Friday, 13 November 2009

Liberty Versus Licence

Broadcasting House, lair of the BBC - by Briantist via Wikimedia Commons, public domain What a rare pleasure it was to get home the other day, and find a TV licence bill for £140 and some change flopping malevolently on my doormat!

I don't ordinarily enjoy being charged a hefty whack for unsolicited goods, but in this case it is worth every penny to get my annual fix of that Soviet theme-park experience. A licence from the State to listen to what is being said on the open ether? Reassuring. Dire warnings that the inspectors may descend on any business premises that uses subversive technology like computers, and hand out the smackdown if some luckless clerk is found to have sneaked a crafty Internet peek at the World Cup? Heart-warming. Orwellian adverts warning that They Know Where You Live, and can barge into your house at any time to make sure you don't possess unregistered reception equipment? Priceless!

But this year turned out to be something special. This is the year I discover that 46 BBC managers are paid more every year than the Prime Minister's pittance of £194,250. The Director-General, Mark Thompson, bags £834,000 per annum, and also seems to be scarfing down better than £1,000 a month in expenses, over and above his daily bread. Seldom have I felt a warmer glow at doing my bit in the fight against poverty. Thanks, Auntie!

It is true that, out of all this, the BBC produces some really good stuff. It is also true that Bruce Springsteen is a veritable god of rock, to whose music I hardly ever get tired of listening. But if he financed himself by sending New Jersey mobsters round to extort 'loudspeaker charges' from every person and business suspected of owning stereo equipment, my opinion of him would descend quite radically. How about you guys?

In order to complete the trio of toss, Minister of Truth Peter Mandelson has been obligingly warning that the BBC might be in a questionable position come next election if its news coverage picks up on stories started by Rupert Murdoch's populist Sun - now that he's undemocratically switched its allegiance away from New Labour.

As the DG pensively runs up my bar tab at his five-star Las Vegas hotel, I hope he will spare a moment to consider a suitable response in the best BBC tradition. If he does, I shall publicly un-grudge him the price of a Brief Unconsummated Flirtation Up Against One's Standards, or whatever its sleazy Transatlantic cousin may choose to call itself. I'm sure I can't say fairer than that!

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