John Wittingdale, Conservative Culture Secretary, recently announced that BBC iPlayer would only be available to those who paid their licence fee. He argued that it was unfair that people who had not paid their licence fee got access to BBC content for free. He also argued that closing this loophole could increase revenue for the BBC. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable argument but the underlying sentiments to it are extremely worrying.
Firstly, this policy disproportionately hits the young and the poor. the reality is that those that presently watch BBC on BBC iPlayer and don’t pay their TV licence chose not to do so as it is seen as an unneeded cost particularly when BBC iPlayer is free. Once the government implement the charge for iPlayer, either these people will pay (despite having less of an ability to do so) or chose to go without the BBC and opt for cheaper alternatives such as ITV Hub or even Netflix instead.
Secondly, this policy aims at reducing people’s affinity with the BBC. The series people will be addicted to will gradually change from BBC hits such as Doctor Who, Sherlock and Luther to alternatives on other outlets. As the BBC is being watched less, people are less likely to punish a government which dismantles it as, it is playing less of a role in people’s lives.
Thirdly, this policy makes quality British drama a luxury for the better off. The drama on the alternative outlets to the BBC, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, are mostly made in the USA. Charging for the licence fee in turn stops those on lower incomes being able to access British drama. This result of the policy is particularly ironic as, by implementing this policy, the Conservative Culture secretary, charged with protecting our culture, is playing a major role in incentivising many Britons to watch American TV.
The alternative to charging for iPlayer is ditching the licence fee altogether and instead, funding the bbc through progressive taxation. Although there is a choice of non-payment, the licence fee is effectively a flat tax as the poor pay the same as the most wealthy. Funding the BBC through progressive taxation would mean those that could afford it would pay proportionately more and those who had less of an ability to pay would contribute less. Also, funding the BBC through progressive taxation would solve the issue of people free-riding, and would further cement the BBC’s status as a right for every British citizen, not just a luxury for those that can afford it.