If we did not have a public service broadcaster we would have to invent one. That, broadly, has been the experience of every country that has, unlike the UK, started with commercial radio and television and then found it necessary to try to satisfy a public demand.
That is why the BBC has generally been regarded as a benchmark for standards of communication and why we have, for so long and in the teeth of multi-channel broadcasting and diversity, put up with the license fee as the "least worst" way of paying for the service.
With the BBC Charter and the license fee now under scrutiny it is just possible that the foul mouth of Mr. Jonathan Ross may have done us all a favour in concentrating minds upon what it is that we are paying for and whether or not we should, any longer, be paying for it by a state-imposed "viewing tax".
I am not remotely concerned that in some way Mr. Ross may have abused Mr. David Cameron on his programme. (The latter, whose credentials lie in broadcasting, ought to be able to look after himself). Neither I am concerned that in some way his remarks may have slighted Margaret Thatcher: her legacy, for good or ill, is likely to last rather longer than that of even the best of broadcasters and that is a category into which Mr. Ross has no danger of falling.
No, the question is rather whether we should be required to pay a tax to not watch this oaf use bad language at any hour of the day or night, on radio or television.
The BBC`s apologists claim, justly, that if we don't like it we can turn it off. Would they be so swift to rush to that conclusion if we were able, legally, to not pay their license fees as well?
It is also said, and it is a view that I share, that one of the duties of public service broadcasters (and independent television has a public service remit also) is to innovate. That is why The Goon Show, That Was The Week That Was, Monty Python, Spitting Image and the like have pushed at the limits of what was, in their day, considered acceptable.. Each of them has been tried and tested in the court of creativity and not found wanting. Mr. Ross, and those of his ilk, do not, in my view, scratch at the door of that kind of real talent.
As a television producer and director I have myself tested the boundaries of taste on occasions. I do not believe, though, that foul language, obscenity or gratuitous nudity can or should be afforded, in the name of "innovation" or entertainment, a place at the TV Taxpayer's expense. If people want the obscene, the violent or the pornographic they can buy it on DVD or video, through subscription satellite channels or even on occasions find it through free-to-air commercial television programmes.
We complain bitterly of the breakdown in law and order. We rail against government's inability to control anti-social behaviour. We show the red card to sportsmen and women who show a bad example on field or pitch. Why should the BBC be allowed to get away the broadcasting material that is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of yobbish behaviour and that in many other walks of life would result in a fine or even arrest?
It is, perhaps, time that we showed the red card to the British Broadcasting Corporation. A reduction, rather than an increase, in the license fee might concentrate a few minds upon priorities.
And talking of law and order, Mr. Blair complains that much of the fault in today's society lies in the failure of the legal system and legislation. I wonder which of his Lords Chancellor and which of the fifty-four separate changes to the criminal justice system that he has instigated during his nine years in office he had in mind when he said that?!