Leter by Philip Booth in The Daily Telegraph


Sir Quentin Thomas (comment, Dec 3) writes in support of the compulsory licence fee (or television tax), while briefly mentioning, but not considering in detail, alternative methods of funding what is sometimes described as “public interest broadcasting”.

Assuming that it is desirable to create a class of subsidised broadcasting in the “public interest” – an issue that is in itself debatable – setting up a single body with a monopoly of such broadcasting is surely the least appropriate method of funding.

The same “public interest” justification leads the Government to fund university research, but it does not set up a state monopoly “public interest university” to conduct such research: rightly, that would be regarded as “thought control” – 100 independent universities compete for research council funding.

The same model could apply to broadcasting with independent programme producers and broadcasters competing for funding from a body along the lines of the research councils. That would create a free and vibrant market, while ensuring that the aims of those who support public interest broadcasting were met. At the same time, the dangers of “thought control” in broadcasting would be avoided.

Meanwhile, under the licence fee system, EastEnders will continue to be funded through the television tax as a public interest broadcast, while the excellent history programmes on Channel 4 and the music programmes on Classic FM are simply regarded as examples of “rampant commercialism”.


Prof Philip Booth
Institute of Economic Affairs
London SW1