Is the BBC a “parasite”? Is our money making “copycat” shows?

licence fee

An article in The Sun yesterday quoted extracts from a report by the Centre for Policy Studies – authored by Martin Le Jeune – which branded the BBC a “parasite” for what it described as its “serial record of imitation and lack of original ideas”.

The report referred to the BBC’s airing of shows such as Strictly Come Dancing which follow the format of many shows that first ‘proved’ themselves to be money-spinners by way of phone votes when they were originally broadcast on commercially sponsored channels.

The report added that it was time the BBC “got back to real public service broadcasting” and accused BBC chiefs of spending too much money on “cheap and poor copies of commercial programmes”…

It further stated that the BBC should return to broadcasting quality current affairs programmes, more kids’ TV and classical music radio programmes and that the licence fee should be slashed.

Mr Le Jeune said of the BBC, “Far from being a powerhouse of originality, the BBC is a persistent ‘me too’ broadcaster with a serial record of imitation. Pirate radio spawned Radio 2 and then Radio 1.

“Sky News brought forth BBC News 24. ITV and Channel 4’s success with reality TV and phone voting saw the BBC hurry to catch up.

“The BBC is too often a parasite on others’ ideas.”

The newspaper reported that Mr Le Jeune wants a licence fee freeze and a gradual “hiving off of BBC assets — starting with Radios 1 and 2”. He says tough limits should also be imposed on the BBC buying in overseas programmes as this would save money that could then be used on “quality public service broadcasting”.

I have to say, I agree with this report entirely. I think it’s totally wrong that the BBC are able to charge such a large licence fee and justify it by saying it’s avoiding commercial sponsorship – by not running TV advertising from third parties – yet reap the rewards of commercialism, such as revenue from phone-in votes, when it chooses to do so. Especially when the shows that provide that extra revenue are ‘copies’ of shows on other channels and not original programming which the BBC has always claimed is what makes it unique.

They also advertise their own products on BBC channels but tell us that they won’t run third party adverts as they want to be independent from, and have no bias towards, any other person or persons based on monetary factors. Well newsflash BBC, money is what makes the world go round and I’d rather not pay nearly £140 a year for the pleasure of having the BBC sell me its own products but nobody else’s, especially so when I spend a great deal more time watching other channels.

If the BBC was offering us something unique, as it originally did, then fine, but it isn’t. The BBC charge us for running dozens of TV and radio stations that many of us barely use, and, as the report says, they’re doing so on the back of shows that are more or less the same as those I can watch on channels I don’t have to pay £12 a month for!

Here’s what it says on the BBC’s website regarding the licence fee: “The annual cost of a colour TV licence (set by the Government) is currently £139.50. That works out at less than £12 per month – about 38p per day for each household.

“A black and white TV licence is £47.

“The licence (whether colour or black and white) is free if you are 75 or over, and half-price if you are registered blind, although you still need to apply.

“The BBC provides 8 interactive TV channels, 10 radio networks, more than 50 local TV and radio services, the BBC’s website, and the on-demand TV and radio service, BBC iPlayer.

“BBC World Service is funded by government grant and not the TV licence fee. Profits from separate BBC commercial services help to keep the licence fee low”.

Well I would argue that the licence fee is far from low, especially when you consider you can get a service from Sky or similar broadcasters for about the same amount that offers hundreds of channels as well as often free internet or telephone services.

And ok, with all those other channels, there are adverts on every fifteen minutes or so, but to be honest, most of the time, they provide a handy break for a nip to the loo or time to put the kettle on! With the BBC, if there’s a show on that’s say an hour and a half long, if nature calls, you either have to ignore it or miss some part of the show.

It also galls me that the BBC advertise their own products or programmes between shows; they advertise their own DVDs, books, websites and upcoming shows, so why not carry third party advertisements too and save us hard pressed Britons £12 per month? Especially at a time when most people in the country are facing financial hardship that’s hit many of us very hard.

And of course, if we won’t or can’t pay the licence fee, even if we never watch any BBC channels or listen to BBC radio, we get taken to court and fined.

I think Mr Le Jeune is absolutely right when he says that the BBC are basically copying the more successful formats of shows that are broadcast on commercial channels first. I think he’s also right to say the BBC is reaping the benefits of this copycat behaviour and in addition, is charging us a licence fee that’s wholly inappropriate to the service provided.

When the BBC first aired in the 1920’s, then yes, it did provide a unique service and was in effect a truly ‘public’ service, but that cannot be said of it now. It’s just another TV channel with many similar shows to those on other channels. The only difference is, it charges us directly, whether we watch or listen to their channels or not.

Surely there’s no other service in the country that could justify charging us for something we may never use?

So what do you think? Is the report correct that the BBC has happily jumped on the commercial bandwagon and shouldn’t be running shows such as Strictly – from which they make money on phone in votes – if they intend to continue to charge us a licence fee? Or do you think it’s fair enough that the BBC should make extra money from such shows in order to, in their words, “keep the licence fee low”?

Let us know what you think.

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Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.