The legal approach

Charles Moore writes about his decision not to pay the licence fee. He’s taken every precaution- a donation to charity of the sum in question; an equivalent sum set aside in case the BBC accept his case that they are in breach of their Charter, and amend accordingly.

Of course I think he’s right that the BBC are in breach, but more precisely I think the concept of a Charter such as the BBC have (and updated just a couple of years ago) an absurdity, a political charade, a conceit played upon the conscience of the public. Moore grounds his case on the failure to remove Jonathan Ross from his post following RossyBrandSachsgate. Fair enough, I would say, yet as Moore also points out, there are many reasons to wish not to pay the BBC for the use of your television. John Kelly for example has been summoned to court to answer for his non-payment, and grounds his case on the BBC’s lack of balance in coverage of the EU.

Obviously we should watch both cases carefully. I note that the BBC renewed their charter a couple of years ago. In the new Charter I believe there is no reference to impartiality, which was one of the Labour Government’s friendly touches for the BBC; removing the impartiality clause really left sites like this one in a changed situation. Therefore John Kelly may have a problem since the BBC’s partiality is central to his complaint. Instead, the Charter talks of the BBC’s “public purposes”, which are,

(a)sustaining citizenship and civil society;(b)promoting education and learning;(c)stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;(d)representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; (e)bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; (plus the promotion of digital telly)

Charles Moore is evidently basing his prospective case on the failure in “sustaining citizenship and civil society” exampled by the Ross-Brand-Sachs scandal. I think it’s a good idea to keep this little bunch of purposes in mind in all our considerations of the BBC. I have to say the new Charter was a rotten document from the beginning. The bit I quote is the most substantive part of it concerning the BBC’s responsibilities, yet where does “news” fit in to the above list? Is is “education”? Or “citizenship”? It’s hard to see where to fit the BBC’s coverage of “Global Warming” into this. Bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world is a nice soundbyte, but how does it differentiate between a tourist slot for Brazil and a report on Israel?

If I was arguing the case for either Mr Kelly or Mr Moore I would want to point out that the current Charter is utterly inadequate as a moral foundation for a compulsory tax on British-based TV owners. Then I would argue that its education is false, its citizenship flawed, its culture impoverished and its mission in the world ill-conceived and superfluous. After ten minutes of that, I would apologise for going on (as I am now, in fact), and say that the amount of rational criticism that one can make of the foundation of the BBC is evidence of the injustice by which it is sustained. The BBC’s ring-fenced status outside the democratic ebb and flow is entirely unjustified. The only comfort from the terrible inadequacy of the BBC’s charter is that it arose from the friendship between the BBC and an overwhelming Labour majority in Parliament. Therefore logically if the majority is overturned, so can be the BBC Charter, and the institution itself.

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26 Responses to The legal approach

  1. Red Lepond says:

    I'm justifying my refusal to pay the license fee on the basis that the BBC are objectionable cunts.


  2. Ed T says:

    Heh- I think we are in agreement RL.


  3. Brian E. says:

    He has my support, and I anticipate that the BBC will drag him through the courts. If he were an ordinary person simply refusing and his refusal didn't attract publicity, I suspect that, in spite of threats, they would ignore the matter. However the publicity has occurred, and will continue to occur, so they will take the view that they can't afford to letting him have the publicity of winning and will fight all the way.


  4. John Horne Tooke says:

    "..representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities"
    Since when has the BBC represented the UK – and the only "communities" it supports are those who hate the country and its past.


  5. John Horne Tooke says:


    You have a point on the BBC charter not mentioning "impartiality" – yet this is exactly what the BBC says it is "impartial". It has laboured this point continuously. Yes, we all know that Andrew Mar and others have pointed out that the BBC is not impartial. But what would happen in court where the BBC to state that they do not have a duty to be impartial as defined by the charter.

    Even if Mr Kelly loses his case on the fact that the BBC do not have to be impartial.The BBC will never again be able to state that it is impartial and statements such as this:
    "Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC's commitment to its audiences. It applies across all of our services and output, whatever the format, from radio news bulletins via our web sites to our commercial magazines and includes a commitment to reflecting a diversity of opinion."

    will have to be dropped from the "guidelines".

    This alone will undermine the need for a licence fee and I would suspect even more opposition will follow.


  6. Original Robin says:

    Has this new charter of wooliness completely replaced the original Reith charter ?


  7. Gigits says:

    That is one great post, Ed.

    I had no idea that impartiality had been removed from the BBC's charter.


  8. Doug says:

    This is news to me. John Horne Tooke makes a very good point. Remember someone took Gordon Brown to court to argue that he had broken the manifesto commitment to a referendum on the European Constitution. The lawyers for the defence argued that whatever the manifesto says and whatever Brown says is not a promise that can be realistically expected to be delivered i.e. Brown can't be trusted to keep his word.

    Should the BBC make the mistake of forfeiting their impartiality during a trial then it would be a significant shot across the bow if not direct hit on the legitimacy of the BBC and the license fee.


  9. Doug says:

    Just to add the old impartiality statement is still contained in the BBC Agreement (there is the BBC Charter ans accompanying Agreement). But it has been relegated from the main Charter.

    new –

    old 1996 –


  10. Anonymous says:

    "(e)bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; (plus the promotion of digital telly)"

    So that explains the BBC's hardline support for massive immigration then. It's all part of their commitment to "bringing the world to the UK".

    I don't think the Conservatives will ever get rid of the BBC though. They would want to use it for their own propaganda purposes.

    The best scenario would be for the Conservatives to give the BBC a right wing charter for 10 years to try and undo the left wing damage that's been done and then kill off the BBC in 2020 before Labour get back in power and use the BBC for their left wing propaganda purposes.


  11. Tom says:

    As Doug says, the impartiality clause in now in the Agreement.

    The parties to that agreement are the BBC and a (Labour) Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport.

    So the BBC has a clear field to break its impartiality rules just so long as a (Labour) Culture Sec won't mind.

    That explains a lot.


  12. John Horne Tooke says:

    "The BBC's impartiality principles "
    "Impartiality is and should remain the hallmark of the BBC as the leading provider of information and entertainment in the United Kingdom, and as a pre-eminent broadcaster internationally. It is a legal requirement, but it should also be a source of pride."

    This is from the 18th June 2007. The new Charter came into efect on the 1st Jan 2007. So the message is clear.

    Even though "impartiality" is not in the charter – it would be impossible for the BBC to dump this term altogether.
    The above piece on the BBC web site hammers home the term "impartiality". Which ever way you look at it, the BBC are on slippy wicket either way.


  13. Ed T says:

    JHT- impartiality is required for all British broadcasting, as opposed to print publishing. Therefore the BBC's requirement for impartiality is no more than for Sky or ITV; they choose to emphasise it as a hallmark, that's all. In fact, the new Charter moves impartiality from a legal burden to a marketing tool, given that there is no legal mechanism I know of that can enforce the impartiality obligation, and no connection any longer to the BBC's source of dosh.


  14. John Horne Tooke says:


    Ofcom regulations on "impartiality" only apply to other broadcasters not the BBC.

    "Section 5: Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions

    (Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 319(2)(c) and (d), 319(8) and section 320 of the Communications Act 2003, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.)

    This section of the Code does not apply to BBC services funded by the licence fee or grant in aid, which are regulated on these matters by the BBC Trust. "


  15. Ed T says:

    Fair point JHT- but I'm not sure that in practice the BBC face any more stringent rules than ITV etc. It is significant that the BBC had taken out of their Charter the impartiality clause. There is reference to impartiality in the Agreement with the Minister, but this is rather different to the Charter with Her Majesty. In any case, there are six or seven degrees of hedging placed in the language about the Trust's oversight of due impartiality… nothing remotely accessible to a dissatisfied citizen, or definable to any but an insider to the Trust.


  16. Anonymous says:

    Not paying the TV Tax is simple. Just tell the Crapita monkeys to bugger off if they knock on your door and ignore their threatening letters.

    I've been doing it for the last 20 years.

    I don't see why I should finance the lifestyles of a bunch of coke snorting bedwetting liberal fairies who wouldn't last 5 seconds in the real world.


  17. Ratass shagged says:

    "Not paying the TV Tax is simple. Just tell the Crapita monkeys to bugger off if they knock on your door and ignore their threatening letters."

    Bugger off? I've been telling them to fuck off. Am I doing something wrong?


  18. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how many of the public are aware that this corrupt Gov took away the aspect of impartiality.


  19. pete says:

    Is a Royal Charter really needed to ensure that the population gets trash like Eastenders, Casualty, Top Gear, Cash in the Attic and Celebrity Cash in the Attic?

    Royalty itelf is brought into disprepute by association with such rubbish. The queen should be ashamed to have herself linked with the BBC.


  20. Ady says:

    It'll be a shame to see the BBC go belly up but our modern BBC is a poor relation of its former greatness.

    Going to be a fight of many rounds with many setbacks.
    This is a political case involving big wodges of government cash and the BBCs main role within the machinery of British social propaganda is directly threatened, so the judiciary will be hard pressed to be impartial.

    Reminds me of the act of union case in Scotland when we had the polltax.


  21. TomTom says:

    I think the concept of a Charter such as the BBC have

    The Charter is simply the Articles of Association since when the BBC was nationalised in 1925 or thereabouts it was as a Company established by Royal Charter rather as The East India Company was formed in days before The Companies Acts

    The Charter is nothing more than the basis of incorporation. That is why Charles Moore's case is interesting – because it claims the BBC is breaching the basis of its existence and its Articles of Association. It is failing in its remit. It is why Charles Moore's case should move from Magistrate's Court to The High Court if the BBC dare risk their Charter being struck down by a High Court Judge.

    Even in Germany the TV state station is an Anstalt des Oeffentlichen Rechts (Institution of Public Law) which is not a private company nor a quoted company but a Public Body.


  22. Ady says:

    These constitutional/charter type thingys are always in thrall to the prevailing political winds of their time.
    The American Constitution didn't do black people any favours for well over 100 years.

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Fine words rendered completely useless without the political judicial and social will to implement them.


  23. hippiepooter says:

    Brown may have removed the 'impartiality' clause from the Charter (First I've heard of that!) but there is still a legal legal requirement for broadcasters to be politically impartian, no?


  24. Mailman says:

    The problem is guys, Al Beeb has a bottomless pit of money to call on when taking you to court.

    You can try as much as you might but the kind of lawyer you will get on legal aid vs the kind of lawyer £3billion can buy will be the difference between you losing and them winning.



  25. Umbongo says:

    As others have noted the "impartiality" clause is in the Agreement rather than in the Charter itself. Even so, since, in the BBC's words, "The Agreement complements the Charter" a failure in exercising impartiality breaks, by extension, the Charter.

    Paragraph 44(8) of the Agreement in respect of "relevant output" which must be impartial comprises
    (a) news, or
    (b) deals with matters of public policy or of political or industrial controversy.
    IMHO I would think that, for example, anthropomorphic global warming would be included in "relevant output" for these purposes (as a matter of "public policy" even though, as far as the BBC is concerned, it is no longer "controversial" because the "science is settled"). AGW is manifestly dealt with in anything but an "impartial" manner as required by the Agreement. Accordingly, the moral (if not legal) quid pro quo for coughing up for the licence fee falls at that hurdle (and lots of others).

    Anyway, it is unlikely that Moore will be brought to court: he's too much in the public arena for the BBC to risk a cause celebre and, per his Telegraph article over the week-end, it seems that Moore is unwilling to create (or be part of) any organisation supporting his stance. OTOH Ms Jo Blow living in social housing near Accrington is far more likely to be hauled into court for being polite to some creep from Capita when he came to see her.


  26. DP111 says:

    Anonymous said…I wonder how many of the public are aware that this corrupt Gov took away the aspect of impartiality.

    In so doing, it allows the BBC to make up the rules as they go along. They can then state in all truthfullness, that they are abiding by the rules.

    Wonder where I heard that last?