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Published on August 3rd, 2010 | by Christian Cawley

No Licence Fee, No Doctor Who

Right-wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute have said that the television licence fee should be scrapped – to be replaced by a “voluntary subscription service” that would provide revenue for popular BBC programming such as Doctor Who.

It is yet another in a series of focussed attacks on the BBC from right-wing media and now so-called think tanks. And it is around now that we say: you’ve gone too far.

It is yet another in a series of focussed attacks on the BBC from right-wing media and now so-called think tanks. And it is around now that we say: you’ve gone too far.

Rattling sabres from the ivory tower of News International is one thing; making noises in Whitehall to appease an all-too powerful power junkie with the power of life and death over showbusiness careers is another. Claiming the unique authority of a think tank – a body that is effectely a Quango – is nothing short of a fully fledged attack.

For those of you poisoned by the popular media’s habit of obfuscation, the Adam Smith Institute were policy advisers to the Thatcher government in the 1980s; their contribution to Britain’s industrial decline (as opposed to managed restructuring) is recorded in history.

The licence fee is unpopular – fair enough, as it is compulsory for anyone owning a TV – yet for 32p per day it provides access to 2 terrestrial channels, 4 digital, 5 terrestrial radio stations, a fuirther 4 digital stations, plus it funds the BBC’s remarkable website and iPlayer. But what are the alternatives?

Adam Pettie of The Telegraph, reckons that a subscription model will be damaging for the BBC’s most unique output.

“The good thing about the licence fee is that, because it is collected from everyone, it doesn’t have to be populist,” says Pettie.

“The main danger of the subscription model is that it is under pressure to provide lots of different packages – that could mean the loss of lucrative things like Doctor Who and things on BBC Four, Radio 3 and Radio 4,” he adds.

However there is a valid aspect to Adam Smith Institute’s argument – the licence fee has become outdated in its current form, with more and more TV being consumed online via phones, PCs and tablets.

So – should the licence fee be scrapped? What would be the future for Doctor Who?


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

10 Responses to No Licence Fee, No Doctor Who

  1. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Scrapping the licence fee would be a dream come true for commercial broadcasters. They would be free to compete on a level playing field. But there are massive drawbacks for viewers/listeners/web users. When you consider how much advertsing revenue has fallen, meaning that commercial sector producers have less to play with, that’s a worry. Add to that the fact that public sector broadcasters need to provide content for minority groups, should be free of commercial interference, and should provide universal access – and you can start to appreciate the real value of the license fee.

    If you want populist, but shallow TV – then you’d be happy. Cheap to produce ratings machines like X-Factor/I’m A Celebrity/Britain’s Got Talent would become the staple of television. Good quality, expensive content like drama would become a rare treat. With no commercial-free content around, you could expect to see the length and frequency of advertising breaks increased. And real accountability would just vanish.

    Do we really want that?

  2. There is a greater threat to Doctor Who not being produced by the BBC; being licenced away for production by another body.

    Like the legendary ITC, BBC classics would be resurrected by wealthy license holders and “updated” for a modern audience in the future. You only have to look at the Saint or Avengers movies to see how badly wrong these things can go.

  3. avatar Leosw4 says:

    The BBC is excellent value for money still.

    I say still because in terms of its output in 60s/70s/80s, quality overall has declined, and the days of unmissable programme after programme have ended,(and it is true that on Saturday night in the 70s you literally never turned over from BBC1 starting from Basil Brush and the Doctor!) but it is by far away the best broadcaster with four pretty good TV channels (the drama and documentaries are still the best and it has to be said news and sports simply trash any opposition in terms of quality) and an amzing range of radio stations.

    This is an outrageous suggestion but one I fear could happen given the ‘grab all’, ‘I’m alright jack’ society we now live in.

    The thought of the Doctor suffering the same fate as the Avengers and The Saint-I would add Thunderbirds to this list as well-(those sixties programmes are amazing and sadly show the poor state now of ITV in comparison) is a dreadful and worrying thought. Lew Grade must be turning in his grave.

    I watch very little TV as it is, usually restricted to BBC, (even the once great Channel 4 is a waste of time now), so there would be no point in having a TV should this occur and BBC become like its rivals.

  4. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    I’m a big fan of the BBC. I think we very often fail to appreciate just how good it is. You’ve only got to travel abroad to see the quality of programming we get. It’s mostly the reason that The Fast Show’s Channel 9 (scorchio!) sketches were so funny.

    However, I personally feel that the BBC has been heading downhill for a while now. When you say documentaries and news are best on the Beeb, I’ve got to disagree. Dispatches is easily the best documentary show around, beating the dumbed down Panorama hands down. And Channel 4 news is far better than nearly all of the Beeb’s news content. Such a shame it’s not on in the morning. It would be good to have a viable early morning news show that isn’t BBC Breakfast – that’s a good example of where the BBC are quite clearly dumbing down content.

    While I enjoy the content, I do have to say that it seems absurd that you can effectively be jailed for not having a tv without a licence. That can’t be right, can it?

  5. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Ooops – I meant “…jailed for having a tv without a licence” apols.

  6. avatar Sol 3 Native says:

    If you’re interested the 38 Degrees website has a couple of petitions in favour of the BBC. Whilst not directly related to the future of the liscence fee they stand against deep cuts and Murdoch’s advancing media empire:

    I’ve got to agree with Paul about the quality of Channel Four’s news and documentaries, nevertheless I think that the BBC is something to be extremely proud of in this country. Whilst it’s easy now for corners of the media to jump on the bandwagon, once gone it will be sorely missed and impossible to bring back.

  7. avatar Jez Noir says:

    I bloomin love the BBC and hope these filthy right-wingers will be first against the wall when the revolution comes. It’s not just Doctor Who, the Beeb’ve given us some fantastic TV recently – Spooks, Ashes To Ashes, Silent Witness, Mighty Boosh, Sherlock etc. Their varied output is usually of a high quality and of course have no ads! (Have you seen how many ad-breaks there are on American TV? I just couldn’t watch a show broken up like that – boo to Murdoch!)

  8. avatar Leosw4 says:


    I did think about Channel 4 news for typing my comments (honestly), but since the era of Big Brother, z list celebrity I’ll cook for you programmes etc etc, Channel 4 is rarely if at all watched now. Long gone are the days of the Comic Strip, Cheers and Frasier.

    I dont have the TV on enough, despite having a number of them dotted around the home, to catch even trailers for things,so maybe I should give Dispatches a look dependent on subject matter.

    My large flat screen TV is used only for movies and of course Doctor Who….on full volume, driving the neighbours mad.

    But I digress-save the Beeb!

  9. avatar amber says:

    I watch and listen to far more BBC output than any other broadcaster and I’m very tired of the constant attacks on the one media outlet that doesn’t have to bow down to the wishes of advertisers. The simple pleasure of watching a quality drama without being interrupted by endless car insurance adverts is something I really value, and similarly most commercial radio is unlistenable due to the frequency and repetitive nature of the ad breaks. It’s also important that we have a news source that isn’t run by big business interests.

    The licence fee may need some reform to make it fairier and more relevant, but it should definitely stay.

  10. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    Leosw4 – it’s interesting that two of the shows you chose to illustrate Channel 4′s worth are American imports. That’s part of what’s wrong with populist commercial tv (although part of C4′s content is public sector broadcasting). It’s easier to buy in drama than produce it yourself.

    However, C4 and E4 have been responsible for some great original drama shows. Shameless is in a class of its own, and Misfits is quite splendid. I’m told that the ankle biters quite enjoy something called Skins too.

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