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The BBC’s mid-term review is due. How would you rate the Beeb?

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive 

We are due a mid-term review of the BBC’s Royal Charter, which “must be completed between 2022 and 2024”, according to a DCMS policy paper which was published last year. Interestingly, this review will also look at editorial standards and impartiality.

The Freedom Association has for many years campaigned for the abolition of the television licence. We have always viewed it as an anachronism; something which should have been abolished many years ago. Of course, if it hadn't been for political interference, the BBC may never have become the state broadcaster as we know it today. In 1920s America there was an explosion of private radio stations, broadcasting whatever they liked. Entrepreneurs in Britain looked to America and thought, “If only we could do that here. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?” And it would have been, but the ruling classes in Britain were horrified at the thought. Horrified and terrified, to be precise. 

The ability of just about anyone to broadcast what they liked into potentially millions of homes was something that the Government didn’t want. It did, though, award a single licence to a consortium of private companies which became the British Broadcasting Company. Here we have the birth of the BBC. Not long after that it ceased to be a private company: it was nationalised.  

When all you have is one radio broadcaster, which, of course, was all the Government at the time wanted, and indeed allowed, having a radio licence to fund that broadcaster made sense. 

In 1946, it made sense to introduce a combined radio and television licence to fund the BBC’s rapidly expanding television operation. It cost the princely sum of £2. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that is the equivalent of £63.80 today. 

This should have been reviewed, though, when the Government allowed independent television, but of course, it wasn’t. Funding one broadcaster through a compulsory licence fee continued and continues to this day, despite many technological changes over the years.

For example, Jawed Karim, Chad Hurley, and Steve Chen came up with the idea of building a video sharing website when they couldn't find online videos about key events of interest at the time. The result was the launch of YouTube in February 2005. In 2006, Facebook became accessible to the general public. Last year, it was estimated that there were almost three billion Facebook users. Twitter was also launched in 2006 and currently has over 368 million monthly active users worldwide.

In the space of a couple of years, the way we communicated and shared information had started to change forever. But technology doesn’t hang around and also in 2006, Channel 4 launched its own on-demand streaming service. On 25th December 2007, the BBC launched its iPlayer; followed by Channel 5 and ITV in 2008.  

In May 2009, there were 55 million TV requests for BBC iPlayer. In May 2015, the figure had increased to 242 million. Last year, BBC iPlayer passed the seven-billion streams milestone. More and more of us are watching television when we want to, and are doing it on a variety of devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers.

Services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Now (operated by Sky) are staples in millions of homes in the UK. What they have in common is that they are not as interested in ratings as they are in the number of subscribers they have. If what they offer is of a poor quality, people will vote with their direct debits. Massive amounts of money is being spent by these streaming giants as they constantly strive to increase and improve their output. 

The world of broadcasting has changed, and yet the BBC holds on to the licence fee with the resolve of a child holding onto his or her mother’s apron strings. In the past, it has orchestrated campaigns fronted by well known celebrities to protect its income stream - and also the income stream of many well known celebrities who rely on the BBC for work. After listening to some of the rubbish emanating from their mouths you could be forgiven for thinking that the creative industries in the UK would burn in the fires of hell if the BBC didn’t forcibly extract its direct debits from our bank accounts. 

Former Labour politician, James Purnell, who was a senior executive at Broadcasting House from 2013-2020, once said that if non-payment of the licence fee was decriminalised, the loss of income would mean cuts to children’s television. Purnell’s comments highlighted just how desperate and lacking in ideas the BBC is at times. 

The truth is the BBC dominates and skews the broadcasting market in this country. The only way it can do that is because of the licence fee. According to Ofcom, the “BBC remains the news organisation with the highest cross-platform audience reach (76%) among those following news.” It has its fingers in every pie imaginable. It crowds out other broadcasters and newspapers. 

In a desperate attempt to be relevant to younger people, it alienates its core audience. Younger people are not as interested in the BBC as their parents and grandparents were at their age. 

As we move into this mid-term review of the BBC’s Royal Charter, questions ought to be asked about why the BBC is so big. Why can't it be slimmed down? Why is it constantly chasing ratings and crowding out other broadcasters, newspapers,and news websites? Why does it have to depend on a mandatory licence fee? The rest of the world has seen how broadcasting has changed and continues to change, so why doesn’t the BBC concentrate on what it does best? 

A number of years ago, David Elstein, a respected independent television producer, said:

"The BBC regularly reminds us that, at 40p a day, its huge array of output is a tremendous bargain. The trouble is that nothing is a bargain if you have no choice but to buy it. If the BBC really believed its own propaganda about the 40p, it would embrace subscription without a second thought. That it is so viscerally opposed to subscription – and to choice, a word rarely on the lips of BBC mandarins – is a reminder that its business model relies upon criminal sanctions to achieve success.”

It’s time to end this distortion in the broadcasting market place. It’s time to end the compulsory funding of one broadcaster, irrespective of whether or not you watch any of its output. It’s time to axe the TV tax and allow us to be free to make our own choices. 


Photo Credit: BBC Broadcasting House: © Copyright Christine Matthews ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The BBC needs root and branch reform - and that includes scrapping the licence fee

By Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns

The BBC lied and used fake documents in lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on Diana, Princess of Wales' fears and fuelled her paranoia. The BBC has been woefully incompetent; it has been evasive and it covered-up the utterly reprehensible behaviour of Martin Bashir. 

They are not my words (although I could have easily written them); they are the words of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge in a powerful recorded statement broadcast yesterday. He delivered it with such dignity, but he must have been fuming inside. And who could blame him? 

We are told that the culture has changed in the last 26 years; that it is much more open and accountable, but I don't believe that for one moment. Try making a complaint to the BBC without feeling like banging your head against a brick wall. You are faced with layers of bureaucracy deliberately designed to ensure that even after numerous appeals, you will give up. Even if the BBC admits that it has got it wrong, there are very few consequences for those responsible. All the BBC is interested in is protecting its funding stream and appealing to those with whom it agrees: namely the woke Guardianistas of Hampstead and Islington. 

Lord Hall, who at the time was Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, feels that he has been exonerated. He shouldn't be. He either didn't conduct a thorough investigation into the way Bashir landed the interview, or he deliberately covered it up. Which was it? When you consider the way the BBC covered-up Jimmy Savile's disgusting criminal behaviour, I firmly believe that it was the latter unless it can be proved otherwise. 

(Click here to watch a webinar we held on 4th May 2021 looking at the future of the BBC. We asked if it should be defunded or reformed. The panellists were Nick Ross, Lord Moylan, and me. It was chaired by our chairman, David Campbell Bannerman)

Earl Spencer has called for a criminal investigation into Bashir. Quite right. If a tabloid newspaper had acted in this way, the likes of Keir Starmer would be jumping all over it. Indeed, As Director of Public Prosecutions in 2012, Keir Starmer decided that 33 tabloid journalists should face criminal charges for paying public officials for information. This resulted in dawn raids. Is the Metropolitan Police going to be knocking on Bashir's door? Are they going to feel Lord Hall's collar? Not anytime soon it appears. 

The BBC's reputation is once again being torn into little pieces. More and more of us are switching off, but does the BBC really care? Yes, the corporation requires root and branch reform. That should be obvious to even the most ardent defenders of the BBC. But one of the biggest reforms must be the way the BBC is funded. Why should we be forced to fund an organisation which doesn't share any of our values? Why should we be forced to fund an organisation whose news output is slanted to the woke left? If I want to news from a woke left perspective, I can read The Guardian. And I am not threatened with a criminal conviction if I don't hand over £159 a year to help prop-up that particular newspaper. 

As I have said for years that the BBC is clinging on to an analogue funding system in a digital world. It is also in a death spiral. Unless Tim Davie can turn the ship around, he could well be the last Director General of the BBC as we know it. In many ways the BBC's demise would be sad, but no-one can say that it didn't have it coming. 


What is the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?

Please join us for our next webinar on Tuesday 4th May at 6.00 pm. We have a great panel ready to discuss, “What is the BBC for? Should it be defunded or reformed?”

Confirmed panelists are:

Andrew Allison: Andrew is Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association.

Nick Ross: Nick is a broadcaster, journalist, and campaigner. He became a household name in the UK launching breakfast TV, Watchdog and Crimewatch and flagship radio programmes including World at One, PM and The World Tonight.

Lord Moylan. Daniel was appointed a Conservative Peer in 2020. He was chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation, deputy chairman of Transport for London, and chief airport adviser to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. A lifelong listener of BBC Radio 3, he has described the radio channel as being "infected by a sort of relentless wokeness".

The webinar will be chaired by David Campbell Bannerman, Chairman of The Freedom Association and a former Conservative MEP from 2009-2019, representing the East of England.

To register, click here

What does Oliver Dowden's panel of broadcasting, journalism and technology leaders mean for the licence fee?



By Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns 

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has announced that a 10-strong panel of experts will look at the future of public service broadcasting. In an op-ed for the Telegraph, Mr. Dowden said that "the BBC is just one piece of a bigger puzzle. The world has changed, and every broadcaster needs to change with it. So I’m taking a close look at the future of our entire public service broadcasting system. That includes ITV and Channels 4 and 5 – and S4C in Wales and STV in Scotland, both of which are important to those nations." He also said that the "10-strong panel won’t just be tiptoeing around the edges. They have been tasked with asking really profound questions about the role these broadcasters have to play in the digital age – and indeed whether we need them at all. It is a crucial task, given how central public service broadcasters are to our entire creative ecosystem."

This review is long overdue. Most of the output from the BBC is not public service broadcasting. It's output is very similar to other broadcasters. The Beeb chases for ratings in the same way ITV and Sky do. The rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services means fewer hours of live television are being consumed as each year passes. Who knows what the broadcasting landscape will look like in 2027 when the BBC's Royal Charter is up for renewal. 

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Decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee is good, but the Government must go further

In an article published in the Daily Mail yesterday, Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan, wrote:

"Twenty years ago Blockbuster, the then heavyweight of video rentals, turned down a £38 million merger offer from Netflix. Today Netflix is worth £50 billion, 1,300 times its offer to Blockbuster – which has gone from 3,000 stores to a museum in Oregon, for people who want to remember what video cassettes look like. Netflix now competes with the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple for dominance of the multi-billion-dollar streaming market. The result is that people now spend three times as much time watching subscription services such as Netflix than they do BBC iPlayer. More children now recognise the names Netflix and YouTube than they do the BBC. I believe, no matter how well-funded these international streaming giants are, UK public service broadcasters are vital".

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If the BBC wants iPlayer to dominate the market, end the licence fee

The BBC dominates just about every market it enters, often at the expense of smaller companies. Now the BBC wants its iPlayer to dominate the the online TV market. It wants to compete against Netflix and Amazon. 

Lord Hall, the Beeb's director general, has said that he wants the BBC to become "“the number one online TV service in the face of fierce competition”. The competition he is talking about derive their income from subscription and advertising. But of course, what he doesn't want is an end to the compulsory telly tax that gives the BBC the cash to embark on this expansionist plan. 

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