This week the pay of many BBC presenters has made its way into the public domain for the first time. In a time of austerity, in a time in which the nation is still running a deficit, at a time where nurses and teachers at the top of their pay scales cannot get more than a 1% pay rise, this information about how much certain celebrities are paid has been contentious to say the least.
The red herring here is sadly what most people have jumped on: the seeming disparity between male and female salaries. That is what Facebook chatter, and many of the newspapers have run with as the main story.
The real story is bigger than this: should we have publicly funded television at all? Should someone who only watches Doctor Who really be expected to fund all of the network? Should TV be funded by government?
It was assumed in the early days of TV that it was important for the government to get involved in broadcasting due to the technological costs. Now, in our over 500 channel days with internet and so on, this argument is over.
What concerns me with most modern arguments for public funded TV is that they are staggeringly paternalistic: we are providing the people with the TV they need. No, the government does not get to decide what we need. The social elite should not be creating a false supply, but rather demand and supply should go together as per a free market.
The problem of state provided TV is it can, divorced from the economics of supply and demand, easily become a political mouthpiece, a place of propoganda. I won’t discuss this on this blog, but a few minutes on Google should easily convince you of outrageous and harmful bias at the BBC.
The background of this argument, that advertising funded TV would be reeuced to cheap reality TV and soap operas all day long had viability to it until subscriber funded TV such as Netflix and Amazon started producing high-quality niche TV that was cheaply available. To me, the artival of subscriber TV should be the natural end of the BBC as state-provided TV.
There are so many funding options now, different kinds of subscribers, TV on demand, and more TV than ever before that state TV is unnecessary and irrelevant.
But like I said it goes deeper than irrelveant, real questions must be asked about whether state funded TV can ever be fair, balanced, reflecting both sides of an argument. The BBC is partly funded by the EU – can they be fair about coverage of Brexit? Experience would suggest not.
Now in a free market, it does not matter if a channel is biased. Other channels will have alternate biases and you can choose which you pay for! While in the UK we can stull make these choices, we are still forced to pay for the BBC and its news service, and being free from advertising does give the BBC a strong advantage over its competition.
The BBCs top watched programmes are things like Call the Midwife, Eastenders and Bake Off. These are not things that other networks cannot duplicate. In fact, the BBC is hardly innovative – News24 was a response to Sky doing it first, and ITV came up with the idea of reality TV with viewers voting.
In the Bible, Paul tells us that the purpose of government is to keep its people safe and to ensure we have a quiet life (1 Tim. 2.1-2). It is the purpose of government to have an army, a healthy police service, but not a TV station. It is not the purpose of government to provide for our needs.
The truth is that the UK will continue to have great TV no matter what happens, but it is wrong that we are being taxed for something that is a service. So what would happen to the BBC? Well, there are two simple options, or a third option that is an amalgam of the other two. Firstly, the BBC contacts advertisers and raises money that way. It already has great infrastructure and so on, and then would be forced to compete competitively in the market with ITV and other channels. Or the BBC can develop a subscriber model as per Netflix or Amazon. Or a combination of both. If the general public generally value what the BBC provides, they would continue to pay for its services – then the BBC would be forced to make value, and be subject to the market forces. Then any celebrity or manager funded by the BBC would be funded by the subscribers to the service, not by the general public. Our tax burden would be relieved. Then the celebrities would not sound hollow when they say “I could go elsewhere and get more”, we would believe them and believe they were worth what they were paid.
Generally, the public supports and values the BBC, however in the last survey I have been able to read (2004, ICM), we find only 31% of people think the licence fee is still a good idea, and 77% people who think the BBC should be paid for with either adverts or through some sort of subscriber system. At the moment, the licence fee is taken at gunpoint, and that is not healthy for any nation.
Change is important here, and needs to be effected quickly. Our society will be freer because of it, and that is never a bad thing. It may be that some celebrities get paid more if that happens, certainly none of the BBC stars named in this report get paid as much as Ant and Dec for instance! And that is an issue for another day as it shows how out of touch with life our values are as a nation, but at least it would be money earned in the free market, given freely by free people who want to listen and watch. It wouldn’t be a regressive tax imposed on us, to then use TV to lecture us and patronize us.