Only the last paragraph is about my petition and I. It reads (loose translation):
Apart from the government, a French teacher from West England is demanding the end of the broadcasting fee. She has already collected 165,000 signatures prompted by the dismissal of Jeremy Clarkson. The showmaster of the popular car and motorsport programme “Top Gear”, who on many occasions made indiscretionary, racist remarks and is most recently alleged to have punched his producer. Nonetheless, one million viewers demanded that he be reinstated in his position. Many considered Clarkson’s dismissal proof that the BBC no longer listened to paying fans.
Here are the questions that Daniel Zylbersztajn had sent me before writing this article, followed by my full answers.
Why did you start a campaign on the license fee? What was the moment that triggered it?
My campaign was triggered by what is referred to by the media as the “Fracas” (If you don’t know, in a nutshell, Jeremy Clarkson punched a producer at their hotel. The BBC suspended him and pulled the Top Gear show for a while. 1 million people signed a petition to say they wanted to keep Clarkson. The BBC ignored the petition, even though the show has a viewership of 6 million people). I signed that petition and I wrote a complaint letter to the BBC. Their handling of the “fracas” and its aftermath pushed me over the edge, so to speak. They alluded that the TV licence fee was neither their fault, their responsibility nor even under their control. Having a legal mind, I decided to research this. I wrote the text “Hot Potato”(1) after that I thought, if the BBC doesn’t care about what the viewers think, why do they need our money? I searched for a ready-made petition against TV licence fee. I found about five (some closed) but none appealed to me because they were not complaining about the things that mattered to me. So I wrote mine and it took off very quickly.
What are your key points?
– I want a public debate on the future of the TV licence. Basically, my stance is: if we pay, we need to have our say.
– I don’t approve of the BBC prosecuting, fining and even sending people to jail for the sake of making television. The methods used by Capita – the company hired to do BBC’s enforcement work – are quite vile too. (I can expand on that if you want.)
– I don’t like the fact that 70% of TV licence offenders turn out to be females. There’ something fishy about that. It’s a complete departure from other statistics for small crimes.
– I don’t like the general concept of a flat tax. This is a burden on the poor. The rich don’t seem to understand that £12 a month can be difficult to part with.
– I hate the lack of freedom and the feeling of being blackmailed that is created by this system. I don’t understand why the public should be forced to pay a tax in order to be allowed to watch other free channels. (To give you an example, if Tesco prosecutes thieves, it’s fine by me. But if Tesco wants to prosecute people who go to Aldi, it has to be stopped.) I want to be able to opt out of the BBC.
– If the BBC wants to make the same commercial products as other broadcasters (like Strictly Come Dancing, Don’t tell the bride, Masterchef, the Voice, etc) I don’t understand why the public should be forced to pay. We already have alternative versions of those shows on other channels. Not to mention the fact that the BBC has handed over a no-questions £3.7 billion gives it an unfair advantage compared to other TV channels.
What should it be replaced with?
There are many options. I have to say straight away that I do not approve of the Rundfunkbeitrag system. The lack of freedom makes it even more unbearable than the current TV licence, in my opinion. The abolition of the TV licence is not an invitation to create an Internet licence or a household levy.
The obvious alternatives are Subscription, Advertisement and General taxation, but there is much more than that.
My favourite system is based on the concept of Voluntary Donation and fundraising events. (Some US radios rely solely on this). The BBC might be better off with this system, as those who support it wholeheartedly might want to give more than £145 a year. But this could lead to a shortfall too, if, say only 70% of the population wants to continue to give the BBC the same amount every year. I would suggest that the BBC has to learn to “make do with the budget freely given”, in other words, downsize. Do you need 8 TV station and 18 radio station? I don’t think so! I’m not even sure we need one BBC channel at all. Personally, I’ve stopped using BBC services altogether after the “fracas”. It’s been 3 months and I can assure you, life is fine. The world does not stop spinning.
Your campaign has some support but there are millions of people. A Daily Telegraph ISPSO study some years ago claimed (I think you cite the study yourself) that 70% of the population do not support it. Why are there not millions supporting your campaign?
I’ve asked myself the same question “why did 1 million people sign a joke (the petition to keep Clarkson, called “freedom to fracas” was light-hearted) and ‘only 165,000 people’ signed mine?” The fact is: people are happy to share a harmless joke, and are happy to complain about things, but very few are ready to do something positive about it, like leaving their name and address. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people think petitions are useless, or that any resistance is futile because the public is powerless. By the way, did you know that the petition with the greatest number of signatures in the UK is reckoned to be the “Ambulance Dispute Petition”, presented in 1989, with “only” 4.5 million signatures.
If your readers are interested, my petition is called “End the BBC licence Fee”. It’s on 38 degrees. Here’s the link https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee
What other steps are you planning to do?
Besides collecting signatures, I sent a number of Freedom of Information Requests to the government and/or judicial system of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in order to collect data on TV licence evasion. I wrote many articles and press releases, which I then sent across the UK, trying to raise awareness on the Charter renewal, the impact of collecting the TV licence and the BBC’s less desirable practices. So far 13 local newspapers in England and Scotland, plus 3 Polish expat online News and one American radio have picked up a part of the story. I’ve also sent those articles to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports to help him with the Charter renewal. By the way, the right Honourable John Whittingdale has confirmed to be aware of my petition. He even thanked me for it, via his Head of BBC Financial Policy’s representative.
I’m still waiting for some results regarding the decriminalisation of the TV licence fee so I still have some articles left to write.
Considering that it’s nearly summer recess already in the Parliament, handing over the petition is likely to be in September.
About you: Where do you live (Town), what do you do for living?
I live in the beautiful English Riviera (Torquay). I’m a legal editor for a branch of Thomson Reuters and I’m a freelance French teacher.
Who do you suggest I should contact who, like you, does not support the license fee (media people in particular).
The only media people that kept in touch with me are Marc McLean at the Clydebank Post, Kapil Summan at the Scottish Legal News and Stephen Beard at Marketplace (the British correspondent of the American Radio network).
If you want to talk to more people in general, I would suggest my Scottish associate, Duncan Edelsten. The other person you need to talk to calls himself @BanTheBBC on twitter. Don’t be put off by the subversive name and avatar.