The License Fee Needs to Die

The recent story that a pensioner who hasn’t owned a TV since 1997 just received his 100th license fee renewal letter is the latest in a long line of similar cases where pensioners, non-TV users and others exempt from the license fee have been victims of intimidation and fear tactics.

I was recently on the receiving end of these tactics myself. My partner and I cancelled our license late last year after realising we were getting the vast majority of our entertainment from Netflix, Amazon Prime and DVDs. Doctor Who was the only BBC production I was still watching, but the quality of the eleventh season quickly put paid to that.

Given that TV Licensing had confirmed over the phone that we no longer needed a license, we were more than surprised to be visited by an enforcement officer at 7pm in the evening. When we explained what we watched the officer agreed we didn’t need a license, but asked to be let in to check for himself. We refused, as licensing officers have no right to enter a home without a court warrant, which they are rarely ever granted. How he planned to confirm what we watch with an inspection we still don’t know.

On raising this visit with TV Licensing it turned out that they were actually after the previous occupant of our home, now deceased, whose many renewal reminder letters we of course had not opened. Quite aside from the fact they had been pestering someone who was deceased at an address she had left whilst still alive, the tone and manner of the enforcement officer spoke most of all to the true nature of TV Licensing. I was prepared and able to speak for myself, but a non-English native, a pensioner or anyone of a less confident disposition receiving such a visit would likely bow to anything the ‘officer’ said.

Intimidation and coercion, forcing you to pay for somebody else’s idea of what everybody else should be watching.

The fact the BBC is supported by this system of fear and intimidation is the most abhorrant thing about it. We can debate the benefits of the BBC and the quality of its output until the end of days, but none of that justifies the manner in which it is funded. Although not strictly a ‘tax’ the heavy-handed and brutish enforcement coupled with fear-driven advertising campaigns give it all the appearance of one, and only those of us well-versed enough to stand up to that are actually able to resist it. Thousands of vulnerable people are unnecessarily paying the License Fee every day because of sheer intimidation.

I’m sure I speak for a growing body of people when I say that the BBC’s content output no longer does anything for me. Its quality has gone off a sharp cliff in recent years and it has become so focused on complying with its own moral and ethical directives in its content that it’s totally lost sight of the concept of general audience appeal. That makes the idea of forcing consumers of other terrestrial channels to pay for it even more distasteful than it already was. The fact that many on the left want to widen that to consumers of non-terrestrial services like Netflix and even Youtube speaks to the short-sighted myopia of their idea of what people need from the entertainment industry.

Even when its content was world-class and choice was limited to a couple of other channels producing broadly similar content, the BBC’s funding model was morally contemptuous. That said, its quality and general commitment to its educational and impartial values went some way towards softening that. Today, in an environment where democratised and decentralised entertainment media have created a marketplace where every niche taste and every educational need is already well provided for, the BBC’s original mission has become utterly redundant and the concept of a state-owned public service broadcaster has become clear for what it truly is: nothing more than a mouthpiece for the worldview of its directors.

For those who still love BBC content, or like me long for the return of what it once was, the end of the License Fee and the end of a state-owned BBC doesn’t need to mean the end of all the good the BBC has produced. The organisation itself can continue, released into the marketplace to compete with other providers were it will actually be held to account for the quality of its output by its consumers. For a long time the dichotomy was between advertising and state funding, and I’m still not sure why advertising on the BBC is such an anathema for many people, but the online subscription model has created a third option that suits the BBC perfectly.

I am more than confident that a subscription-based BBC would deliver far superior content whilst also ending the campaign of abusive intimidation that TV Licensing has brought about. Entertainment is more abundant than it has ever been, and there is no justification whatsoever for using state power to enable one provider to coerce and scare people into paying for its services when others provide so much more of what people actually want to consume.

Let people choose what to consume. Let the BBC compete freely in that marketplace. People will be better off and the BBC will adapt to become the service its consumers actually want.

Author: Thomas Walker

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