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I Support The TV License

Before anything, I want to declare my opinion so that you know where I’m coming from. I support the notion of a TV license. Not blindly, not so that I accept it in any form, but I am in broad agreement with the concept.

Now why should I care to defend it? Well, Facebook, that vanguard of public opinion (I’m half-serious) has a group called 10 Million for NO TV LICENSE, which calls for the abolition of TV licensing. I could call attention to the misleading name (the group has 545 352 members at the time of writing), but I assume it is a convention to name their target as opposed to any milestone. I would do it differently, but then again I am not doing it.

I am pleased to note that the blog / website linked from that group does in fact have posts and arguments in favour of keeping the license / BBC. That impresses me a lot. Sadly, it is somewhat spoiled by the unnecessarily heated tone employed in posts attacking the fee / the BBC. More on this below. I do congratulate them on allowing opposing viewpoints to be made, though.

I will go through the group’s list of claims and try and construct a rational argument for or against each item. It is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine for those that use needlessly inflammatory or emotional language to advance an argument as it all too often hinders discussion. I say ‘needlessly’ as there are occasions where there are grave abuses to man (or nature, I’ll concede) where hot language is needed, if only to spur action. However, an optional TV license is not one of these times, and by using such language they denigrate and detract from those occasions that do require such language. I think their claims would be better served by a measured explanation as some of them do have merit.

Like the Poll Tax, the TV License takes no account of your ability to pay, nor how much (if any) of the service you use. It hits the lowest incomes hardest by percentage of income.

A good point to make to begin with; there is little income-adjustment for TV licensing. I think it would be a great idea to give some scope to the cost of the license, although there is a danger of it falling into pseudo-tax status (even moreso), with exemptions, special deductions and all the rest. A simple change may work though: reduced fee for students, and perhaps a tax credit for those on the lowest income bracket. Wait, I’m sure I argued against making it tax-like just a second ago… Yes, it appears I did. I do however propose a tax credit as it would seem to be the simplest way to avoid giving another agency information about your income. Asking people to prove how little they make would only serve to generate further resentment towards licensing.

So I propose… say, a 60% fee for students in full-time education, and some form of tax credit given to those least able to pay -whether a graded scale, or a simple refund to the lowest-earners.

I must point out that there is a limited form of ‘taking account of your ability to pay’, in that over-75s automatically receive a free license.

I cannot sidestep the question of usage; however I can point to the Digital Britain report, which may pave the way for ITV to receive funds collected from licensees. A BBC report on the debate; PDF of the report therein. I fear that means to assess usage would encroach too far on privacy, but the point remains.

When it started, there was only one use for a TV set, and only one broadcaster so a kitty type setup was fine, this has fragmented so much now that the BBC are a minority entertainment service that you can’t unsubscribe from.

The latter part of this argument is most telling. I cannot tell if the author is being deliberately misleading when he claims that the BBC is a “minority entertainment service”, or whether that reflects the reality in his or her head. There may be more players in ‘entertainment’ now than ever, but the BBC play a large role in it; primarily in TV and radio, but they do feature films as well. They are a minority only in a very strictly technical sense, when you include ‘entertainment’ as a whole: games (both digital and ‘real’), books, live shows, etc etc. However, in this way News Corp is a minority in publishing, as many more words have been written by others. This is absurd, let’s move on.

It’s nothing short of a legally enforced extortion racket.

This line makes me sigh, shake my head and reach for a bottle of hard liquor. An extortion (or protection) racket is where money is obtained by coercion under the threat of violence – which will often come from those extorting the protection money. When TV licensing officers start smashing up TV sets, computers and laptops for someone not having a license, then this makes sense. For now it is silly childish hyperbole.

A note on this theme though – there have been reports of Enquiry Officers demanding entry, and giving misleading statements about their powers. A frequently-asked question is “Can TV Licensing Enquiry Officers enter my home or property without permission?”. The answer is (mostly) no. I urge people not to let them bully their way into a home. They do not have police-like powers, and need a warrant to enter property without permission (hence the ‘mostly’). Liberty have confirmed this. However, this may only apply to England, it may be out of date or it may be plain wrong. If in doubt, contact TV Licensing directly. If you do, be sure to post the response!

The BBC forces itself onto the airways and we are required to pay for its upkeep regardless of whether or not we watch it.

Again, needlessly inflammatory language. It is true that if you only watch ITV (I’m scratching my head as to why you would though) you would still be paying for the Beeb, however. On the other hand, ITV funds itself with adverts, so if you do watch it, you will at least be funding it. And let’s not get into things like BSkyB and cable TV (Virgin), where you pay for channels and then get advertised on top of that.

If we want to watch ANY TV channel we are forced to pay for a TV Licence, I only watch the movie channels but I still have to pay for the BBC channels that I DON’T USE.

What ever happened to free choice?

Must you SHOUT SO? There are those that get by without a TV license. I am not advocating the “all or nothing, take it or leave it” arguments, because that just encourages silly stand-offs that usually end up with someone saying “WELL, if you HATE the country SOOO-OO much, why don’t you LEAVE?”, which gets us about as far as transport by a legless camel.

However, in your scenario of films, might I suggest ditching the movie channels and going with (Amazon’s parter, or at least someone heavily advertised on’s site) or Blockbuster? Alternatives exist, although they may not be perfect.

The BBC is a public broadcast service but it competes for viewers as if it were a private company. This is its biggest downfall. 20 million for Ross is a Joke. £850,000 a year to the guy who runs it Mark Thompson is appalling.

Grammar aside, the second part of this particular argument is worthwhile. I’m not sure what they mean by competing as if a private company – indeed, other arguments later on make a case for it to be run like a private company. I think there is a culture of overpaying those at or near the top; I’m not sure if it is endemic, such that even the sound man is overcompensated for his hard work. The BBC have embarked on a campaign of wage-and-cost-cutting, to their credit.

Also, putting “20 million for Ross” next to “£850,000 a year” is misleading, as people may conflate the two and think Jonathan Ross is earning £20 million a year. His contract is £6 million a year, which over three years is £18 million. Too much perhaps, but he does attract millions of viewers and listeners, the merits of which… can be debated elsewhere. Also, it is speculated that Ross may have his wage cut (link), which – although speculation by The Mirror, no less – would be in line with cuts elsewhere in the BBC.

Im [sic] sure there are plenty of qualified people who would do this job for a fraction of the cost.

That depends on two things: what fraction, and what you think the job is. The sad fact of the matter is that people watch Jonathan Ross because he is Jonathan Ross. His job is as much to attract a decent viewing audience as it is to interview people on his show. Sure, you could get someone to say the same words for a fraction of the cost, but would people watch? Would celebrities turn up to be interviewed by Frank Haden, who works in a Post Office in Basingstoke?

Actually, that might not be a bad idea for a telly programme, get a random member of the public (so to speak) in for a week’s training, then have them interview Hugh Jackman or Simon Cowell or Daniel Craig. A different member of the public each week. And of course there would be interviews with the family saying “how proud we are of our Frank”, along with footage of people watching his performance from his local pub, and a brief debriefing from the celebrity du semaine saying what they thought of the whole thing. I’m going to phone up ITV and pitch it to them after I’m done throwing up.

All the shows on the BBC have premium phone numbers to call for competitions and the like. Shouldn’t those calls be covered in our service charge?

Apparently not. I can only imagine they go with whichever agency does the vote-tallying and it’s pretty damn expensive. Partly because many of them use shady tricks… but I’m not getting into that. Phone calls cost on a per-phone user basis. Alas, it is very difficult not to fall into a trap by saying “Well, people who want to vote can damn well pay for it!” which only encourages the retort “Well, people who want the BBC can damn well pay for it!”. I will deal with why I think having a publicly-funded broadcasting organisation is in our interests towards the end.

The BBC sell advertising space on all their sites, all you need to do is visit the bbc website using a proxy from a different country and you can see links to buy advertising space. They make money from selling DVD’s, Books, The BBC Magazine goes out to 88 million people a year, they must make a fortune.

Yes, and they make no secret of it. They also sell the BBC World content, and some other things I’m sure neither of us has mentioned. I think the idea is to defray costs to the license payers, and I’m all for it. Content costs to produce, it costs to distribute, and it costs to archive. Selling advertising space on BBC websites? Bandwidth costs money, and BBC websites are well set up and run given the sheer number of concurrent users it has. Also, online advertising doesn’t pay so well (by that I mean they probably make less than you or even I think), especially for news items.

This is a complete monopoly.

Please explain – a monopoly on what? They cannot be an “entertainment minority” (as stated previously) and a monopoly; these are mutually exclusive.

You wouldn’t pay £140 a year to tax a car that you dont use would you?

I know it’s bad form to answer a rhetorical question, but… If you want to be able to use a car on the road, you have to tax it. Even if you only intend to use it once, or have it in case of an emergency. Otherwise you file a SORN.

At £139.50, The Tv licence is a joke.

I disagree. Funding an institution that puts out both high-quality programming and news so that it is free of bias from companies or the government (well, nominally) is a good thing, and cheap at twice the price – adjusted for students and low-earners of course.

Every other channel funds itself by advertising, so why can’t the BBC do the same. They are already screwing us over by showing BBC programs on Dave and the UKTV Network. Where shows are 40 mins apart instead of the usual 30 mins.

I have two arguments against funding the BBC with advertising. Firstly, it is nice to be able to watch a show all the way through without interruptions for ads for things I don’t want. It being free of advertising is a positive, at least in my opinion. Secondly, and more importantly than this writer’s humble opinion, is that advertising can and does harm impartiality. Example – (in)famously, several car manufacturers have written to the production team of Top Gear threatening to pull advertising over unfavourable segments, to which they replied “Uh, you don’t have any advertising with us”.

To put it simply, being free of advertising is being free of worry over what sponsors think, which gives them freedom to take people to task without the worry of pissing the wrong person off and decimating their budget. I cannot stress how important this is.

Edit: Meant to comment on this the first time around but forgot. I thought perhaps the BBC sold the broadcast rights to Dave or some such. Looked around and found that Dave (and the rest of UKTV) is a joint venture between BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC, charged with making money outwith the license payers I suppose) and Virgin Media. The presence of advertising on the UKTV network seems to be a way of getting money for old rope. Not sure how the Beeb justifies getting advertising for reruns. I suppose it reduces the license fee, but not quite in line with not advertising during BBC content. Hmmm. Might ask them for a comment.

They can’t have it both ways

They don’t. British people pay for BBC content through the license fee, people from other countries pay for it through advertising (eg on the BBC website) or through subscriptions to BBC World, for example. Otherwise, as I probably don’t need to point out but will anyway in case someone is skimming and missed it… Otherwise, the license fee would be higher and you (and I) would be (quite rightly) incensed that we are paying for other countries to get free high-quality programming and news.

Im [sic] not saying get rid of the BBC, I just want them to fund themselves or allow us to opt out of their service.

And I would argue that you are cutting off your nose to spite your face, or at least being short-sighted. Fix the problems with the license, such that they are, don’t get rid of it altogether.

[Note: rational arguments are finished, the rest is my opinion. I will support it with rationality insofar as I can, but there will be those that disagree with my points as they come form a different point of view. I merely offer my views so that you can see where I come from, and perhaps be persuaded if you are on the fence.]

I am going to have to compact my argument for a public institution for producing content, as my word count is pointing out that I am already approaching 2500 words (I had hoped for 8-1200). Basically, it comes down to reasons I have already alluded to. The BBC is nominally free of pressure from advertisers, sponsors or the government. In practice, companies or the government may be able to put some pressure on the BBC, but this is nowhere near the amount of clout these potential detractors would have should they make up the budget of the BBC. Why should we all pay for it? Well, I liken it to paying for a fire service, or police, or health. All of these things serve the public interest, even if I never make use of them.

I will use fire as an example: even if my house never catches fire, it is good to protect all residences as it may mean the difference between a relatively minor disruption in someone’s life as compared to completely wiping out someone’s home, causing disruption not only to them, but to their work (which may have some impact on me) and perhaps their life. It costs us more – as a society, not individually – when we do not protect and care for each other. Right, so what does this have to do with producing content?

Well, the BBC’s public funding allows (arguably demands) that they act in the public interest. They must point out flaws in the government; regardless of who is in power. They must point out harmful actions made by companies, no matter how big and powerful they are. They produce educational content, and content for those who might not otherwise be served. They provide content in minority languages of the UK, so that interest in a part of our culture may be preserved. They produce some very high-quality mainstream content too. And by doing these things, they raise the bar for other content or news providers.

This last point is very important. Without the BBC, we may lose out to the lowest common denominator. It is easy to argue that we may not, but the race to the bottom is a hard one to go against. I would argue that we do not want to end up as things are like in the US, where content is produced to sell adverts; instead of an art culture there is an advertising culture. And the news situation? Dire. I don’t want to be drawn into a debate about this, so I will say no more. For now.

Unfortunately, we seem to be slowly falling under the sway of those that would stir up emotion for the sake of it, or worse, to confuse the public. Tabloids are happy to gravely distort or even invent information to suit their agenda. It has been said that in the UK those who get elected are those whom Rupert Murdoch supports. If true, this is not something we want.

The BBC is not perfect. There are issues of secrecy, hypocrisy, misfunding and bloat. I support those that wish to take the BBC to task over these issues, as it will inevitably make it a better institution. The Beeb should definitely be more open and honest, and it can be argued that it is overreaching in some of its services and should make some cutbacks.

In conclusion: Keep the fee, but make it fairer. To get rid of the license fee would be to completely replace the BBC with something toothless, something vulgar and something completely mediocre.

4 thoughts on “I Support The TV License”

  1. Christ, that’s a freaking huge wall-o-text. I should say that between checking the number of members and finishing the piece, the number has now increased 545 570.

    I think I may need to change the design of the blog to accommodate longer articles.

    Edit: Longer, not loner articles. Loner articles don’t care what they look like.

  2. Pingback: I Support The TV License |

  3. I’m going to leave the MaxArticleStar comment because although I hate spam in all its forms, it’s (briefly) hilarious when they get it wrong.

    Then I remember its still spam. Hrrmph.

  4. Mr. Robert, you are quite thoughtful in this article, I really agree with you, I am a tv and movie freak, and I also suggest that such licensed tv should be priced enough that no jackass can think of it.

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