Religious Activism and the Language of Political Correctness

Veronica Connolly says she is being “persecuted for being a Christian” after refusing to pay her TV licence in protest at the BBC’s decision to show Jerry Springer The Opera.

Rubbish. Mrs Connolly is using the language of political correctness to claim victimisation, when she is actually engaging in a deliberate act of civil disobedience. She is being prosecuted for the act of not paying for her licence. The authorities are not deliberately going after her because of the underlying beliefs.

Stewart Lee’s show is challenging and satirical and surely not for everyone, but the BBC’s public service remit means it should be showing controversial programmes and films. If the corporation sought to avoid offending anyone its output would become stale and anodyne.

If you don’t like a particular show then don’t watch it.

This issue does raise questions about the license fee, which is really a form of tax. If you don’t agree with the behaviour or the programming of, say, BSkyB (linked as it is to Rupert Murdoch) you can always choose the Virgin TV package instead. And if you can’t stand Richard Branson then you can withdraw from taking that service and just take the FreeView Channels, or pay for LoveFiLM and Netflix, or go and look at YouTube. But there is no way to ‘opt out’ of funding the BBC because anyone with a TV must pay the licence fee.

Of course – There’s no way of ‘opting out’ of British war-mongering or ill-advised spending decisions either. That’s the point of the system of taxes and democracy – you change the spending decisions indirectly, by participating in the political process.

The issue of the licence fee is that, in the 21st century, we tend to think that we have some kind of choice over the media we consume. We can get films, TV series and and music via the Internet, and can ‘unbundle’ the articles in a newspaper so we can read the sports sections without buying the political sections (or vice versa). The bundled, all or nothing approach of the licence fee – which is a special sort of tax, whatever the nomenclature – seems a little at odds with the rest of the media ecosystem. As a fan of the BBC, this vexes me.

I do also have some sympathy with the argument put forward by Mrs Connolly’s lawyer, who says that a TV set is no longer a luxury but a “primary organ of communication”. Indeed. Might our right to receive and impart information include the right to access a TV and the Internet?

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