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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Auntie Godfather ups her protection rates

So the British TV tax has gone up by another £4.00 (1.5% above inflation) to provide the unelected lefty-establishment BBC with an extra hundred million for lavish lesbian costume dramas and unintelligible Open University nonsense.

As someone who could rather do with a cheque for £116 (the new license fee) right now, I seriously resent the assumption that tricking ever more money out of people is justified or good. As a capitalist, I think stealth-taxing is undermining our economy, putting people out of work and creating extra poverty. And as an arty-farty, I can see with my own eyes that the BBC does not deserve the cash: there is nothing on BBC1 that one can not find on ITV, and nothing on BBC2 that Channel 4 does not do just as well and with the exact same political bias.

I went to the BBC’s own website to see what they had to say about it, and found this:

“Why doesn’t the BBC take advertising? Because this keeps the BBC independent of advertisers and other commercial pressures.”

Actually, the BBC is stuffed full of advertising: mostly advertising for itself and its own products. But do the plotlines of ‘Coronation Street’ (ITV soap) get bent out of shape by endless sponsorship references, while ‘Eastenders’ (BBC soap) remains impartially naturalistic? Of course not. And I doubt that all the commercial TV and radio stations would accept that their news is rubbish because their journalists are influenced by advertisers, either.

“The BBC’s Governors ensure instead that it is run in the general public interest. They are accountable for the BBC’s independence, and also ensure that it reflects British culture and minority interests.”

So the BBC’s governors know what is good for us better than we know ourselves: paying them £116 a year is good for us, and choosing to watch the independent, erm, commercial channels clearly rots our minds. Minority groups don’t buy advertised products, therefore they don’t watch non-BBC TV, therefore non-BBC TV does not show anything they might like to watch.

“If the BBC carried adverts or sponsorship, commercial pressures would dictate its priorities instead of the general public interest.”

But people choosing what to buy is the general public interest: it’s ordinary people doing what they want with their own money. If people don’t buy any more revolting liqueurs because of “Sex and the City” sponsorship, the sponsorship will stop and the annoying mini-ads will go. But the point is, however annoying those ads, who do you know who would choose to pay £116 a year to opt out of seeing them? Exactly. Which is why it’s illegal not to pay for the BBC, even if you only ever watch commercial channels and cable.

What I loathe most of all, however, is the idea that living off coerced money rather than earning it like everyone else makes you a superior benevolent authority better able to judge and further the ‘interest’ of the people you stole from. That’s why Marxism is the same as organised crime, except worse.

I want my £116 back.

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23 comments to Auntie Godfather ups her protection rates

  • Harry Payne

    TANSTAAFL. Or, to paraphrase the Linux bods:

    “Advertising-paid TV is free if your time has no value”.

    Adverstising time on terrestrial commercial TV has increased in the last year from three breaks an hour to four. On satellite, it’s not yet as bad as North America (where TV is all but unwatchable) but it’s getting there; slowly, drip by drip.

    As a parent of two young children, I notice that CBeebies is watched in relative silence, whereas Nick Jr’s ad breaks are greeted with the innocent chorus of “That toy’s a lot of pocket money!” At least CBeebies doesn’t yet have ads for toys based on its shows, or that frodding Muzzy language pack – and if the BBC goes down the advertising route you’ll see a *lot* more ads looking as if they were designed in the 60s.

    With the switch to digital broadcasting being foisted on us, there’s a chance, if enough of us agree, for a monthly subscription package to all or part of the BBC’s output. I’d consider that to be a better way than either the Procrustean licence fee or the seemingly endless barrage of ads.

  • mike

    As an american, I’m not quite sure how your tv tax works. I seem to remmember Andy Capp putting coins in a meter?

    Anyway, If you don’t like it why not just get rid of the tv? I know there are some good shows on, but in our house the kids would tend to watch it whenever they had a free minute, and then get sucked in to the exclusion of all else. Our solution was to get rid of the cable, network broadcasts are so bad you have to be really bored to watch those.

    We did get satellite so my wife could watch Thai TV, but except for euronews none of the channels are in english. Sometimes the kids will watch romanian football but thats about it.

    And you know what? Nobody really seems to miss it.

  • Mike G

    So how does this work now in the age of convergence? Do you have to pay it if you have a VCR and a TV but don’t receive any form of broadcasting or cable? (Not that you can prove a TV doesn’t pick up signals, I suppose.) And if you have to pay it for that, what about a computer with a DVD drive in it? Where does it stop?

  • Richard Cook

    To anyone at Samizdata:

    Can someone please tell me how long the Brits can can take the amount of taxes they are required to pay? To my Yankee eyes it seems that the amount paid in taxes passed conficatory some time ago. I’m not trying to make a stink but the amount of taxation over here seems humongous.

    Rich Cook

  • I know you don’t have to pay it if you have a TV and VCR but no broadcast channels. What I want is for people to be allowed to opt out of the BBC, ie for the BBC to become subscription-only.

    Please don’t suggest throwing out the TV: I *love* TV, I think it’s absolutely miraculously wonderful, and generally watch about half an hour a day, and there’s nothing else like it.

  • David Carr

    Richard,

    Actually direct taxation in the UK is slightly lower than in most of Europe and not that much higher than in the US.

    However, there is a lot of indirect taxation, the TV licence being a good example. It has all been ushered in piecemeal over the years.

    The trouble is that the public has gotten use to it and doesn’t complain much. Tax is generally seen as a public good and an agenda of tax-cutting is widely regarded as immoral.

    There are some who complain but not enough and those who do quickly get sneered and shouted down. The British may be apathetic about most things but they love their government which is still seen as infinitely more trustworthy than the ‘fat-cats’ of the private sector.

  • zack mollusc

    I think that I would happily pay £200 a year to the beeb if they would broadcast programs only and no more trails and previews and other low-rent crud.

    I hate advertising and actively avoid buying anything I see advertised if at all possible.

  • The other Dale

    There is a certain coincidence in the timing of this story. Our local public radio station is running one of its pledge drives again. And that already had me thinking about the fact that my eight-year-old son was watching a documentary on the Alaskan Pipeline on The History Channel when I left this morning. We had a great time watching Conquest on Sunday. He learned how to make bows and arrows. What some of the cable networks have discovered is that documentaries can be fun and they can make money. An eight-year-old looking for entertainment is turning them on.

  • mike,

    You got rid of TV because your children liked it? If you want them to do better things, then provide better things and compete with the TV. It’d be great if you gave them such great things to do they never wanted to watch. But simply not letting them watch seems contrary to the ideas of free market competition.

  • This is always one of those dreadful compromises: I hate British television now and would not mind leaving the license fee behind since it could spark an improvement from the present dismal levels.

    However, subscribing to Radio 3 would be very expensive (high overheads, small listening base), probably more than £116 per year.

    This is the horns of a dilemma.

  • zack mollusc: I think that I would happily pay £200 a year to the beeb if they would broadcast programs only and no more trails and previews and other low-rent crud

    Fine, so lets have a subscription based BBC that you can pay your £200 to… what I find so offensive is that I am forced to bloody well pay for it regardless of the fact I not want the BBC’s crap. Why should I be forced to subsidise trivial stuff like TV programmes for other people to watch from an institution that I despise?

  • The TV Licensing site says: “if you use or install television receiving equipment to receive or record television programme services, you are required by law to have a valid TV Licence”. So exclusively viewing pre-recorded video tapes or DVDs is free of charge – but you better not have an arial on your roof or a cable subscription!

    Listening to the myriad of the BBC’s radio stations is also free, despite the fact that they too are funded by the licence fee. As are several orchestras and the largest annual music festival in the world – the Proms.

    While it’s easy to criticise the funding mechanism, there is absolutely no doubt that Britain’s cultural life would be far, far poorer without the BBC, or some equivalent form of public broadcasting.

    In my opinion the current fee is a bargain. For my wife and I it’s the equivalent of seeing 8 movies in a London cinema over the course of year. We watch and listen to the BBC far more than that, and the fee is insignificant by comparison.

  • The TV Licensing site says: “if you use or install television receiving equipment to receive or record television programme services, you are required by law to have a valid TV Licence”. So exclusively viewing pre-recorded video tapes or DVDs is free of charge – but you better not have an arial on your roof or a cable subscription!

    Listening to the myriad of the BBC’s radio stations is also free, despite the fact that they too are funded by the licence fee. As are several orchestras and the largest annual music festival in the world – the Proms.

    While it’s easy to criticise the funding mechanism, there is absolutely no doubt that Britain’s cultural life would be far, far poorer without the BBC, or some equivalent form of public broadcasting.

    In my opinion the current fee is a bargain. For my wife and I it’s the equivalent of seeing 8 movies in a London cinema over the course of year. We watch and listen to the BBC far more than that, and the fee is insignificant by comparison.

  • David Carr

    “While it’s easy to criticise the funding mechanism, there is absolutely no doubt that Britain’s cultural life would be far, far poorer without the BBC, or some equivalent form of public broadcasting.”

    Why?

    “For my wife and I it’s the equivalent of seeing 8 movies in a London cinema over the course of year. We watch and listen to the BBC far more than that, and the fee is insignificant by comparison.”

    Attacks on the TV tax invariably bring the same response from someone who claims that the tax is justified because they really, really enjoy watching the BBC.

    Still, I’m pleased to note that they are on the back foot.

  • Frank Sensenbrenner

    The BBC’s argument that they protect British culture is a farce. Most of their stuff is complete pap, and that which is not could be easily served via a competitive tender process. Why can’t anyone else be allowed to produce cultural programming, especially if they can do it better? The ABC (funded by the government.. no license fee) in Australia is far more leftist than the BBC, but there are fewer complaints, as aside from the news, it produces quality programming. Couldn’t it be easy to put a chip in TVs which either blocks reception of the BBC or allows for its reception? That way, the license fee could be opt-in.

  • Attacks on the TV tax invariably bring the same response from someone who claims that the tax is justified because they really, really enjoy watching the BBC.

    You’re so right. I myself really enjoy reading Centre for Policy Studies pamphlets, but I understand the cost of subscribing should be paid by me alone.

    The fact that someone may be willing to pay £116 every year to avoid BBC advertising does not justify forcing everyone else to do the same.

    And perhaps opponents of the license fee should settle on a term to deride it – TV tax, BBC poll tax or something, and refuse to call it anything else. Look at how renaming inheritance duties to the “death tax” has helped advocates of property rights in the US. We should seek to emulate them. Suggestions, folks?

  • Richard Cook

    David Carr:

    Thank you for your answer and for clarifying my question. The direct taxation is pretty comparable but the add-ons…..

    Rich Cook

  • Johnathan Pearce

    On a separate but related issue, the existence of the BBC, which I despise (apart from some of its sports coverage, which can be excellent), and its charter, means that there is currently a ban on TV stations being allowed to editorialise and be openly biased. Of course, the BBC is biased in a squashy, liberal-left way, although most of its journalist are so steeped in their views that they think they are being objective.

    What the UK needs is the freedom to have something like America’s Fox News channel, and for that matter, equivalents catering for the left, and libertarian positions. At present TV law here makes that impossible.

    Fox News, whatever one thinks of it (I cannot abide Bill O’Reilly), has been a tonic for the American TV industry, shaking up a lot of complacent people and adding to the quality of current affairs coverage. Why can’t we have it in Britain? Do they think the average Brit viewer is too thick to be able to deal with a clear editorial slant, as they do with the newspapers?

  • William Dooley

    This talk of a TV license reminds me of a day in high school, around 1963 or so, when we learned in German language class that Germans had to register with the local police when they changed residence. Even the dullest dolt in class reacted with justified horror.

    You people put up with a lot of intrusion from your governments. They don’t deserve it. God help us if we stand for it here.

    Bill

  • It seems to me that TV is held at some higher level than any other broadcasting medium. Why do we have to pay a licence for TV, when we don’t for the radio or the internet? From what I understand more American’s make use of the free BBC web site than do us Brits. And where do you think the money is coming from to pay for that? Where many internet companies are moving towards subscription-based models for their web site content, couldn’t the BBC do the same and use that as an alternative income to the licence fee? Or how about taxing radios at point of sale? There is as much logic in that as taxing us for watching the television. When I look at what Channel 4 has to offer in terms of quality news documentaries and cultural programmes, it surely is a significant rival to the BBC. And it’s not as if the licence fee is the BBC’s only income. The recent pop star competition had a premium number for viewers to vote. Greg Dyke has been very clever in separating the BBC into separate entities that are not legally bound to the non-advertising / profit making principle. BBC Resources, Worldwide all make huge amounts of money from outsourcing their services and products. It’s about time for a change..

  • In my opinion the current fee is a bargain.

    Fine, then you should be happy to pay for it. But why do I, who clearly thinks not only is it not a bargin but is in fact tantamount to armed robbery of me, have to pay?

    I DO want a TV… I do NOT want the BBC… so why am I still paying for this state owned body? Britain’s “cultural life” will do just fine without handouts of my money to the theft-and-violence addicted Guardianistas who run the BBC.

  • To me the license debate is quite simple. Would I rather a) pay £116 a year for the privilege of watching my own television, or b) get advertisers to pay it.

    Hmm (stroking chin comtemplatively). Let me think that one over.

    Anyway, the BBC is incapable of creating anything worthwhile without HBO or another stateside network to lend a hand.

    God, it’s such an anachronism it’s unbelievable. Privatise and be done with it!

  • Humphrey Appleby: How would you feel if the cultural programmes were to vanish from Channel Foo?
    Bernard Woolley: I don’t know, I never watch them.
    Humphrey Appleby: Neither do I but it’s vital to know that they’re there!