My name is Caroline Levesque-Bartlett and I’ve been campaigning against the TV licence fee for the past three years. I have been TV licence free for the last two years and, like many other TV licence activists, I’m pretty pissed off that I won’t be able to watch the debate on Monday.
Ironic really doesn’t start to cover this.
The BBC has been granted the right to fund its radio broadcasts with a licence fee since 1922. The TV licence fee was introduced in 1946 and its current form was set in the Communications Act 2003. Over the years, people have questioned this right to hound prospective customer and prosecute existing ones. Polls as far back as 2013 reveal a clear public dissatisfaction towards the TV licence fee. Multiple petitions have been created to raise this point to the government. Mine, called “End the BBC licence fee”, was brushed aside, despite being signed by over 200k, which is twice the threshold decided by parliament for debates, because it was hosted by 38 degrees and therefore somehow not valid. Taking a lesson from that, another petition, called “Abolish the TV licence, it shouldn’t be a legal requirement” was launched on petition.parliament.uk. It managed a neat 125k signatures just before the general election. A debate date was set but it was first cancelled because of said general election, then postponed.
The Magistrates’ Association has been calling for the decriminalisation of TV licence evasion for nearly 20 years. Not only are they concerned that evaders are punished disproportionately, but TV licensing clogs up the court. TV licence offences account for 1 in 10 court cases in England and Wales. Cases are usually massed and processed in weekly hearings. TV licensing will tell you that everything is done to speed up the process and they are right. Cases are heard and dealt with, on average, within 60 seconds. The procedure is very simple: Magistrates are asked to take at face value the form filled by commission incentivised TV representatives and to trust that the signature of the defendant that appears on the titled and innocuous looking form is both real and was obtained without deception. In the 92 cases I witnessed, TV licensing bothered stating what was watched at the time of the visit only in 4% of the cases.
Last year, 184,595 people were charged for TV licence offences in the UK. In 2015, it’s 200,117 people that were brought to court or dealt with out of court in Scotland. In 2014, it was 204,018 people. With these numbers in hand, one can assume that over one million prosecutions were started in the past decade. But because, actually proving a case is time consuming and tedious, it is reserved to aggressively contested cases. I am very sorry to inform you that the presumption of innocence had somehow to die in the name of efficiency.
Apart from giving the BBC the unique power to harass, prosecute and indirectly to jail people over the TV licence, another problem is that the BBC was granted freedom to subject it to restrictions and conditions as it thinks fit (Communications Act, art. 364(1)a)) So they did. Hence why one needs a TV licence to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel on any devices. According to TV licensing, BBC’s alter ego, this means you need to fork £147/year even to watch live broadcasts on youtube on your laptop. Or Parliament TV debating just how incongruous it is that one broadcaster should be given such power. In a great democratic country , which the UK pertains to be, should there not be at the very least reasonable exceptions based on the fundamental right, as a citizen and a tax payer, to observe your democracy in action?
Now the subject will finally see debate in the halls of Westminster this surely will expose further rifts in the current government. Let’s hope that the gloves are off.