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Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate (1985)

1985-03-01 Daily Express.jpg



BBC CHIEFS are behaving in an extraordinarily petulant manner. Because their demand for a huge increase in the licence fee—from £46 to £65—is being opposed they are -hitting out like spoiled brats.

Michael Grade, controller of BBC1, has even suspended the Dr Who series because it is "too expensive" although it must surely earn its keep in overseas sales. It is because its popularity will raise screams of protest that it is being made to suffer.

It is a form of moral blackmail already used by the National Health Service.

Whenever the NHS is forced to cut costs, it always aims at a children's ward or a heart-surgery unit.

The idea is simply to direct public attention from the fact that there is undoubted waste of public money.

In another diversionary move, BBC Director General Alasdair Milne talks of applying the licence fee to every TV set in the home and of charging car-radio users.

Doubtless, hotels and boarding houses too would be affected by the "license-everything" policy.


At present one fee covers about 20 sets.

"Beware the wrath to come" is the message from Broadcasting House.

Who the Hell are these public servants to be so uppity with the public who pay their salaries ?

BBC mandarins will reply that they are not your common-or-garden civil servants, but executives of The Corporation, which has a life and power of its own.

Certainly they act as masters rather than servants.

Fleets of Dalek-style monitor vans prowl the streets using equipment to seek out offenders who have not paid then licences.

As it happens, I do have licence so I do not live in dread of the knock on the door. But the whole melodramatic business of licensing, monitoring, threatening, blackmailing is thoroughly unacceptable.

Why should we have a licensing system at all ?

It was justified in the early days of radio, when broadcasting was a minority pursuit and post offices could easily collect the fee.

Today, however, 99 per cent of the population have TV sets. Why not simply use the tax system with exemption for those who do not have a set ?

At one fell swoop the BBC would

  • Save the 100 million it costs to collect the licence fee.
  • Be rid of the national television record office with its 580 officials.
  • Dispense with the Big Brother monitoring service costing £663,000.
  • Earn an extra 65 million from the estimated 1,600,000 people who dodge paying the licence.

In total, that sum of £1115 million would be a significant factor in the Beeb's income of £700 million. We could even be spared a pay claim altogether!

So why don't we do it? When Mr Douglas Hurd was a junior Home Office Minister last year, he explained that the Chancellor wouldn't want to take on the burden of grabbing another huge tax sum from the public.

This is politically understandable. So long as the BBC appears to be financially independent, its officers have to bear the slings and arrows of outraged public opinion when ever they try to raise more cash.

But is the Chancellor's convenience worth the aggravation of licensing, with its loopholes and watchdogs?

After all, licensing is merely taxation by another name. And to what end? To sustain the myth that the BBC is financially independent.

The fees are, collected by methods which are costly, cumbersome and fraught—involving, as they do, verbal fisticuffs with Ministers and Parliament.


Yet to maintain this myth, Messrs Alasdair, Milne and Stuart Young, the BBC chairman, are waging a propaganda campaign worthy at a particularly bitter general election.

Even those who are among the BBC's strongest supporters are disheartened by such tactics.

Where is the BBC's vaunted "integrity" in this bare-knuckled contest?

Why should we, the viewers, be the victims to a system sacrificial that has no defence in logic or reality?

The late Lord Thomson of Scottish TV remarked that commercial television was "a licence to print money."

The way the BBC is financed is a licence to lose money. And we all pay

Caption: Political victims ... Dr Who stars Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker

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  • APA 6th ed.: McMillan, James (1985-03-01). Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate. Daily Express p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McMillan, James. "Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate." Daily Express [add city] 1985-03-01, 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McMillan, James. "Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate." Daily Express, edition, sec., 1985-03-01
  • Turabian: McMillan, James. "Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate." Daily Express, 1985-03-01, section, 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate | url= | work=Daily Express | pages=8 | date=1985-03-01 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2018 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Time to scrap the BBC's license to intimidate | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2018}}</ref>