The dear old British Broadcasting Corporation has been much in the news today.
If you live in the UK and you own a television, or 'any other device set up to receive and record TV programmes' (so things like a video recorder, a set-top box, A DVD recorder or a PC with a broadcast card), you are legally obliged to buy a TV licence. £121 for colour or £40.50 for black & white.
You don't have a choice: if you get caught without one, you are liable for a fine of up to £1000 and, if you don't pay that, jail. Apparently 200,000 people a year are prosecuted for non-payment of the licence fee.
All of this raises about £2b a year for the BBC. From this (and from the money raised by programme sales abroad, DVD sales and things like that) they produce:
"8 interactive TV channels, 10 radio networks, over 50 local TV and radio services and bbc.co.uk. These provide local and national news, documentaries, arts, drama, entertainment, live music and children's programmes. The BBC also runs social action, education and minority language programmes. Its considerable investment in British programmes supports production and craft skills throughout the UK."
(Apparently BBC World Service is maintained by a government grant)
Where is all that money spent?
Well, the licence fee works out as about £10 per month:
£5 Terrestrial TV (BBC1 £3.50, BBC2 £1.50)
£1.50 Local TV & Radio
£1 Transmission & Collection of licence fee
I don't know about you, but I think we get a pretty good deal. I pay double that for NTL to provide me with the dubious pleasures of Sky TV. I think the quality of the BBC is remarkably high. Yeah, sure, there's some shite on there (the lottery is my particular bugbear, but I'm sure everyone hates something), but there is also some really important tv - where else would that recent documentary series on Auschwitz have been made?
Actually, I think that the TV is the part of the BBC that I use the least. I wake up every morning and drive to work to BBC Radio 5 Live, and I think that C. would cease to function without her daily dose of Radio Four. I can only imagine where we would be as a nation if summers didn't bring Test Match Special, with its cast of eccentrics and lashings of ginger beer and chocolate cake.
All of that for £1.20 a month? Bargain - and if you don't think so, have you ever listened to commercial radio?
What about the website? This is one of the finest websites in the world and I'm sure you are all familiar with it. It is usually my first port of call for snapshots of the news, the weather, sport... all sorts of things. 30p a month?
I'm interested to know what you all think about the BBC - especially those of you that don't live in the UK. What do you think of when you hear the phrase "BBC"? Would you be prepared to pay a licence fee if it meant you could have the same sort of service?
I'm not saying that I think the licence fee is a good thing, or indeed that it is the only way to fund the BBC. I have just been slightly taken aback by the vehemence with which some people have spoken out against it, and how they have attacked the BBC and all that it stands for. It seemed to me that they wouldn't be happy until they have abolished the licence fee, and ideally had the Royal Charter for public broadcasting taken away entirely.
I just have a sneaking feeling that we British take it for granted.
There can't be many better feelings in the world than finishing a book and luxuriating in the knowledge that the world is your oyster when it comes to choosing what to read next. So many books, so little time.
I finished "The Invention Of Solitude" on Sunday night, and I spent a lot of Monday afternoon with a big smile on my face.... and when I got home, I made a start on "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susannah Clarke. This is a particularly satisfying book, because it is a huge (800 pages) hardback, with a little ribbon built into the binding to act as a bookmark. Very pleasing, and so far... so good.
In fact... that's what I'm off to do now.......