For six decades the British people have had a curious moral blind spot for the unjust way in which the BBC acquires its funding, like a collective case of Stockholm syndrome, but there are now signs that opposition to the BBC’s privileged position is peaking. And with reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering scrapping the TV licence, it looks as though the BBC gravy-train may be heading for derailment.
Since the end of World War II, the BBC has existed in a state-sanctioned and maintained unreality bubble, protected from competition and from the consequences of failure, and always receiving increasing funding even if it produces content which fails to satisfy the viewing public.
If the TV licence is scrapped and the BBC’s bubble is burst, then the BBC and its devoted followers will no doubt be horrified and see it as one more way in which ‘the Tories’ are destroying our society. But in truth, it will present the BBC with an opportunity to become better.
Only when the BBC’s existence no longer depends on government and politics but solely upon market society’s valuation of it, just like other broadcasters who are funded by advertising and other voluntary means, can it be a truly independent broadcaster. Until then, its claims to being independent and impartial will remain laughable.
Also until then, its claim to being the nation’s favourite broadcaster will remain un-testable. There’s no way of knowing just how many people who watch BBC programmes are only doing so out of sunk-cost bias (or in this case, sunk forced-cost bias). After all, if you don’t watch or listen to BBC programming, then it feels like you’re not getting anything for the £154.50 you’re forced to hand-over every year.
There’s one thing many stubborn defenders of the BBC seem unable to grasp. The argument against the TV licence is not about whether the amount of money every TV owner is forced to hand over to the BBC makes it good value when compared to the monthly subscription costs of streaming services such as Netflix. That’s irrelevant. The argument is simply against the unjust, unethical and uncivilised means by which the BBC acquires its funding – i.e. legal force. Legal force can only be justly used to protect people’s rights. If we see it being used to protect and preserve a corporation’s existence, then we know the law in our society has become perverted.
The TV Licence is nothing more than a state-granted unjust economic privilege, one which the BBC has been enjoying for so long that the British public has collectively rationalised and come to believe this organisation is somehow deserving of it. It’s not. No organisation should be granted economic, legal or political privileges by the state. It’s time for the BBC to be weaned off the state’s teat, time for it to grow up and time for it stand on its own two feet in the real world.
If the BBC is as great as it and its loyal followers claim it is, then it shouldn’t need to threaten people with force in order to get them to direct money their way; the quality of its output should persuade people to pay to watch BBC programming. From the BBC’s perspective this will be a radical change, but from our market society’s point of view the BBC will simply be, at long last, playing by the same rules as everyone else.