I vividly remember car journeys through France with my family in the 1990s. As we headed north from Languedoc, travelling home at the end of a holiday, the only solace for my mother was the return of BBC Radio 4, available in long wave anywhere northwards of Bourges or Orléans. You can’t stop radio waves at the frontier, and refraction of the earth and the low frequency of LW signals (as opposed to FM) means half of France gets Radio 4.
So what about the internet? The BBC has been at the forefront of online broadcasting with many of its radio channels available online all the time, and TV programmes available on iPlayer. Yet this has also meant a blanket ban on some broadcasts and services outside the UK. Any football commentary on Radio 5 is UK only and on Saturday Live on Radio 4 this morning they had the temerity to read out a reader’s letter complaining that Saturday Live podcasts were not available to users outside the UK. Well, the presenter said with a chuckle, that’s because you don’t pay the license fee!
Hold on a minute. People outside the UK do not pay the fee, but we also do not have the opportunity to do so. There is a crude distinction: if you’re in the UK you get all BBC programmes because you pay the license fee. If you’re outside the UK you must be someone the BBC can patronise with lousy rubbish, leftovers, like BBC World News or remnants of the empire like BBC World Service. I live in Belgium most of the time, 1 hour 51 minutes from London by train – so closer to BBC television centre than half of the UK. I want all the BBC services a British resident should be able to get, and if there were a way to pay for that then I would be willing to do so – I’m one of the people that like the BBC. But there is no way.
There are ways around some of the restrictions – using Foxyproxy to make iPlayer think you live in the UK (video of how to do it here), and having a UK iTunes account so as to access podcasts that way. But this is breaking the rules to get what you want because the BBC seems to treat everyone beyond the British Isles differently. It’s frustrating.