The BBC has been forced to defend the licence fee this week after coming under pressure from the Government to evolve or go bust.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has signalled the possible end of the TV licence fee, which underpins funding of the almost 100-year-old broadcaster, saying the current regime will be open-minded about the future of it beyond the existing Charter period.
There has also been talks about whether the evasion of the TV licence should be decriminalised, which could impact the bottom line of the broadcaster.
License fee hike
Earlier this week it was announced that the cost of the annual television licence fee will increase from £154.50 to £157.50 from April 1.
The fee is set by the Government, which announced in 2016 that it would rise in line with inflation for five years from April 2017.
The new cost equates to £3.02 per week – or £13.13 per month, according to the broadcaster, and works out significantly more expensive than Netflix or Amazon Prime memberships, which currently cost £96.88 and £79 per year respectively.
Why do we have a licence fee?
Culture Minister Nigel Adams today argued that many young people don’t understand why they should pay for the BBC when they do not use it.
He said there needs to be a much wider and broader conversation going forward beyond 2027 as to whether the licence fee model is the correct model, with others suggesting it could adopt a subscription model instead.
The money generated from license fees is used to fund public service broadcasting – which should “act in the public interest” by providing “impartial, high-quality and distinctive” content to “inform, educate and entertain” all audiences.
It therefore pays for BBC shows and services – including TV, radio, the BBC website, podcasts, iPlayer and apps, but there are several arguments around whether it is good value for money.
Arguments for the licence fee
Those in favour of the license fee argue that the BBC is a bastion of the UK’s democracy, culture and identity, and should be protected.
As it is publically funded it is protected from the daily ebb and flow of party politics which has come to dominate the media elsewhere, with factionalism and biased news agendas becoming commonplace within the market.
Many people argue the BBC also produces good quality content that may otherwise fail to exist.
Former minister Chris Bryant today pointed out that “nothing in life is free.
“Gavin And Stacey doesn’t come for free, Strictly doesn’t come for free, Sherlock, any of the great drama, comedy or documentaries from the BBC – none of that comes for free.
“It comes free-to-air as everybody pays in and everybody gets something in return.”
Arguments against the licence fee
But opponents of the licence fee argue that it is increasingly poor value for money.
Commentators on both side of the political divide have raised questions over its impartiality over the past few years, particularly in relation to the Brexit debate and General Elections.
Labour MP Andy McDonald accused the broadcaster of ‘consciously’ playing a part in Labour’s defeat in December’s election, saying he’s “very worried about our public service broadcaster”.
But according to the BBC’s complaints log, thousands more people accused the corporation of bias against the Conservatives than against Labour in the weeks before the December 12 vote.
Others have also argued that the move to digital television has significantly altered the landscape, with a plethora of high-quality programming now to be found outside free-to-air television.