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Are YOU happy to pay pounds 112 to watch THESE people?; More than half of us believe the licence fee should be abolished. So why, asks PADDY SHENNAN, as non-payers in Liverpool launch a legal challenge, are we waiting?

Byline: PADDY SHENNAN

KILROY. Blue Peter. Airport. Merseybeat. Fame Academy. Judge John Deed. Snooker. As Time Goes By.

Just some of the programmes the BBC has lined up for us next week (As Time Goes By, to add insult to injury, is a repeat). And just some of the reasons why the television licence fee should be scrapped.

Cue indignant outrage among the BBC bigwigs, ever defensive of their precious licence fee annual income. And, boy, is it precious? yes, it is. Just think of the decent programmes you could make each year with pounds 2.5 billion.

This is the debate which, like old episodes of The Good Life, simply refuses to go away. And it's a debate which involves the Beeb and its passionate supporters invoking phrases like `The Great British Broadcasting Corporation' and `unique, public service broadcaster'.

But as one licence fee protestor told a website: ``Imagine having to pay over pounds 100 per year to Hovis for a toaster licence, because Hovis believed its bread was so good that it was `Public Service Bread'.''

Let's, then, look at `unique'. Has any other channel ever offered us a show which is anything like Kilroy? Well, there's been Oprah, Trisha, Jerry Springer and Co.

Has any other channel offered us a reality show quite like Fame Academy? Well, there's been Popstars and Popstars - The Rivals.

And for every Daniel Deronda, there's a Dr Zhivago. For every Airport, there's an Airline. For every The Weakest Link, there's a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (and have you seen the paltry sumsyou win on The Weakest Link?) Damn. I've just remembered a very weak link in this argument. The Office. Surely, nothing can come close to this classic BBC2 comedy. Could any other broadcaster provide anything to rival it? Well yes, I suppose Channel 4 could with Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights.

Damn. Again. I've just remembered that when pushed into a ``What has the BBC ever done for us?'' corner, it puts on those adverts (adverts on the BBC? How ironic) which basically state: ``Aren't we bleeding marvellous?''

I recall seeing Lenny Henry on one. Big mistake. But the trump card is always, God love him and all his animals, The Blessed David Attenborough.

Where else (well, apart from Discovery Channel on cable or satellite) would you get such programmes? Attenborough, though, is said to the master in his genre. And he probably is. But then I realised . . . I never make a point of watching any of his shows.

What about sport, though? Wait a minute, we're talking about the BBC, aren't we?

The question of whether or not the Beeb should receive a licence fee - whether it costs the current pounds 112 or just pounds 1.12 - has been raised in Parliament and in pubs across the land.

And it has been brought into sharp focus by a landmark legal battle being launched by a group of Liverpool residents - whose fight is about human rights, rather than programnme content.

Legal Aid has this week been granted to the eight men and women who argue their prosecution for failing to buy a licence breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

Solicitor James Parry, from Liverpool law firm Gregory Abrams, will cite Article 10 of the Convention, which states that everyone should have ``the right to receive and impart information without interference by public authority.''

Mr Parry says of the licence rebels: ``For the majority of them, it's not about their human right to watch television but about not being saddled with a criminal conviction for something they cannot afford.''

He is now preparing for the next hearing at Liverpool magistrates court on January 9.

But although the case may not be directly related to content, one of the group, Shirley Wright, from Dingle, does say: ``I don't watch the BBC anyway, except EastEnders. I prefer the programmes on ITV and five. So why should I have to pay the BBC?''

The bottom line is that television funding is a muddle and a mess. The digital revolution has led to countless channels - and countless pay-per-view packages.

How much do you pay? It's up to you. Isn't it? Well, not really ...

Some people who are paying pounds 112 a year have an aversion to the BBC. Others spend much more time watching the BBC than they do the cable and satellite channels they pay much more for.

Although a recent survey found that 58% of people support abolition, there seems little chance of it happening in the forseeable future, while commentators see little prospect of success for the Liverpool group going to court.

The lobbying and campaigning, however, will go on.

Rob Godfrey, the founder of C.A.L (the London-based Campaign To Abolish The TV Licence) says: ``We supposedly live in a democracy, yet we still have an archaic and unfair TV licensing system that is forced down the throats of UK citizens by the ruling elite.''

So why doesn't the BBC take advertising? Because, it states: ``This keeps the BBC independent of advertisiers and other commercial pressures.

``The BBC's governors ensure, instead, that it is run in the general public interest.

``They are accountable for the BBC's independence and also ensure that it reflects British culture and minority interests.

``If the BBC carried adverts or sponsorship, commercial pressures would dictate its priorities instead of the general public interest.

``There would also be less revenue for commercial broadcasters.

``The licence fee maintains a wide range of public services which cannot always be financed by the economics of pay-TV or advertising and enables mainstream programmes to be available, unrestricted, to everyone in the UK.''

Yeah, programmes like Kilroy. Blue Peter. Airport. Merseybeat ...
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 6, 2002
Words:950
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