Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Its Time to Abolish the TV Licence

Its time for a proper campaign for the abolition of the TV licence. There are lots of websites opposing the licence (e.g., etc), and various MPs are now getting in on the act, but nothing that could be called an organised campaign - that is, one that sets out with the sole aim of the abolition of the TV licence fee in its current form, brings together all its opponents and raises the funds necessary to bring the campaign to fruition.

Why would anyone want to support this campaign? I'm pretty agnostic about the merits of the BBC. They make some quite good programs (that I don't watch many of...). They are also reasonably authoritative and fair in reporting many issues (which makes it all the more annoying that they use this perceived neutrality to push their biases). The BBC in its current form may also be at risk without the TV licence funding it - but there are many alternatives, subscriptions, advertising, direct government grants - and what should replace the TV licence isn't a relevant consideration if the current funding mechanism is so unacceptable.

So what makes the tv licence so unacceptable:

1) It is unfair.
As a flat tax, levied across most of the population, its costs are disproportionately hard to bear for those on low incomes. As a result, many thousands of low income households have been fined or people even imprisoned for not paying it.

2) The methods essential to enforce the tv licence are unacceptable in a free, modern society.
Evidence of whether or not a licensable activity is being undertaken by an individual can only be determined by gross intrusions into personal privacy, and even then only if there is almost 100% takeup of the licence, such that anyone without a licence can be bullied, threatened and harassed as if they were breaking the law. With modern methods of watching broadcast TV, it is pretty much impossible to determine if the law is being complied with unless you give those responsible for enforcement the power to enter any unlicensed property unannounced and to have a snoop around. Such a power is never going to be acceptable in a free society, so the only other tactic available for enforcement is one of bullying and harassment - personal visits and threatening letters (often designed to deceive about the requirements of licensing or the powers of those enforcing it) targeted at all unlicensed premises. The aim is to scare people into being licensed, or for people to inadvertently incriminate themselves. With so much consumer protection around misleading claims from suppliers, and criminal sanctions available against most types of harassment, it is unclear how TV licensing gets away with its tactics.

As technology moves on and fewer people need or want to watch live broadcast TV, those legally licence free can only increase, and with it the anger at the tactics of tv licensing. It is time for the TV licence to be abolished, and funding for the BBC to be moved to a more sustainable long term arrangement. So who's up for making it happen?

(Memo to self - must work out the difference between licence and license.)
(Memo to others - I currently have a TV licence as I watch live TV.)