Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary (whatever that is), opened a public debate Thursday on the above as part of a review of the BBC’s Royal Charter, by which the public will be invited to write to government officials directly and/or go to meetings on the subject of what, exactly, the British people want out of their public service broadcaster.

If you are reading this from the United States, you will likely be among many international admirers of the BBC and its traditionally high quality television. Indeed the BBC is revered throughout the world for bringing entertainment, news, education and drama to the masses, and in many cases defining it too. But when I tell these lovers of liberty that, for residents of the United Kingdom, subscription funding to the BBC is not optional, but a forceful coercion enshrined in law for everyone who owns a television (almost the entire population), the fond memory of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers suddenly seems a little soiled.

Let me be absolutely clear – for those reading this who do not already know – the BBC is funded through an annual ‘TV License Fee’ of the equivalent of around $240 US dollars, and is NOT AN OPTION, but COMPULSORY for anyone who owns a television. Hard to believe? Not for the millions of British citizens and residents in this country who have been conscripted into paying many years’ worth of licence fees to this corporation, which does not rely, like everyone else, on the free market, but relies completely upon an act of law (ie. threat of force), to operate as it does. My American wife and friends were stunned the first time I explained to them that the BBC is funded.

How can it be right, let alone desirable, to coerce everyone who owns a television set to fund the output of one particular broadcaster, WHETHER THEY WATCH IT OR NOT, when there are choices of hundreds of other broadcasters competing for viewers that have no such benefit whatsoever? Perhaps because it hasn’t always been so. The idea of a TV Licence may have made a lick of sense when it was brand new and in which the public service broadcaster was the only broadcaster. But my critique of this idea extends beyond its practical absurdity in the 21st century. Such an act of physical coercion (by which the UK government will imprison British people by physical restraint if they get their TV content elsewhere and opt not to fund the BBC) is a breach of the basic liberties of the individual.

So, when I write to Tessa Jowell in response to her invitation to do so with ideas of alternative methods of funding etc., I will be offering the following two suggestions:

(1) The BBC offer all current license fee payers the chance to convert their license to a monthly subscription at the same or an amended rate (if they suspect that this may not offer them the same level of funding, it will be an important reality check)

(2) The BBC revoke all direct viewer funding in favour of going commerical. No bad thing – and I never quite understood the arguments against it – (a) not everyone agrees what a “public service broadcaster” is supposed to be, (b) what legitimate benefit does it offer that a commerical station does not?, (c) do people who say they don’t like breaks in programming never watch commerical channels?

(Incidentally, commerical breaks as we know them will quite possibly disappear within the next 15-20 years anyway with DVRs and the internet. In fact my own feeling is that in a similar timescale, scheduled programming will disappear also, with the exception of live shows; so we could be looking at product placement as a commerical funding alternative to this.)

So, not to object to £10 a month which may likely be well-spent, but to object to the principal that I am forced by my government to buy the output of a broadcaster that I do not voluntarily choose to watch, I think we need to end the entire concept of a state “public service broadcaster”, whatever the hell that might mean, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Maybe then I will begin to enjoy watching it again.