Of course celebrities want the licence fee – they’ve done rather well out of it. But for millions of taxpayers it is an onerous and retrograde poll tax
The BBC, according to some of its highest paid presenters, is a jolly good thing. In an open letter to David Cameron, dozens of celebrities and broadcasters have launched a pre-emptive strike against any reforms to slim down the Beeb.
Those who have done rather well out of the BBC, in terms of career elevation and earnings, are perfectly entitled to defend it. But the rest of us are entitled to regard them as the voice of a vested interest.
A diminished BBC, these celebs claim, “would simply mean a diminished Britain”. Their interest is, they seem to think, synonymous with the national interest. I am not sure the nation quite sees it that way.
My constituents are required, on pain of imprisonment, to pay £145.50 to fund the things that these celebrities do.
To be fair, much that these broadcasters do is world class. But with £3.7 billion of licence fee players money to play with each year, I would hope so too.
And not everything the Beeb does is brilliant. Who can ever forget the BBC’s embarrassingly bad coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant down the Thames? So much for public service broadcasting.
What oozes from this letter is a sense of entitlement. Can you imagine actors and celebrities writing to subscribers of Netflix or Sky, asserting their worth in such terms?
“But,” defenders of the BBC boondoggle claim, “the BBC licence fee is such great value!”
If that is so, then the BBC will have no difficulty in persuading willing customers to pay for it. No need to lobby Prime Ministers. No need to keep threatening vulnerable people with criminal sanctions. Wrap up the BBC’s reviled debt collection agency, TV Licencing, and let those satisfied customer subscriptions roll in.
There are no shortage of well-paid celebrities on the BBC payroll ready to write to defend a system that makes them rich. Who will write to defend local newspapers, many of whom are struggling and unable to diversify online thanks to the unfair competition from BBC websites? Slimming down the BBC regional web content might allow local newspapers to survive.
The BBC salary bill last year grew yet again to almost a billion pounds. 81 BBC managers now earn more than David Cameron, the recipient of the letter. Are those who signed this letter defending that?
Do they really believe that the BBC must pay its director general, Tony Hall, a banker-style salary of £532,000 a year? The BBC is able to get away with pay aggrandisement for precisely the same reasons that bank bosses do; those who manage the business are unaccountable to the punter. They think they are worth it, and as they help themselves to other people’s money there is no one around to say that they aren’t.
The BBC has produced an aristocracy of broadcasters, almost literally in the case of the Dimblebys. While they might be very good at it, I hope one day to live in country where one does not have to be called Dimbleby in order to present a current affairs questions and answers programme.
Look at who the BBC commissions to make programmes on history or art, economics or banking. Why is it so often the same people? If music was produced the way that the BBC produces television programmes, the music charts would be dominated by the same dozen bands.
This letter to Mr Cameron is written on behalf of the producer interest. Literally. If the BBC wants to survive, it needs to put the consumer interest first.