Observer letters: the BBC is a cause worth fighting for

I agree that “the BBC is a force for good” (Editorial) and, although its hierarchy can be top-heavy, it is our BBC, warts and all.

I have no problem with the licence fee and, as a news addict, I am tethered to its coverage. I am also an avid viewer of BBC Parliament, which can be illuminating and distressing all at the same time.

It is worrying that this populist government is targeting the BBC, a course of action we need to watch like hawks. Boris Johnson will not part us from this institution without a fight, because it pays attention to its viewers. To interfere with this world-renowned broadcasting service is tantamount to cultural treason and will not be easily forgiven or forgotten at the next general election.
Judith A Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

The licence fee was introduced in June 1946 when there was only one television channel and cost £2, the equivalent of £83 today. This was, in effect, a subscription service and made some sense when very few people had a television and could afford to pay for this service.

But these days, when everyone has a television and fewer and fewer people are watching the BBC, this method of funding no longer makes sense. Today, the licence fee is £154.50 and has to be bought by anyone who wants to watch television at all. The TV licence is a poll tax, the weight of which falls disproportionately on millions of low-paid and unemployed people who cannot afford it.

The remit of the BBC – Lord Reith’s “inform, educate and entertain”– is far too wide. We don’t need the BBC to entertain us anymore. We can leave that up to Netflix and YouTube and all those other private providers that are only too happy to do this in exchange for subscription payments or advertising revenue.

What we need the BBC to do is to become a public broadcasting service such as PBS in the United States with a focus on news. How can the BBC solve the problem that it can no longer afford the free TV licence to everyone over the age of 75 ? Get rid of the licence fee and make the BBC – funded by direct taxation – free to everyone, wealthy pensioners over 75, as well as the millions of poor people under that age who cannot afford the fee at all.
Ken Smith
London E2

Keep Corbyn at arm’s length

Like Andrew Rawnsley, I wish to see a political party fulfilling the democratic role of a credible and professional-looking opposition (“A keep-it-dull campaign is a risky way to win the leadership”, Comment). The electorate was clear at the ballot box what it thought of the man who led the Labour party to one of its worst-ever performances at a general election. One would think that all four candidates would have distanced themselves from their outgoing leader by imposing a condition that he steps down with immediate effect. So, come on potential leaders, show you are made of superior stuff.
K Deryck South
Thulston, Derbyshire

Russia’s guilt in Syria

You are right to call for decisive action by the UN secretary general to stop the atrocities by Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the Syrian people (“The UN chief must step in to end the war in Syria and avert calamity”, Editorial).

The assault on Idlib city, supported by Russia and Iran, has resulted in the largest mass displacement of civilians of the nine-year war. There is now no country they can flee to. The main reason previous UN peace plans have failed is Russian insistence that Assad remains in power. Were financial sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs, Vladimir Putin might be persuaded to drop this pre-condition. Countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees who fear returning to an Assad-ruled Syria would be keen to support such an initiative.
Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham
Frome, Somerset

The grooming of Begum

Kenan Malik makes a potent argument on the moral duty Britain has to bring back Shamima Begum (Comment). When she left the country, she was 15, after being radicalised here and persuaded of the promise of a better life.

Had these promises been made by a manipulative paedophile, she would have been perceived as a victim of exploitation. Because the manipulation was undertaken by a terrorist organisation, she is the perpetrator and, without benefit of a trial by her peers, has been stripped of her citizenship.

She should have her citizenship restored and allowed back, perhaps to face trial if there is evidence. Consideration should take account of the impact of grooming on a vulnerable teenager and whether our response, as a tolerant society, should be punishment or support.
Robin Thomas

Send Bercow to the Lords

I am in favour of John Bercow being given his peerage, (“When did the right to a peerage become a matter of principle for ‘progressives’?”, Comment).

Traditionally, such a peerage is given as recognition of the Speaker’s service to parliament and not as a tribute to his or her character. Only one Speaker, John Henry Whitley, has turned down a peerage. On his retirement in 1928, he requested the king to be allowed to refuse the honour, as it would be at odds with his views on the House of Lords.

Bercow’s style and attitudes have displayed arrogance and pomposity but he has been an excellent Speaker and has done a great deal to protect the role and influence of the House of Commons.
Michael Meadowcroft

A doggone nuisance

The growing interest in running with dogs is not something that delights everyone (“Taking the lead: now a jog with the dog is the latest fitness craze”, News).

Having been mown down more than once by packs of yelping runners harnessed to excitable hounds, I wish to sound the horn for calm and possibly infirm users of footpaths. Perhaps it is time to revise the difference between bridleways and footpaths? Activities such as charging about in Lycra attached to snarling lurchers could be confined to highways designed for bridled animals, allowing the rest of us to appreciate the charms of the countryside in peace.

I am intimidated when faced by troops of dog runners and would like my whimper to be heard.
Richard Gibbs
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Early signs of civilianisation

When I joined the Ministry of Defence in 1965, the era of cheap conscript manpower had recently come to an end and I was assigned to a section dealing with the organisation of the army’s static establishments. It was made clear to us that our primary task was to “civilianise”, ie to replace soldiers, who were now expensive, with cheaper civilians (“May I have a word?”, Comment).
Michael Bell
London, SW16