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I Love My BBC...?

Jonathan Miller’s announcement of his refusal to pay his BBC television license fee and furthermore, challenge this annual exercise in extortion in the European courts, set me thinking about the relationship between the license fee and the government’s UK Online agenda, its grand plan for an information society.

Last year, I resigned as a Director of dkTV, the public sector Digital TV pilot, which had the BBC, as it’s programming partner. At the time, it became obvious to me that the project would run out of money very quickly unless government, in the shape of The Office of the e-Envoy, was prepared to help fund it’s second stage of project development. Without money, it sank, leaving several local authorities looking embarrassed and yet another ambitious pilot was washed down the drain, losing the people, the ideas and experience with it.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights supports Miller’s protest, which says, “Everyone has the right to freedom or expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by a public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent states form requiring the licensing of broadcasting television or cinema enterprises”.

So, as Miller points out, the use of “Radio telegraphy apparatus” without a valid license, to watch satellite television is a criminal offence according to the BBC, which must involve interference with one’s right to receive information as defined by Article 10?

So what’s my point?

This is supposed to be an information society. I can watch television in my car or on my PC or even on a watch? The broadcast can be analogue or digital and can even include Web content or as with dkTV, the ability to send an email to access NHS Direct or call in a plumber to a council home. The content represents a rich information stream and only a small fraction of what is available today originates with the BBC, most of which, other than the occasional period drama, can be safely ignored as drivel or considered politically biased or generally unsuitable for children.

Why on earth is the UK, as a supposedly advanced technological society, taxing “Radio telegraphy apparatus”? The answer of course is that it can but this, for me, is utterly inconsistent with the government’s UK Online strategy unless there is a political motive behind support for the BBC, as after all, the moment you view a live Web Cam of a television feed, it might be argued that you are breaking the law if you don’t hold a TV license?

The information revolution is bigger than the BBC, which appears to be accountable only to itself and its politically connected management. If Government plans to offer the population the digital content and the multiple channel services that it deserves, then it’s time to let people decide, like Sky, whether the BBC is worth paying for or whether the licence fee is better spent on a Broadband Internet connection.

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