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Samizdata quote of the day

BBC should be abolished, not because of blatant bias but because the whole idea of a state broadcaster was a terrible idea on day 1 of the BBC’s existence. And in the internet age, it is now an anachronistic bad idea. Bin it entirely or at least make it voluntary subscription

– Perry de Havilland

28 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Gavin Longmuir

    When I lived in the UK some years back, I did not have a TV set. I had to go to the Post Office and register as a non-TV owner — it seemed vaguely similar to requiring people to register as sex offenders.

    The TV license fee seems like an excellent target for a mass civil disobedience campaign. Since even the Conservative Party seems to be in the pocket of the BBC, this could be a good way of putting pressure on the Political Class.

  • Andrew Douglas

    I now have a letter from the TV licensing people saying I don’t need one. Since giving up watching the BBC my blood pressure is so much better!

  • I gave up watching UK TV after living in Foreign for a few years (CH, DE, NL and US mostly) where the TV is so abysmal it isn’t actually worth watching. When I returned to the UK I never bothered picking up the TV habit again and consequently didn’t bother forking out for a TV license from the chancers at TV Licensing (essentially the BBC pretending its some arm of the government).

    I still get the monthly threatograms, but being in Scotland where the law is different, the BBC (under it’s pretend hologram of “TV Licensing”) seems to have given up all attempts at actual enforcement, so just throw them in the bin every month and nothing further happens.

    The big problem with the TV license is that the money it generates is just too much to give up (about £5 billion a year) compared to the meagre pittance that even a SUCCESSFUL subscription service would bring in. This is why they essentially bribe the political class with bullshit like Parliament channel and public service programming.


    The law is slightly different in Scotland. In 2016, BBC licence fee evasion was estimated to be 10% in Scotland. Almost double of England and Wales.

    Information provided by the Scottish Court Service suggests that TV Licensing search warrant applications in Scotland are virtually non-existent. In their response to a FOI request the Scottish Court Service confirmed that no search warrant applications were made to courts in Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, in the three-and-a-half years between 1 January 2011 and 21 July 2014.

    Court action

    In 2014, 204,018 people were prosecuted or fined for TV licence offences: 185,580 in England and Wales, (173,044 in England and 12,536 in Wales), 4,905 people in Northern Ireland and 15 in the Isle of Man. In Scotland, there were 13,486 cases disposed of via an out of court fine and 32 prosecuted via the courts in 2013-2014

    Fines:

    The average fine is £170 in England and Wales, £80 in Northern Ireland, £75 in Scotland (out-of-court disposal)

    (Instead of prosecution, in Scotland, TV licence fee evaders are usually asked by the Procurator Fiscal to pay a fiscal fine and a small number are simply given a warning.

    For example, in 2013-2014, just 10 cases reached the courts whereas 12,969 people were asked to pay a fiscal fine, no action was taken in 275 cases, and 174 people were sent a warning. In addition, 2 people were asked to pay compensation and 1 person was offered the chance to pay a combination of fiscal fine and compensation. In 2013-14, almost all of the fiscal fines (12,603 out of 12,969) were at the level 2 rate of £75)

    Imprisonment:

    In England and Wales, 39 people were given an average of 20 days in 2014 (compared to 32 in 2013 and 51 in 2012). There were no custodial sentences imposed during the 5-year period 2009-10 to 2013-14 in Scotland.

    There’s basically no risk to not pay your licence fee in Scotland. You get no jail time and at worst, you’ll pay an average of £75 fine.

  • Fraser Orr

    Of course it is worth pointing out that here, in the land of the free, although we don’t have such an abomination as a Government Pravda channel, what we do have is government ownership of the airwaves, and consequently, ultimately, rental of those airwaves as long as the renters play by the rules demanded by government.

    A true free market solution would be to actually sell the airwaves in a suitable manner (by frequency and “area”, which would be proxied by “power”), and allow the free market to optimize the use of this precious resource.

    Gratuitous Yes Minister link on BBC: https://vimeo.com/155307641

  • Mr Ecks

    I’ve been calling for the 24 hour-flat shutdown forever of the EUBBC/C4 for years. Standard redun terms for techs/tealadies etc and soddall –inc confiscation of pensions–for the lovies, management+ all other leftcreatures.

    Glad to see people are catching up.

  • Stephen Houghton

    The BBC is, as we say about bad cases in american law, “wrong the day it was decided.”

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Mr. X: “I’ve been calling for the 24 hour-flat shutdown forever of the EUBBC/C4 for years.”

    Two ways to accomplish that. First way — Big Government brings down the hammer. Second way — the people en mass simply refuse to pay the BBC license fee. Which would be the better way?

    Brits have some history with effective civil disobedience. When the sainted Margaret Thatcher attempted to introduce the Poll Tax, enough people refused to pay and the tax died. As a geologist would say — anything that has happened is possible.

  • Jim Jones

    I do not pay the TV License, I suggest you all do the same

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mr Ecks, we Samizdata chaps and ladies have been calling to end the BBC tax since the blog started almost two decades ago.

    I remember thinking it was due for termination as far back as the early 80s, but I’m precocious like that.

  • pete

    The state nationalised the BBC in 1926 so it could control broadcasting.

    Subsequently all broadcasting became heavily regulated and there are increasing calls, mainly from ‘liberals’, for more regulation and censorship of the press and the internet.

    In this intolerant and authoritarian climate the BBC’s future as a state funded and controlled corporation and establishment mouthpiece is more secure than it ever was.

  • Gavin Longmuir (May 14, 2019 at 7:20 pm), the idea that the poll tax died because of successful civil disobedience is, I believe, one of those left-wing spins of history – less extreme than many but quite a stretch. There was a campaign, but the tax in no way broke down. The same amount of hassle against the license fee would not end the BBC.

    John Galt (May 14, 2019 at 4:27 pm) watching the BBC is how they live in a bubble – and how I don’t. Not worth the license fee, of course, but as it is there ….

    Perry, while it would be great if the license fee were just promptly abolished, I have sometimes wondered about the political viability of converting it to a direct programme purchase scheme, disempowering the beeb’s managerial class. If anyone could make programmes, and the license fee were simply an annual payment to an account from which you bought those you wanted to watch, then some of the problems of TV media – that we are rarely its true customers, so have less control – might diminish. If UK politics were in a state where outright abolition were still not viable, maybe “empowering the licence payers” might be.

  • Paul Marks

    I agree with the post – but the blatant bias thing should not be ignored.

    It is ILLEGAL under British law for a television news station NOT to be leftist – they all have to be leftist (whether they are state owned or not), this is because the politics of television is regulated by “Ofcom” which is appointed by the government and is leftist, and so insists that all television stations mirror its (“Ofcom’s”) politics – which it FALSELY calls “objective” and “unbiased”.

    Ask yourself when you last viewed a British television news or current affairs programme (or even entertainment show) that was NOT leftist – on ANY British television station.

    That is the bottom line – and that is why, although I support getting rid of the BBC, getting rid of it would make little difference – as the other television stations are also controlled (by law) by the “liberal” left.

    The British political system (and political culture) is evolving into a Swedish “soft totalitarianism” – no one is shot in the back of the head, or sent to a Death Camp. But dissent (real dissent) is increasingly not allowed.

    For example, we are down to one (one) daily newspaper that accurately reports Mrs May’s FAKE “Withdrawal Agreement” as the sell-out surrender to the European Union that it is – only the Daily Telegraph reports even this basic matter of national independence with something approaching accuracy, much of the rest of the press (such as the “Daily Mail”) are just wall-to-wall lies.

    And ALL British television stations (without exception) are wall-to-wall lies.

    Not good.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Niall Kilmartin
    I have sometimes wondered about the political viability of converting it to a direct programme purchase scheme

    Isn’t that just Netflix? And we already have that without the need for detector vans, or arrest warrants.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Niall K: “… the idea that the poll tax died because of successful civil disobedience is, I believe, one of those left-wing spins of history …”

    Niall — Please expand on your observation and correct the misinformation to which I was exposed. I was not in the UK during that time, and know only what I saw in the news media; which of course does mean the only thing I know is left-wing spin. What really happened? And does it give any clues about whether a widespread campaign of non-payment of the BBC license fee could be successful?

  • Mr Ed

    Almost 10 years without a TV, it is unmissable in a sense. Occasional glimpses when visiting people or in hotels make me realise just how primitive the whole concept is, never mind how dire the content. Just think of the juicy spectrum sales that HM Government could get if the BBC were scrapped and, after the necessary evacuations, these were planted on top of key buildings. Not that HMG should sell this sort of thing, but it’s a hard habit to break.

    Then sell off the assets to compensate those prosecuted for not having a TV licence, give them an amnesty by retrospective repeal, and seize the pension funds arising from the BBC to go to the same ends (and cover the costs of demolition and clearing up).

  • NickM

    Last night I tried to watch something on the BBC’s much vaunted iPlayer. Didn’t work. It’s shambolic. I agree about the bias issue but when the system doesn’t work, when systems that do and provide much better content and the whole idea of broadcast is anyway beginning (well, it has been for some time but the BBC et. all. have been fighting a desperate rearguard action and UK internet is shite) to look like last century’s Big Idea to even the non-technofetishist then the writing is on the wall.

    The other one that really needs hanging-out to dry is C4 (which is 50% gov owned). That is also meant to be “quality” TV. Which part of “Naked Dating” is quality? What will kill the BBC is the obvious higher quality of the likes of Netflix.

  • Fraser Orr

    Mr Ed
    Almost 10 years without a TV, it is unmissable in a sense.

    Honestly, given that the basic function of the tv — delivery of audio video content — is easily achievable by the internet, what possible justification is there for continuing to use such a primitive mechanism? Imagine what better uses that spectrum could be put to. It is like a law demanding that every public building have a stable, because some anachronistic fellow might be using a horse and buggy.

    However, like most quangos, in fact like most organizations, the primary goal of the BBC is the continued existence of the BBC. So don’t expect to see any changes. And any widespread movement to evade the license fee would be met not with capitulation, but with escalating enforcement actions, show trials, and increasingly brutal punishments. (I am reminded of a law in the Ottoman Empire where the wearing of the fez was banned, in an attempt to “modernize”. However, people liked wearing the fez, and so the enforcement became more and more brutal, and the legal consequences more and more severe, until the wearing of the fez actually became a death penalty offence. I have a newspaper article about this somewhere. Civil disobedience can work, but expect a bloodbath before meeting your goals. Powerful people with deeply vested interests do not genuflect easily to the grumblings of the peasants.)

  • Stonyground

    The problem with the idea of having a mass refusal to pay the TV licence is that loads of people think that the BBC is just brilliant. There are also lots of older people who are just law abiding, they consider being so as really important. It would need some kind of incident to trigger it off, maybe the relentless climate change crap will do it.

  • mickc

    Nick

    Yes, I entirely agree. Netflix and its rivals will kill off the BBC. Their product is of very much higher quality and without obvious Left wing bias.
    The internet and free market has provided competitors which the BBC and MSM must regard with outright fear.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    mickc: “Netflix and its rivals will kill off the BBC.”

    Netflix and internet content in general are definitely already eating into the audience for broadcast TV. But as long as the UK has a law requiring anyone with an apparatus capable of receiving a signal to pay a tax to the BBC, why should the BBC care? Their funding is secure. If the BBC follows in the footsteps of US broadcasting companies, they would rather broadcast to a small audience of the “woke” than to a large audience of “deplorables”.

    The BBC is like government in general — the only way to kill an activity is to cut off the revenue stream. That is why the example of UK citizen resistance to the Poll Tax might be relevant, if someone has insights into what really happened back then.

  • Gavin Longmuir (May 15, 2019 at 2:36 pm), I’ll give my Poll Tax memory. I encourage other UK commenters to confirm, correct or qualify me as needed, in case I am remembering with advantages. 🙂

    Having succeeded in persuading people in the 1980s that high tax rates were a silly idea, the Thatcher government then decided to make their overhaul of the local tax system a tryout of taking the next step – having many people pay the same amount. Despite my main point that prompted your query being that the fight against it was less effective than a left-leaning media claimed, I believe this was a step too far for public opinion and overall harmed rather than helped the Tories.

    The old rates system worked on the rentable value of the house, an absurd system because only a minority of buildings were rented, many had never been rented, so the tax was largely based on notional values computed by the valuation office, not on real values which the market needed to compute anyway. (What is the rentable value of a public toilet – and why did the valuation office increase it 15-fold in one revaluation exercise? I cannot answer that question but I know it happened. 🙂 ) Ancient data, usually describing the house many decades before and wildly guestimating what it would rent for – or rather, what it would have rented for at a different decades-earlier time – were used to generate the rateable values. As poorer houses more often rent while costlier ones are more often sold, the tax had a regressive quality. So – although the public knew almost nothing of this – the case for a new system was good.

    The new system taxed people, not houses, and used the voter rolls to know who lived where (so incidentally both discouraged voter fraud – but I do not think there was that much back then – and somewhat incentivised not bothering to register, something the Tories may well not greatly have minded, as they hoped to improve the fiscal responsibility of local councils by relating the act of paying to the act of voting for services).

    The Tories made two errors in implementation, both of which may have been accidents or may have been motivated by politics.

    – Firstly, they rolled the system out in Scotland (where they were least popular) a year before they did in the rest of the UK (there were admin reasons why this happened, but it let the campaign against it build up a head of steam in a favourable location and exploit Scots’ willingness to think themselves hard done by).

    – Secondly, the old rates system had been run by local councils – logically enough, since houses did not move from one council’s area to another. The new collection system should have had a central database coordinating when people moved from one area to another. However the Tories were eager to force the local councils (many Labour-run) to collect the new taxes effectively or suffer the shortfalls of not doing so, and so they left the whole system in the hands of each council, which caused some avoidable admin problems.

    In the 80s, Labour had been having a somewhat thin time of it. They had barely survived the challenge from the LibDems (greatly helped by the fact that David Owen and David Steel could not agree which of them should be leader and prime minister when they replaced Labour) and really wanted an issue they could bash Maggie on. The poll tax revealed that the anti-socialist 80s supported ‘same tax rate’ but were not so convinced about the virtue of (broadly) ‘same tax amount’ for all from average earners to much higher earners. Labour longed for an issue and scented this. So the party of taxation starting hinting people should not pay tax, but hindered by several reasons why all but their authorised-wild-ones could not exactly say that directly.

    They had great success in rebranding the ‘community charge’ as ‘the poll tax’ (and they greatly enjoyed talking about the peasants revolt of the 1380s, though how much the average punter responded to that is another matter). It was their most successful anti-Maggie campaign, and they managed to ensure a lot of hassle for its collectors and etc. As usual, the news media hyoed up their success. In Scotland, where they had significantly more success than England, the large majority paid but the proportion who had arrears was noticeable.

    However the design of the tax had two mitigating effects. Because it was based on the voters roll, marginal Labour councils faced problems in a campaign that could be waged by defying court orders and etc. but could be waged by not being on said roll – their own voters of course, being the ones who would be missing. Secondly this tax was for them – for local councils – not for Maggie’s central government; they were in effect saying “don’t pay us” and again, a council that was not in a Labour heartland could become a non-Labour council through the follow-on of that. Their strength lay in the fact that those who disliked the poll tax disliked it a lot whereas, unlike other Tory policies, those who liked it were little invested in it.

    Meanwhile, Maggie was facing increasing rebellion inside her own party over the EU, not the poll tax. The ever-closer union bandwagon was beginning to roll towards the Maastricht treaty, and Maggie was (literally and repeatedly) saying, “No”. Despite robust support in the Tory party overall, she faced a leadership challenge from EUrophile MPs; she had a majority even of MPs but was no Theresa May to cling like glue to power in the face of division. She resigned. The new government dumped the poll tax system for one based on the capital value of houses so that that issue would go away and they could concentrate on others.

    It was the EU conflicts inside the Tories, not the external Labour pressure on the poll tax, that caused the change. Local government continued, and continued to have funds, tax was collected, etc. Labour got to campaign on an issue where they were more popular than the Tories and they loved Maggie’s fall, so they loved to give themselves credit for it.

    (The poll tax unpopularity weakened Maggie by making it unlikely she would wipe the floor with Labour as she had in prior elections and possible the Tories would lose, so in a very secondary way it emboldened her EUro-challengers. Labour and the media believed their rhetoric and had a very unhappy day in 1992 when the Tories won for the fourth time in a row.)

    – Would the Tories not have won that election if the poll tax had still been there? My guess that if Maggie (and poll tax) had both still been there, they might have lost their majority but Labour would not have gained it. A hung parliament would have seen a minority Labour blamed for the 1992 ejection from the European Exchange Rate mechanism and the Tories returned as the party of fiscal responsibility.

    – Were Labour rendering the poll tax unviable, as opposed to merely unpopular enough to get them some more votes? I think they were not even close to it. In effect, we only had two years of experience, so who can tell what would have happened, but my impression was of a tax settling in with a high delinquency rate and countervailing factors (e.g. no representation without taxation). A high-enough delinquency rate can kill a tax, but my impression at the time – and I could be very wrong – was that outside Scotland they never got close, and inside Scotland things continued working. The campaign was much sound and fury signifying a degree of hassling rather than any actual halting.

    Finally as regards lessons for the license fee, firstly anyone can discard their television, not watch iPlayer and still see pretty well anything they want these days on their computer, and – IIUC – not pay legally. Anyone else can decide not to watch BBC (or, less honestly, say they never do) and can have a better moral case, though if they have a television then legally they are liable to pay. There is no equivalent of a party of high taxation who needed to draw strongly on their hypocrisy to wage the campaign, or local councils who wanted people not to pay but wanted money to be received, or, above all, a voters roll whose thinning gives financial loss a silver lining for a Tory council, but is doubly bad news to a Labour one. And of course, if the BBC were not on the air one day, that would be less inconvenient than if the council stopped collecting our bins.

    However what I do say is the actual percentage level of non-payment from ordinary people would need to be much higher than it was even in Scotland.

    It was a while ago. I strongly encourage UK commenters to correct me wherever I am inaccurate and qualify me wherever I am debatable.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Last night I tried to watch something on the BBC’s much vaunted iPlayer. Didn’t work. It’s shambolic.”

    Oh, you don’t use the BBC’s own app. It’s bloody awful (although, oddly enough, the version for Sony’s old PS3 is almost bearable on a decent connection). You use the get_iplayer Python script to download stuff to your hard drive.

    Excellent summary, Niall.

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Thank you, Niall. Very interesting. Outside the UK, the (ahem! biased) version of the Poll Tax controversy was that the peasants revolted and the Thatcher folded. There was little coverage of the underlying tension (for politicians) between revenues and votes.

    In one sense, this is a little disheartening. If the UK citizenry is less obstreperous than international reputation would have it, and even nominally Conservative governments have not dared to touch the BBC — then the BBC will continue on its merry Left-Wing way for a long, long time.

  • NickM

    Gavin,
    If the BBC follows in the footsteps of US broadcasting companies, they would rather broadcast to a small audience of the “woke” than to a large audience of “deplorables”.

    I can’t agree with that. The BBC absolutely needs to be part of the very fabric of the nation. Every so often they do polls on things like, “Britain’s most respected institution” and the BBC invariably comes top – even beating the NHS. The BBC needs this. It needs to be the place Brits go at moments of national joy or tribulation. It is both infernally arrogant and crawlingly needy. It’s TV’s Gollum, my precious!!!

  • Mr Ecks

    The BBC had its heyday long ago and is liked most by older small-c conservative folk. Paradoxically those it tries to lie to and about on a daily basis.

    It is also widely hated and lost 836000 licence payers last year including me. There was NOTHING that I watched on it.

    The fact is most people could easily stop watching and paying for it if they chose. People are far too “law-abiding” . Again mostly the older folk.

  • Mr Ecks (May 16, 2019 at 8:22 am), I agree that these days the BBC output seems a poor flavourless drop in an ocean of admittedly mostly mediocre programmes. That is why (in my first comment in this thread) I suggested a change to a user-chooses-to-watch-or-not mode of funding it. People will “vote with their feet” (their fingers) against the BBC who might not vote for its abolition.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ecks – I find the matter baffling.

    It is not that the BBC has suddenly become leftist – it has been leftist since “That Was The Week That Was” in the early 1960s – yet many ordinary people still just assume that the BBC is a noble enterprise which can be saved from bias (bias that is actually institutional).

  • NickM

    Paul,
    Maybe but it has been statist since Lord Reith. What the state is may have changed but that hasn’t. The leopard may have changed its spots but it is still a leopard.