The Case Against: `Digital fee is a TV poll-tax'

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The Independent Online
WE THINK the BBC has already been given at least pounds 300m to pay for digital services. It then told a committee of MPs in December 1996 it would fund digital channels from its existing pounds 2.2bn licence fee and commercial activities.

Forcing viewers who bought digital television equipment to pay an extra pounds 19 a year would slow the take-up of digital television. The UK leads the world in digital technology, creating thousands of jobs and exciting opportunities. A digital licence fee would hinder those opportunities, put those job at risk and, as the BBC director general, John Birt, said in 1996, would be a "tax innovation".

A digital licence fee is a flat rate poll tax, with the duke and the dustman paying exactly the same. People on income support and state pensions would be among the least able to afford it. This would exclude them from the digital revolution, cutting across the government agenda of social exclusion, particularly inclusion in the information age. The commercial broadcasters, with government encouragement, have done the most to develop digital, investing hundreds of millions in new digital television services. Introducing a digital licence fee would considerably benefit the BBC at the expense of the commercial broadcasters.This would constitute unfair discrimination.

The fee would be used to pay for services such as BBC News 24 and BBC Choice, which have low viewing figures and were launched only as the result of a very vague and low-profile BBC consultation exercise.

We supported the licence fee but we are bitterly opposed to this supplementary tax and, should the Government choose to adopt it, we might review our position towards the fee.

Clive Jones is chief executive of Carlton Television