The term ‘National Treasure’ is much (over)used these days but in the case of the BBC this term is not a platitude, rather an expression of its unique qualities – in every sense of the word ‘quality’. The Ericle is very concerned about the prospect of the recent government proposal to make non-payment of the TV licence fee a civil rather than criminal offence. Such a change is ostensibly being introduced on the basis of the criminal courts becoming ‘clogged up’ by proceedings, (180,000 p.a. apparently), in pursuit of non-payers. This may as may not be, but it is naïve to accept this motive in isolation from the ongoing tensions between The Government and The Corporation. Having failed to directly control the BBC over elements of its programming – opinions, content, making and scheduling – the most recent political tack has been to attack The Beeb on grounds of governance and costs. These are, indeed, important matters – and they do need to be addressed – but not by government changing the crucial relationship and its responsibilities. IMHO, this is exactly what this move is ushering in. Most significantly it is a misdirection with a completely different, and much more fundamental, agenda. The proposed status-change is, I believe, the legal table-setter for an environment whereby the relationship between The BBC and the UK taxpayer is no different between that of the consumer with any product or service. On the surface of it, there would appear to be nothing wrong with this; the consumer is left free to exercise choice whether they buy into the service or not. And this will appear very right to all those who believe that every element of society should be subject to the full force of the ‘free market’. I do not accept this. There are a number of strategic services that are fundamental to, even define, our society and to abandon them completely to unrestricted economic forces is exactly that – abandonment. We haven’t allowed that to happen, thank goodness, to our Health Service; while the ‘wisdom’ of having done so to other vital parts of our infrastructure and social fabric is increasingly under question. Unfortunately though one may ‘question’ such decisions, once taken they are like opening Pandora’s box and can very rarely be reversed. IMHO, the inevitable eventual consequence of the change of legal status of the licence fee will be the need to fund the BBC by advertising and the predictable eventual diminution of its essential quality. In 1923, the Sykes Committee rejected advertising for The British Broadcasting Corporation, which had been founded the previous year, as it would lower standards. They recommended that the BBC should be funded by a 10 shillings licence fee; an amount defined by a desire for the service to be non-commercially and adequately funded. Almost a century later, given the pivotal role that media plays in our Global Village, we reject that wisdom at our peril.