LIKE many, I find the BBC an unpleasant and arrogant organisation. So I cancelled my TV licence direct debit last April, informing the BBC of my decision, and have avoided TV broadcasts since. I have since received many threatening letters from TV Licence Enforcement. Their bullying tone spurred the following thought:
You enjoy a daily paper, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror or the Sun. One morning, after the paper boy leaves that day’s edition, you answer a knock on the door to see two large gentlemen with shaved heads, tattoos and ringed fingers. They offer you the amazing opportunity to purchase a subscription to the Guardian: marvellous value at £172.50 per year. However, this offer is automatically bundled with your usual paper. That is, you must either take the additional subscription to the Guardian, or cancel your daily paper. Obliquely, they mention poor Mr Jones from No 43, who tried to continue his daily paper and not take the Guardian. He met with an unfortunate accident on the way home from the pub, they say, flexing their fists; he may be out of intensive care in a month.
So either you submit to the protection racket, risk a beating, or have no newspaper at all. This is how the BBC licence fee operates, but rather than your daily paper, it is every other independent broadcaster, and instead of large gentlemen with tattoos, there is the UK Criminal Justice System.
This is an extortion racket on the poorest in our society. It is almost feudal. It is outrageous that an organisation with a privileged minority of highly-paid employees should be funded in this way. The statistics are well-known, but briefly women accounted for almost three quarters (74 per cent) of the 114,000 convictions for TV licence fee evasion in 2019. The 84,000 offences represented 30 per cent of all criminal convictions for women in that year. (A reason why so many women wind up being prosecuted is because they are more likely to be home during the day, and to open the door to inspectors.)
Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, is in favour of decriminalising failure to pay the licence fee. She argues that the law as it stands penalises those less well-off. She said in November: ‘I remain concerned that so many women are prosecuted for TV licence evasion. It’s an unnecessary conviction serving only to criminalise poverty and disproportionately punish poorer families and women.’ The Magistrates Association has long urged decriminalisation as cases clog up the criminal courts.
Down with feudalism! Decriminalise the BBC licence fee now!