Tuesday, 27 February 2018

You Know Reform Is Badly Needed When Things Like This Happen

Sometimes an argument you've been making for years deserves a rerun when something so ludicrous happens that could make even the most ardent sceptics stop and think "Hmmm… he may have been onto something all along".

The argument in question has been that the BBC licence fee is an outmoded, inefficient misallocation of resources that needs to be kicked to the curb right now. The aforementioned ludicrous occurrence that gives traction to that idea is the headline I read last night about how executives at the BBC are looking to spend £15 million of taxpayers' money on the set design of a mosque for the soap’s Muslim characters.

This, and many other things the BBC does, is not something on which the vast majority of people would voluntarily spend their money - but they are forced to do so because if they do not they face prosecution. This is no longer the way to run a service that ought to stand or fall on commercial demand, not on enforced confiscation. When taxpayers are faced with a £15 million bill to spruce up a television set with a mosque for its Muslim characters, you know there is something seriously wrong.

I have no interest in soaps, but I know many people do. Fine, then let them vote with their wallets and purses, not with a television tax. In this day and age, where digital television and voluntary subscriptions increase the width and breadth of television entertainment available, and improve quality by added creative competition, the BBC's licence fee system is anachronistic and inefficient.

There is a lot I like about the BBC - and the chances are, if it were to be offered on a voluntary subscription basis, like Netflix, Amazon Prime or a Sky package, I probably would pay the subscription costs. But for those for whom that arrangement would not constitute net value, they'd be free to spend their money elsewhere.

If viewers really do value what the BBC provides, then the BBC would continue to attract customers under a more competitive subscription system. But trying to justify a licence fee tax on the basis that there may not be healthy commercial demand for the programs and services if people were free to opt out, is no basis for retention of this arrangement.

Because one thing is fairly certain - if there was no such thing as the BBC, there is absolutely no chance that the vast majority of the public would want it invented in its current format. It is only because the BBC has been with us for so long that so few people seek to question its edifice. It needs reforming; the mandatory licence fee needs to be discontinued - and in its place a pricing model that stands or falls on the basis of commercial demand.

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