Sunday 20 February 2011

Death of the TV licence fee: A Shakespearean tragedy

Friends, Singaporeans, countrymen, lend me your eyes. I come to bury the TV licence fee, not to praise it.

The evil that local TV programmers and producers do lives after them. We all still remember VR Man.

The noble Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam hath told you the licence fees “are losing their relevance”. If it were so, it was the grievous fault of technological progress.

When he announced in his Budget Speech on Friday that the 48-year-old TV licence fee was finally killed, the nation cheered as one.

Why such bloodlust, my fellow citizens? O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.

Maybe this is why MediaCorp CEO Lucas Chow is quitting.

The TV licence fee is dead. Long live not paying the TV licence fee!

Hell hath frozen over and hogs hath pilot licences.

Never has a government announcement been greeted with such spontaneous celebrations around the island. It was as if Singapore had scored a World Cup goal, which would be another flying pigs moment.

It was the equivalent of tearing down the Berlin Wall, the moon landing and me getting a decent haircut all rolled into one.

Not having to pay that $110 seems to mean more to Singaporeans than the announced hundreds of dollars that the Government will be giving each of us this year.

It’s not that we love the free money less, but that we hate the TV licence fee more.

About a year ago, I wrote a column in response to one of numerous letters to the press over the years complaining about Channel 5 programmes.

The letter writer had asked: “Is this what I get for diligently paying my TV licensing fee on time?”

My retort was: “Does anyone honestly believe that Singaporeans will stop complaining about MediaCorp if the TV licence fee is abolished?”

Of course when I wrote that, I thought the TV licence fee will outlive us all. Without it, what will Singaporeans complain about now?

(That is, apart from the weather, people eating on the train, foreign workers and 2.2 billion other things.)

You all did love complaining about paying the $110 once, not without cause. What cause withholds you then to mourn for it?

Paying the TV licence fee made us feel justified – nay, entitled to bitch about the tired shows we see (or avoid seeing) on MediaCorp TV because dammit, we “paid” for them!

Full disclosure: The TV licence fee was my friend because I used to be a TV producer. It hath brought much funds to the local TV industry, whose ransoms did the MediaCorp executive coffers fill.

So bear with me.

My heart is in the coffin there with the TV licence fee and I must pause till it comes back to me.

Meanwhile, you can watch YouTube on your iPhone.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 February 2011