In Public Service Broadcasting Without the BBC?*, Professor Sir Alan Peacock argues that the licence fee in its current form should be abolished and people should only pay for the BBC if they wish to receive the service. A public service broadcasting fund, financed by viewers, should be set up and a range of broadcasters and producers should be invited to bid for funds to produce and broadcast programmes that would not be commercially profitable but are deemed to have a wider public value. The BBC would be made independent but not fully commercial.
Professor Peacock, who led a major government enquiry into the funding of the BBC in the mid 1980s, now believes that technological change has made radical reform of broadcasting achievable: When we made our proposals, we knew that they could not be implemented immediately. But we have now reached the point where the goal of an independent BBC funded by subscriptions or other means can become a reality.
Professor Peacocks ideas are directly relevant to the governments review of the BBCs charter and Ofcoms review of public service broadcasting. Commenting on Ofcoms proposals published last week, Professor Peacock said, In some respects they are a step in the right direction. But setting up a competitor public service broadcasting channel to the BBC is not the right approach. Even after this move, in the digital age, the BBC will probably have a greater stranglehold on public service broadcasting than it currently does. Competition is needed in two respects.
He explained: Viewers who choose not to receive the BBC channels should not have to pay for them and other broadcasters who want to produce programmes with public service content should be able to compete with the BBC for funds. Viewers should have the right of exit and broadcasters the right of entry. The BBCs virtual monopoly of public service broadcasting is inefficient, discourages innovation and leads to too much power being vested in a single institution.