The next Prime Minister will have no shortage of things to deal with.
The global impact of the war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, rising energy costs, Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol, the recovery from the pandemic, the chance of another Scottish independence referendum – the list goes on.
Broadcasting policy may seem like something of a side issue, at least in the short term.
Opponents of Channel 4’s privatisation had hoped the new Prime Minister might have a change of heart. However this seems increasingly unlikely.
Rishi Sunak has indicated that privatisation will go ahead if he wins. At the time of writing, Liz Truss has not said what she would do but her broader views on the role of the state would appear to make a U-turn unlikely.
To people outside the media bubble, it must have seemed strange to see Channel 4 privatisation flagged up by its opponents as an issue in a Tory leadership race brought about in such dramatic circumstances at a difficult time for the country.
Those flagging it up in isolation risked looking like they had tunnel vision, though nobody should ever be condemned for highlighting an issue which is important to them. Indeed bad decisions can happen when an issue isn’t properly scrutinised.
However the whole Channel 4 debate appears to have left the public perplexed despite the passion of Channel 4’s supporters, including many independent production companies.
Yet again, Channel 4 unwittingly did itself no favours this week when reports emerged that staff were set to receive large bonuses to stay loyal.
Of course, Channel 4 Is commercially funded and is not part of the public sector in the usual sense. However reports of the bonuses came as many public sector workers – i.e., people working for the state or paid for out of taxation – are warning of strikes over pay rises well below inflation.
Meanwhile Channel 4 – like ITV and Channel 5 – could be able to run more adverts in the not too distant future.
A different issue for the new PM, which is more likely to lead to a wide public debate, is the future funding of the BBC. If the current licence fee settlement is the last, what could replace it?
A House of Lords report this week ruled out advertising and subscription for very obvious reasons.
Advertising would harm other broadcasters – subscription would mean the BBC no longer delivered a service to everyone.
The possible alternatives raised in the report are worthy of discussion in more detail though.
A household levy would be paid by those who don’t have a TV but who listen to the radio or use the iPlayer. If it was linked to, say, council tax bands there would be a broad link to somebody’s ability to pay.
It could also be collected with the council tax like water charges in Scotland.
It’s also important to talk about how much should be paid by pensioners, students and those on low incomes.
All in all, nobody has ever pretended the TV Licence is a good way to fund the BBC – just the least worst.
The important thing is to ensure the BBC is not funded commercially, not funded out of government money and available to all free at the point of use. All ideas should be welcome.
However the issue of replacing the licence fee can probably be parked until after the next General Election.
It will be interesting to know what ideas the other parties may have or whether they would ultimately feel the current system, for all its flaws, is the best option.
PICTURED: Channel 4/BBC logos. COPYRIGHT: Channel 4 Television Corporation/BBC.
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