The TV licence fee and newspapers.

The one-time editor of The Guardian, an now regular columnist for it and it’s stable-mate, The Observer, Peter Preston, says in today’s issue of The Observer that that if the licence fee is to be used to fund ITV regional news and local TV consortia, then some of it should be used to subsidise newspaper websites which cannot charge because they are  presently competing the BBC’s news website which does not have charge because it’s funding comes out of the licence fee.

Give newspapers a slice of BBC’s fee

Boil down Digital Britain‘s 236 pages and what have you got? Admission that the licence fee is no longer the BBC’s alone; it can fund ITV regional news or local TV consortiums. Lord Carter, like Ofcom, wants competition and more voices. And one form of communication can fund another: £6 a year on the phone bill goes to spread broadband further.

Enter logic. The biggest blight for newspapers now is the BBC’s “free” (ie fee-subsidised) news website. Papers can never charge for online news while the BBC chucks in a £153m service at no charge as a natural part of broadcasting.

So why not let broadband operators collect £6 a year for newspapers’ sites? Why get stuck with old definitions of public service broadcasting when most newsgathering relies on reporters on the ground finding the stories for broadcasters to re-process? Carter sets up the argument. Now follow it through.

It’s a nice idea, but I’m not sure that the licence-fee payer, who has for as long as I remember has not been happy about having to pay a licence fee at all, and who is certainly going to resent the idea of some of it going to help commercial TV get over the fix it’s in,  would take very kindly to subsidising newspapers they never read,  and probably never  want to read.


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