2 August 2022

The next Prime Minister should copy the French – in scrapping the licence fee

By Rebecca Ryan

This week, we have seen further proof – if that was even needed – that the BBC Licence Fee is an anachronism that needs to be rightfully consigned to history.

Across the Channel, the French have done away with their national levy to fund public broadcasting. The National Assembly (their version of Parliament) voted more than 3 to 1 to scrap the fee. It is part of their programme to boost the public’s purchasing power and tackle the cost-of-living crisis in France. Even though the yearly cost is only €138, less than UK residents are forced to pay in our Licence Fee, the French Parliament has still recognised that it is a completely unnecessary cost for its people. That any savings that can be made during this cost-of-living crisis, should be made. The French public accounts minister Gabriel Attal rightly called the fee – based on ownership of a TV – as ‘obsolete’.

The same is true in the UK. Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak should commit to scrapping this unjust, unreasonable and unnecessary levy.

Once, the BBC was the dominant provider of TV for the nation. This is no longer true. We have had an ever-expanding constellation of available channels and we have seen the rise of streaming platforms. The BBC’s Licence Fee model was created in 1922, 100 years ago. It has barely changed in those 100 years. It has not been fit for purpose for quite some time.

It is not reasonable for people to be forced, by fear of imprisonment, to pay a licence fee in order to watch non-BBC services. Moreover, The BBC’s system for catching and prosecuting non-licence fee payment is discriminatory, and disproportionately affects women and the poor due to a deliberate lack of clarity around the right to refuse to pay.

The BBC Licence Fee costs households more than a yearly subscription to both Netflix and Amazon Prime. If both Netflix and Prime, the two largest streaming services, cost less than the BBC and yet offer content and benefits people willingly pay for surely you can see why hardly anyone considers the BBC to be a fair deal. If the French do not consider their fee good value – we cannot insist that ours is any better.

Scrapping the Licence Fee is a popular message. People are fed up with paying for content and channels they do not watch. They do not want to pay for services that they do not trustTwo thirds of the public want the Licence Fee scrapped with over half thinking that the licence fee should be replaced by a subscription model or advertising funding model.

Flimsy half-hearted promises like those given by Boris are not enough. Boris flirted with the idea for over three years and yet we have nothing to show for it. I hope his successor will actually follow through and deliver on promised policies – one of which must be to scrap the Licence Fee. Trust is an important factor in politics and taking this step would help restore it.

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Rebecca Ryan is Campaign Director at Defund the BBC.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.