Today George Osborne’s budget revealed that soon the BBC is to fund the cost of free licence-fees for over-75s.
This will apply to all and will not be means tested. It will eat up a fifth of the BBC’s budget – and don’t forget that the BBC is already cutting over 1,000 jobs to save £50 million (it has yet to announce how it will save a further £100 million currently needing to be found).
Here’s the thing; I understand the need to help people in need and I totally support social policies that do this. There are pensioners in this country who have very little money and are entitled to help. And this is one of the many reasons we have taxes – based on the income we earn and adjusted to reflect this. And these taxes are how this policy should be funded. You want to tax me more to fund this? Fine. I will pay £150 pounds in extra tax a year – between 12 and 13 pounds a month – to fund someone in need to have access to the wide and varied communications services the BBC provides.
Another pledge the Tories promised during their election campaign was a further freeze of the licence fee. With this new plan announced, this would be disastrous for the BBC – but it looks like Director General Tony Hall has cut a deal that means a rise in line with inflation will be possible. Bear in mind that for many years annual BBC staff pay rises have been under the rate of inflation. This rise of the licence fee wouldn’t mean pay rises for its staff, but it will be vital to keep the BBC going. Again, however – why not means test people to see who should be eligible for a free licence, avoid eating up the budget and freeze the licence fee for another five years. Either way the BBC is negatively effected, but surely it’s preferable to a BBC that can’t afford to commission the dramas that BBC Worldwide can syndicate internationally in order to fund public service content for the nation.
To be honest, I’m surprised, shocked and saddened that this move today is even legal – surely we, as licence fee and tax payers, should have a say in how the product we pay for is deprecated. How our services are cut and whether we prefer to keep thousands of people in work – paying their taxes and the cost of their TV licences, no less. The BBC is vital to the growth of the indie production sector, to training the next generation in media, developing the digital ideas that will inspire the industry (iPlayer, for example), for entertaining and educating our children, from toddlers to teenagers (where they’ll use the BBC for revision and learning), to find recipes from the chefs they see on BBC channels (not imperialist Osbourne, but a common sense ‘digital 360’ approach to programming, making commissions go further for the audience), inspiring and informing the world with the hugely trusted World Service, making household names of British writers, actors and directors. Uncovering conspiracies and covering wars. Soundtracking our kitchens, bedrooms, cars and gardens with BBC Radio. Bringing culture – both live and recorded – to the masses. I simply can’t cover it all in this blog, but I do welcome you to mention your favourite BBC services in the comments below.
There’s a well-known routine in the journalism industry; everyone watches Sky News. They have a dedicated pot of money so they can publish stories as soon as they come in without necessarily knowing how watertight they are. They seek the viewers and cover their backs later. This doesn’t mean their coverage is usually inaccurate, but it’s why they can take risks and break stories before anyone else. The BBC, on the other hand, has to have anything it reports verified. In other words, everyone may watch Sky News, but they trust the BBC. They’re ying and yang and they balance each other out. There is absolutely room for both.
Osborne may say that BBC News is risking the stability of the national press, but I smell a rat. The BBC News website again publishes verifiable, unbiased news stories. The majority of the national press is right wing; they provide a loud, supportive voice for the Tories. They are essential to their plans come election season. The Tories need these outlets. Therefore they need to crush the alternative. And so they turn on the BBC and they attempt to tear it apart, before people decide they prefer their news to be news, and not an opinion published to sell papers.
To conclude, I repeat my earlier statement – tax my income, and not the culture I willingly pay for.