Why not an income tax mechanism to support public broadcasting? Why TV Licence? (From Bucks Free Press)
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Why not an income tax mechanism to support public broadcasting? Why TV Licence?
CALL me old-fashioned, but I believe the BBC should be the free, independent guardian of the public interest. It should exist to protect our rights against the mighty establishment.
So can it please put an end to its continual oppression of otherwise law-abiding citizens through the ludicrous anomaly that goes by the name of the TV licence?
Every year on July 31, I am left foaming at the mouth at the enforced charge thrust upon me on pain of criminalisation. I’m told that if I don’t renew my licence, I could be liable for a fine of up to £1,000.
And every year, I leave payment until the very last legal moment as my way of a poor protest against this nonsense.
This year, the fee is £145.50, and as I write this column I have yet to pay. The fee becomes overdue today (August 1), so if you see me dragged out of bed in a dawn raid this morning, then you’ll know I’ve forgotten to stump up.
I will pay, though, because it’s the law and I have read the court list in the Bucks Free Press and seen how they come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks.
A quick glance at a random court page showed me that most evaders in Wycombe are fined either £200 or £400 plus £75 costs.
The same court list showed a woman convicted of theft was fined £75 with £100 costs and a man caught possessing a Class B drug was fined £190 with £100 costs. Another man was fined £100 with £100 costs for theft. Meanwhile, two people were given community orders and told to pay compensation of £85 and £100 respectively for assault.
Now, I accept circumstances vary and that community orders are not a soft punishment, but this does illustrate that TV licence evaders are deemed to be up there with the bad ‘uns.
And apparently there are a lot of these evaders. New figures reveal more than 200 people in High Wycombe were caught in the heinous act of watching telly without a licence in the first half of 2012.
I reflected upon all of this on Saturday as I watched Olympic cycling on my I-phone. It struck me that surely technology has now overtaken the system, but not so. A look on the official website shows you also need a licence if you watch telly just on your phone, or on your laptop or tablet. Just about the only exemption is if you can prove you only view programmes on ‘catch-up services’ such as BBC iPlayer.
But here comes the rub, the piece of risible Big Brother intrusion that the BBC would probably condemn in foreign repressive regimes: you may well have to prove to a visiting enforcement officer you don’t have a telly if you are not going to pay the licence.
The licensing website says you should complete a declaration form and it adds: “As it is our duty to ensure that everyone in the UK who needs a licence has one, we may visit your address to check that no licence is required. It’s unfortunately necessary to do this, as when we make contact on these visits, almost one in five people are found to need a TV Licence.
“Please be assured that this is a routine visit, and will take no more than a few minutes. If we find during the visit that you do in fact need a licence, you’ll need to pay the full licence fee, and you could risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.”
The BBC even has a ‘No Licence Needed Policy’ which says: “The BBC has an obligation under the Communications Act 2003 to enforce the TV Licensing system.”
TV Licensing also tells us of its national database, its enforcement officers, its hand-held devices and its detector vans.
Good grief – am I going mad? It’s a piece of electronic equipment for heaven’s sake. This is a gross affront to our human rights, and yet this archaic system goes on and on year after year, even though the plethora of new TV stations has made the BBC far less important.
It’s a pity our law enforcers aren’t as efficient when it comes to real criminals.
But I do actually agree the BBC should be publicly funded within reason. Instead, though, there should be an income tax mechanism to support public broadcasting.
By doing that, the entire enforcement system would be swept away, presumably saving millions. It would also mean a fairer spread of pay because, at present, large households with multiple people and multiple tellys pay the same as someone living alone. I’m certain the apologists for the current crazy system will have a long list of reasons why this isn’t possible and why people who have no television should be subjected to intrusive visits from the authorities.
And I’m sure they will queue up to happily tell me why it’s so vital to criminalise vast numbers of otherwise law-abiding folk for illegally watching the telly in a supposedly free humanitarian country.
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