Everyone knows how TV licensing works, especially in a student house. You get 200 identical letters through the post threatening you with a dramatic raid and a court case, even if you have already bought a license or don’t actually have a TV.
But despite their faults it can be argued that the BBC is worth paying for, as not many of us can live without Doctor Who, 24-hour News or Bargain Hunt. But what about online media?
David Leigh, Investigations Editor for The Guardian, is now suggesting a £2 levy on all broadband bills, which would raise £500m to “safeguard investigative journalism”*. He believes that by deducting “less than a cup of coffee per month” from household bills, online newspapers could benefit in a world where printed editions are slowly becoming old-fashioned. But is this fair for those who do not even read newspapers online, and only visit sites like BBC and Yahoo for their news?
The Guardian lost £50m last year by giving away its online content free, a bold decision in comparison to many newspapers who charge a small subscription rate for customers to read unlimited content online.
John Gapper of The Financial Times believes this disastrous loss is fuelling Leigh’s latest brainwave, declaring it “one of the worst, most commercially self-serving ideas I’ve heard in 20 years of covering business and finance”.
Amongst objections to the idea, it can be argued that newspapers with free online content are resisting the inevitable move that journalism will take from paper and print to digital media. The New York Times famously doubted the idea of asking customers to pay subscription fees to access content, but now 10% of their revenue is from subscriptions.
Gapper believes that this new licensing fee would only benefit those sites with free content, as high levels of traffic would encourage those in charge of the money to delegate it to popular sites.
However, there are advantages to the idea. If Leigh is trying to create a parallel between the BBC and online media, perhaps he is also trying to increase public access to information and education. There are few people who still grumble about the BBC licensing fee, as it has simply become a part of household budgets and lifestyles, and consistently provides British citizens with high-quality, unbiased entertainment and information.
By collecting one small fee each month, this could result in all online media, newspapers and journals becoming accessible to everyone of all ages and incomes.
Chris Duncan of News International commented that “the world’s gone mad…the Leigh subsidy disincentitises all paid content” – but perhaps Leigh’s idea would take away the cold commercialism of journalism, and promote it to the BBC’s level of informative media.
By taking away the news companies’ inevitable, primary need to fund themselves, they could then perhaps concentrate on their true purpose: to bring excellent and worthy news and information to the nation. The incentive may have been rather financially focused for Leigh, but the idea itself could be hugely progressive for British media.
But how would this affect students? Many of us read newspapers, with The Guardian proving a popular choice for many students I know. Would this extra fee benefit students or just add to the large list of fees, fares and bills we already have to pay? With many student households not even bothering to buy TV licenses, preferring to catch up online, would it really be feasible to expect them to pay even more? Or would most students prefer to pay the fee in the name of more accessible information online, unlimited articles and no further restrictions on their education?
*Source: The Media Show, BBC Radio 4.