now consider BBC radio, BBC natural history, BBC news, BBC world service, BBC drama etc... etc... Mind you, it's hardly fair that the average ITV viewer should have to spend part of their giro cheque on services they're barely aware of. They should only have to pay a few pence a year to fund the lottery broadcast they watch before moving back to more familiar ground in the shape of Blind Date and Corrie.
What annoys me is I have to pay a licence fee and then have certain programmes or films censored by the BBC for my moral wellbeing (Goodfellas springs to mind). If I have to pay for and suffer rubbish like Eastenders - FIVE NIGHTS A WEEK!!! - then if the BBC choose to show it, I should be able to enjoy an 18 movie as the director intended.
Apart from the exceptional Channel 4, has commercial television ever produced anything like Edge of Darkness, Our Friends in the North, Blue Planet or The Office? If you want quality, you have to pay for it. Unless, of course, you want to gawp at hundreds of channels spewing out Celebrities and their Doubles!
Remember, if the BBC is privately funded, all radio shows, internet sites and TV programs will be full of advertising and sponsorship. After travelling to many countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and France, our TV is superior and BBC news is unbiased and professional, unlike many organisations. No licence fee will mean more soaps and low budget shows.
With the introduction of digital when it finally takes off why not get them to fund the BBC?
The BBC, including the World Service, remains the trusted voice of accurate information for millions of people around the globe. It is one of the most positive images of Britain and £109 a year is a tiny amount to pay for freedom from political and commercial interest.
The BBC is respected throughout the world for its impartial position, a fact British people should be proud of. However given that the licence fee costs £50 million per year to collect (which goes into the pocket of Capita) would it not be best to scrap the fee and have its funds granted from central taxation? The savings would be better invested in our health service I think.
Peter Martin, UK
The licence fee must stay. It keeps the BBC free from government or corporate control, and allows them to take creative risks.
And also, how many profit-driven media groups would give us two quality universally-available TV channels (with digital extras), five national and countless local radio stations, many orchestras and music festivals, spectacular public events, and a lively and informative website, for £112 a year?
Anyone complaining about the licence fee just remember which broadcasting organisation is giving you the forum to complain about it!
There is nothing in the world to touch the BBC and the fairest way to fund the corporation is by the licence fee.
You cannot seriously expect to force people who don't use a TV to pay for it by taxation and advertising on television is probably the most annoying intrusion going.
I make it a rule not to use companies that advertise on TV - if they can afford to advertise on TV they are charging you too much!
The amount we pay for out TV licence is far too low, considering the cost of alternative audio-visual entertainments such as renting a DVD or going to the cinema. A realistic cost should be about £400 per annum, with the funds being used for the creation of top quality drama and televising far more sport (perhaps a dedicated BBC sports channel, so that those who don't like it don't have to complain). Those who complain that the licence is too expensive need to wake up! Watching TV is entertainment, - it's not compulsory. If you don't want to pay, don't have a TV!
£100 per year to fund the BBC, arguably the best broadcasting service in the world, is nothing. You should travel around a bit then you would realise how bad things can get. If you force the Beeb to seek private funding then the risk to impartiality and minority interest programs go out of the window.
When the licence fee
was first introduced
the money went to one television channel and to a couple of radio stations. Now the licence fee not only pays for analogue radio and television channels, but also digital and online services that the majority of licence fee payers are unable to use. This is totally unacceptable. Why should my grandmother have to pay for BBC News 24, BBC 4, and for digital radio stations when she doesn't have the expensive technology to listen to, or watch them?
MDS, UK in Japan and Germany
Keep the licence fee! After living in the US for the last four years, I find that the majority of interesting programmes are those that have been imported from the BBC. If the BBC had to compete without licence fees then it would be forced to churn out the lowest common denominator garbage that plagues most of US television.
No, it should not be scrapped. I think the quality of programmes is far superior (with the exception of Channel 4). £100 a year isn't a lot to pay - it works out at about 30p a day (the same price as a chocolate bar a day!) so stop whingeing - there are far more important things to worry about!!
When analogue is shut down and we all shift to subscription digital television, the payment of an additional TV tax to fund the BBC will be unjustifiable. Those who want the BBC will pay for it; those who don't simply won't subscribe to BBC services. Much as I love the BBC, I don't see why people should be forced to pay for TV channels they don't want. The licence fee will have to go.
I value the service the BBC provides a great deal as it supplies high quality non-biased news and entertainment and it pleases and answers to it's patrons rather than some commercial sponsor. It's obliged to be objective and is not obviously influenced by some power-hungry media mogul.
I welcome the news that at least one initiative is likely to preserve the status quo. Most changes to various British institutions over the past decade or so have resulted in fiascos and a worse state of affairs than before. To answer Mr Yeo's criticism of the licence fee, I have to pay national insurance contributions, yet I have less occasion than many people to use hospitals and doctors. People who don't watch the BBC after having paid the licence fee are in exactly the same situation.
Gary O'Boy, UK
I have never understood the need for a licence fee. I rarely watch the BBC, never listen to BBC radio and receive all my programs by digital satellite TV and digital radio which I pay a subscription for BY CHOICE. So why do I have to pay the BBC over £100 a year just to own a television and get information over the airwaves? This is not a licence fee, it is a plain and simple tax on knowledge by a non -government organisation. Are there any other countries in the world that have this form of private taxation on knowledge? Scrap the licence fee now and make the BBC responsible for raising its funding commercially.
It makes me laugh that people on THIS page have said they never use the BBC.
Absolutely not! Despite having cable TV, I still appreciate the quality of programmes from the BBC. The standards are infinitely higher than anything on cable - and there are no adverts!
Tony Howat, London, UK
Anyone who does not believe that the BBC should be funded by licence fees should take a look at the state of telly programmes in the US - millions of channels to choose from but nothing worth watching. I'd be willing to shell out for a licence any day only to spare myself from the rubbish ITV and BSkyB show!
The BBC is possibly one of the shining examples of how a public company should operate. The licence covers the digital channels, radio services and this website! It's no wonder that www.bbc.co.uk is the UK's most visited site - it is free of adverts and all the information is trustworthy! Long live the BBC as it is, thank you.
Martin Molloy, United Kingdom
With all the revenue earned by selling programmes abroad and merchandising, why can't they fund themselves the same way any other company does? I never see any of the profits for a company which I help to keep running!
The BBC can't have it both ways. If it continues to act like a commercial broadcaster, aggressively chasing audiences and sacrificing quality then it should be funded as any commercial broadcaster would - through advertising revenue. Privatise the BBC and make it an obligation that all TV channels, not just the BBC carry a high level of quality public broadcasting.
Those of us who have been watching '24' on the BBC recently will have noticed that, even though each episode is supposedly in real time and covers a one-hour period, it lasts just 45 minutes. Why? Because it comes from America, where the 15 minutes of adverts makes up the rest of the time. Do we really want to move to a system where we have 15 minutes of adverts for every hour of TV?
Ben Bell, England
I'd just like to point out to Ben Bell, who complained about the World Service, that the World Service is not actually funded from the license fee, but is funded from a separate government subsidy.
Ben Bell says the BBC World Service cannot be received by any radios being produced in this country today. I'm afraid that this is simply nonsense! Practically any short wave radio will receive the World Service. Additionally, it can be received across London and the south east 24 hours a day on 648 khz MW, nationally overnight on 198 LW, AND it is available all the time live on the internet. That makes a total of three ways in which the World Service can be heard on conventional radios, with of course the web available as an additional source.
It amazes me how people complain about the BBC licence fee of £109, but then fork out at least twice as much as this (without a grumble) for subscription channels that merely repeat old BBC programmes from the archives and don't produce any new TV at all.
The licence fee is paid by anyone who owns a TV or VCR, regardless of whether they watch BBC. If there was some way of legally watching only the other channels while not being able to receive BBC broadcasts unless the fee was paid, it would be interesting to see how many people considered the BBC to be worth paying for.
Anyone doubting whether or not we
in the UK should pay a licence fee
should see the state of affairs in the
US. There they have ad breaks
before and after the opening titles
and the end credits. Truly dire. In
Italy they even show ads during
football matches when someone is
injured and during other breaks in
the action. The BBC holds the line
in this country - forcing the
commercial stations to reduce the
time spent showing adds to a
tolerable level. The licence fee is
also remarkably inexpensive
considering the range of services
that the BBC provides (national and
local TV, radio etc).
Perhaps if we paid a little more the
BBC would provide more bandwidth
to their news website - flagging
again under high demand!
The licence fee should stay. The two alternatives for funding are funding from taxes, which makes the BBC beholden to the exchequer; or funding from advertising, which reduces TV to the filler between the adverts.
The BBC is unique in the world because of its funding system. We produce some of the best TV in the world.
I am perfectly happy with the way it is funded. Let the British people pick up most of the tab through their licences, and a small amount come from our PBS stations in America that rebroadcast it here. The funds for PBS are voluntary donations except for a minute amount that comes indirectly from taxes or from corporate sponsorship. So in effect, I get it practically free whether I want it or not. Seems fair to me.
No the BBC should not be funded by licence fees. We should be allowed to watch public television for free. Also with the current dire left wing politics of the BBC it has gone downhill and is a waste of money. The acting in Eastenders is abysmal and the storylines are ridiculous. There are too many repeats, not enough diversity and not enough money being invested in good dramas. Plus they were disrespectful to the Royal Family during the Queen Mother's death and over the Jubilee weekend, none of the presenters seemed to care, making snide remarks throughout their commentary. Useless - we need a better organisation. Not politically affiliated to any party.
The licence fee is a fair way of preventing broadcasting from being dominated by the interests of sponsoring corporations. Having said that, the BBC has much too much of a right wing bias. The recent play on the Falklands, for example, portraying Thatcher as a warm, compassionate, heroic figure, was an amazing distortion of history. And as for the fawning over the Royal Family after the death of the Queen Mother and during the Jubilee, it reminded me of the way the Soviets used to report on how great Stalin was.
I hate adverts breaking up the programmes, the licence fee is well worth it to miss these
No the BBC should not be funded by us.
I don't see why we cannot have adverts on the BBC the same as ITV? I am happy with those breaks! Time to make tea, and go to the loo! People who don't like adverts would get used to it! Funded for a further 15 years? Ridiculous!
Norma Jean Clarke-McCloud, UK, unlike you, I much prefer to watch a complete program rather than have it broken up into 15 min slots. As for adverts, I prefer that my children do not watch them as they encorage them to want things that are not good for them. I would rather pay the fee as I do not have children that pester me for the toys/foods advertised on ITV, unlike many of my friends whose children watch commercial channels.
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