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Licence fee, not license fee
January 12, 2012 3:56 AM   Subscribe

In the UK, people pay a yearly licence fee to watch live television, with revenues funding the BBC. TV Licensing is the group that collects fees, and they use a number of methods — some real, some imaginary, some in between — to gain compliance. But one Briton remains determined not to play that game.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (175 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I now pay for what I watch

Well, not exactly. The correspondence on writing below the line, however, makes one proud to be British.
posted by robself at 4:09 AM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've said it before, I'll say it again. Give me the option here in America, and I'll gladly pay the license fee in exchange for the BBC.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 4:13 AM on January 12, 2012 [44 favorites]


Sweden has the same system of licensing and you must pay ~299 USD per year, which pisses some people off who are not fond of goverment operated media. I don't have anything against the system, quite the opposite, but it bugs me that retailers are obligated to report any TV purchase to the authorities since you might be purchasing the TV as a gift or something.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:14 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm happy to pay the licence fee personally, and I wonder how much of mine goes toward pointless conversations about OCR with this guy.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:15 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assumed that because it's been possible for spy technology to reconstruct images on a CRT by intercepting the leaked EM produced by the electron gun that the TV vans used a less discriminating tech. Of course, that wouldn't have worked once CRTs made an appearance as ubiquitous computer monitors, too. I'd heard the oscillator explanation, too, which made sense to me. Contrary to some of the comments on that page, it's not as if, historically, televisions have always been "quiet" in EM emissions. They haven't.

But, really, I think it's much more amusing to think that this has been a huge con by the British government.

I'd be totally in favor of a similar arrangement in the US. Not that it would ever, ever happen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:15 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I get the same selection of letters approximately every 3 weeks. I did tell them I didn't have a TV when I moved in, but they decided that that information had lapsed a year or two ago, and I felt it was insulting for me to continue to tell them I didn't have a TV and started ignoring the letters.
posted by ambrosen at 4:16 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once phoned up TV licensing to figure out if someone else needed a license, and they wouldn't answer until I told them I had one already. Yup, they thought you needed a license to know if you needed a license. Bizarre experience.
posted by edd at 4:20 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"A licence is not and never has been required simply to possess a TV set, for the purpose of watching pre-recorded content, or use as a monitor for video games or computers." (wikipedia)
posted by jeffburdges at 4:27 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, I'll say it again. Give me the option here in America, and I'll gladly pay the license fee in exchange for the BBC.

I think it's worth pointing out that it's possible to be a huge fan of the license fee while objecting to the endless parade of bluster, bluff and intimidation engaged in by TV Licensing in its efforts to collect the fee. (The operator of the linked site maybe doesn't fully grasp this since s/he seems at times to imagine these letters are coming from the BBC.)

It's hopelessly idealistic, I know, but I often wonder what would happen if TVL adopted a basic tactic of encouraging people to pay the license fee out of gratitude for British TV rather than assuming in the first instance that non-payers are probably criminals.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:28 AM on January 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I've always seen BBC licence fee dodgers as equivalent to Americans that get super mad they have to pay school taxes even though they don't have children/their kids go to private school. Or, I guess more directly the people who get mad there's any kind of government funding for CPB/PBS/NPR.

Selfish fuckwits, in other words.
posted by kmz at 4:29 AM on January 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh I can sympathize with that anti BBC obsessed freak, but there is no end to worse: here in Italy the tax is on possession of a television set and most of the public tv programming is on the mental level of The Kardassians and Fox and Friends or whatever the name for that brain damaging fluff is, with some rare exceptions; unsurprisingly the same applies to generalistic private television, which one indirectly pays through buying the advertised stuff anyhow.

Which leaves satellite channels: about €20/month for the basic package (few channels), a nifty €240/year, yet it's peppered with some advertisement here and there! Not mentioning endless reruns on Discovery & Natgeo.

At least BBC does produce stunning new documentaries on a somehow regular basis.
posted by elpapacito at 4:31 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


told them i had stopped watching tv. there were a couple of phonecalls and then they sent a man round to check. i showed him where i'd cut the ariel wire prior to removing the satellite dish. haven't heard from them for two or three years now
posted by paradise at 4:34 AM on January 12, 2012


Selfish fuckwits, in other words.

The difference is that there are completely legitimate circumstances under which you really, really don't have to pay the license fee (ie, not equivalent those obscure paranoid survivalist theories about whether the federal government is really entitled to levy taxes, etc etc etc). Everyone agrees on this, it's just that as a matter of tactics, TV Licensing assumes non-payers are guilty until proven innocent. This is bad, even if a lot of the non-payers may indeed be some combination of a) guilty b) selfish fuckwits who don't appreciate the marvel that is the BBC.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:35 AM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


There are actually many counties where old people get tax breaks on property taxes that pay for schools, kmz.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:36 AM on January 12, 2012


Strange...

$ whois bbctvlicense.com
Registrant:
British Broadcasting Corporation
Domain Manager
Broadcasting House Portland Place
London, EN W1A 1AA
GB
Email: domain.manager@bbc.co.uk
DNS Servers:
ns1.thny.bbc.co.uk
ns1.thdo.bbc.co.uk
ns1.thls.bbc.co.uk
ns.bbc.co.uk

The IP is not in the BBC netblock.
posted by devnull at 4:36 AM on January 12, 2012


I've always seen BBC licence fee dodgers as equivalent to Americans that get super mad they have to pay school taxes even though they don't have children/their kids go to private school. Or, I guess more directly the people who get mad there's any kind of government funding for CPB/PBS/NPR.

Selfish fuckwits, in other words.
It's a license, not a tax. You need to pay school taxes if you don't have kids in school, but you're not legally required to pay the TV License if you don't watch broadcast TV. So why should you?

Obviously I live in the u.s, but I don't watch any broadcast TV. It's mostly garbage. Obviously the BBC is better, but I would be pretty annoyed at these letters, and I certainly wouldn't pay the fee.
posted by delmoi at 4:36 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


aerial
posted by paradise at 4:38 AM on January 12, 2012


@me: ugh, different domain. s/license/licence/

Info page.
posted by devnull at 4:40 AM on January 12, 2012


I agree with the licence fee in general, and if I were in a situation where I was legally required to pay it then I would do so. But there are clear regulation about who is required to pay the licence fee and who isn't.

I owned a TV but it was not connected to the aerial and I used it as a computer monitor, which meant I did not require a TV licence. Now I no longer own a TV at all, so again I am not required to pay. In both situations I informed them that I was not required to pay the fee and yet continued to receive similar letters to the ones on this website.

The person who runs the website appears to be in the situation of not being required to pay, as owning a television but not using it to view live broadcasts is legal and does not required you to pay for the television licence.

This is not selfish fee dodging by any means.

What I object to is the behaviour of the of TV licensing regulators, who assume you are a criminal if you don't have a licence, who send out letters which are equal parts condescending (oops you may be accidentally breaking the law!) and threatening (we'll send someone round to investigate you and fine you and throw you in prison!). When you try to phone them they are downright rude. That doesn't help the general hostility towards them.
posted by maybeandroid at 4:40 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Television licencing in the UK is a funny old fish. They work on the assumption that every home has a television and uses it to watch programmes. That's probably for economic reasons, which also mean that they basically never take action against you. And they're incredibly shady in the way they go about enforcing payment - essentially they've employed a kind of national brainwashing where we believe, not that paying the licence fee is a right and moral thing to do in support of the BBC, but that we're constantly under surveillance and liable to get the Big Brother knock at the door just when we're putting the kids to bed.

I can remember as a student living in a shared house where we had no TV - we had much better things to do. The licencing people sent a few letters, which we ignored. Then they sent someone round. I first noticed him when he peered in at my (downstairs) bedroom window. He jumped a little when he noticed me staring back at him. The doorbell rang, and I answered it. He showed me his credentials and started asking me various questions, which I forget now. What surprised me was his firm insistence that we had a television; I just shrugged a lot and assured him we didn't. Then he asked if he could take a look. I think he expected me to make some sort of fuss about letting people into the house without some sort of warrant or something, but I just told him to go ahead, and stepped aside to let him in. "Oh, um, no, it's ok. I'll just make a note that you don't have a television then" he said, and off he went. More bluffing, evidently.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:44 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the wikipedia link in the OP:
The licence fee is classified as a tax, and evasion is a criminal offence.

Objecting to paying a tax can be seen as very different from refusing to pay a fee or a license.
posted by episodic at 4:46 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here in France the TV licence is also mandatory - but it is collected by the government as part of the tax d'habitation paid annually by all home occupiers. One could decide to withhold declaring a TV to be sure - but that would put one at the mercy of the tax inspectors: much scarier than the guys in the cargo cult TV detector vans.
posted by rongorongo at 4:46 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Putting all issues of principle aside, it's pretty bad that this ineffectual process has been allowed to ramble on since the beginning of 2006. What's the thinking, if any, behind it? That they'll go on with it until he dies or moves away?
posted by Segundus at 4:51 AM on January 12, 2012


I've had my share of run-ins with the TV Licence people as well. Last year, for example, my licence ran out, but because I wasn't watching any broadcast TV (just iPlayer, and not very often at that) I didn't bother renewing it. I got the letters telling me it had run out and that the world was going to explode if I didn't pay up (I was particularly impressed with the one that had a special window in the envelope so that the postman could see the big red message saying "YOU'RE A CHEAP LICENCE-DODGING CRIMINAL" or words to that effect, clearly trying to shame me into paying).

Anyway, once the Rugby World Cup came around I wanted to watch that live, so I bought a licence once again. At that point I discovered that when you buy a licence online, it doesn't start from the point when you buy it - instead, it matches up your address and payment details and starts it from the point when the previous one ran out, meaning I had just lost three months' worth of TV watching.

In this case, it was all OK - it just took one rather icily-worded email to them and I had an extra three months stuck on the end of my licence term, so all is fine once again. Still, the bureaucratic nightmares that other people have had, the scare tactics, and the "guilty-until-proven-innocent" tack they take all contribute to TV Licensing not exactly being flavour of the month among many of the people I know.
posted by ZsigE at 4:55 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


episodic - we also have road tax here in the UK which you pay if you own a car. Nobody expects you to pay if you don't own a car. Also, no one sends you threatening letters assuming that you must own a car and that if you say you don't own the car then you are probably a lying criminal.
posted by maybeandroid at 4:58 AM on January 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Big deal. It's a lot cheaper to make people pay by threatening court action than by taking it. Government agency in efficient use of resources shock!

The License Fee pays for all of the BBC (with, until 2014, the exception of the World Service). All of it. 9 (and a half with Sports Extra) UK radio stations; 3 radio national stations; umpteen local stations; 9 UK TV channels; national and regional TV; the whole of the BBC online presence. For less than 40p a day.

A copy of The Times costs £1.
posted by howfar at 5:12 AM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Before BBC America worked with Apple to provide Dr. Who for license purchase on iTunes, I sent the BBC an e-mail enquiring about whether I would be allowed to license viewing rights from them directly so I could watch episodes on YouTube without legal harassment. They declined to allow me to do so.
posted by kalessin at 5:15 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


maybeandroid - indeed we do (I'm in the UK) and while I agree about the car analogy there is the language issue again.

Everyone I've met calls it the Road Tax, or the Car Tax. No-one calls it by it's real name of Road Fund Licence. It probably suits those in charge of each to keep these differences in name (and therefore perception) as they are as neither is really challenged.
posted by episodic at 5:16 AM on January 12, 2012


The TV license is not pay to play - it is not there merely to subsidise the cost of your watching (or not watching). It is for the national broadcaster to be able to pay to produce shows hardly anyone watches that would not be broadcast at all without the license fee subsidy. Shows like See Hear would not exist without the license fee. 92 hours of diverse religious programming would not exist without the license fee. I can't imagine the farm report would exist without the license fee. "I don't watch it, therefore I don't want to pay for it" misses the point of the thing. I don't have kids, so should I deduct the portion of my taxes that goes to child benefit, schools and tertiary education?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:16 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I don't watch it, therefore I don't want to pay for it" misses the point of the thing. I don't have kids, so should I deduct the portion of my taxes that goes to child benefit, schools and tertiary education?

Again, this is a misunderstanding of what the license fee is. "I don't watch it, therefore I don't want to pay for it" is explicitly written into the legislation. The argument for a universal tax to pay for fantastic public television is indeed a strong one, but the UK does not have such a universal tax at the present time.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:19 AM on January 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


DarlingBri - I agree that the licence fee is important, but the point is that there are clear rules about who has to pay it and who does not, so under the current system people who do not have to pay it should not be threatened and bullied into being made to pay.
posted by maybeandroid at 5:20 AM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


A copy of The Times costs £1.

But when I don't read it or pay for it Rupert Murdoch does not send me abusive letters and/or a representative round to my house
posted by biffa at 5:22 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


For less than 40p a day.

Big f'ing deal. Being forced to pay for something that I don't want doesn't become less onerous just because the daily tithe is below some imaginary financial line.

We hear, time and time again, from the Frappuccino Guardianista Set about how great the BBC is, and how it's such great value for money, and how we should all be grateful that we're forced to finance it. Yet, to a person, they remain strangely reluctant to allow the general public to make the choice for themselves. Just one more nasty example of the condescending 'auntie knows best' attitude that the Beeb has dumped on the nation since its inception.

In this day and age it's incredibly easy to restrict viewing of a channel to those who choose to pay for the privilege. If the BBC is as great as we're constantly told it is, let them go it alone, and sink or swim.
posted by veedubya at 5:23 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


But when I don't read it or pay for it Rupert Murdoch does not send me abusive letters and/or a representative round to my house

To be fair though Rupert Murdoch has other means of keeping himself posted on details of your private life.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:24 AM on January 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


I was fascinated by the letters' repeated insistence that the fee was due whether you owned a color or a black and white TV. Does anyone have easy access to stats on how many black and white TVs are currently in use in the UK? Is there a counter-cult of people keeping theirs in the misguided belief that they can watch them without paying the fee? (I presume this is some kind of holdover from differences in the charges when the BBC went to color broadcasting, but that's forty years ago now.)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:25 AM on January 12, 2012


He does however sponsor private investigators to hack into your email and voicemail services to see if you mention anything about browsing the front pages of his tat in newsagents.
posted by longbaugh at 5:25 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frappuccino Guardianista Set

*takes another sip*
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:26 AM on January 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


It would appear that TV Licensing has been administered by C(r)apita (the world's worst outsourcing company, cf. Private Eye) since 2002. I don't know the details of the contract, but it may well be the case that they have an incentive to 'sell' more licenses.

They have just been awarded another 8 year contract worth approximately £560m. The cost of the TV License was frozen for 6 years from 2010.

Currently they are proposing to relocate TV licensing jobs following strikes last year in protest about pay rises. This includes outsourcing jobs to India.

I would imagine that a certain amount of the aggravating behaviour on the part of TV Licensing is due to Capita's involvement, as they are an awful company on many levels.

I understand that there are legitimate reasons for not paying the license fee, but there are also people who don't want to pay don't watch the BBC (much) and find the convenient anti-BBC rhetoric in the Murdoch press and other red tops to be justification enough.

The BBC are up against it with fast broadband and mobile devices making traditional delivery methods increasingly obselete, many people do not use a television to watch 'television' any more. The government certain vested interests are hostile toward the very existence of the BBC and they are becoming increasingly milquetoast in response to the various pressures upon them, which does not bode well for culture in the UK.
posted by asok at 5:27 AM on January 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Being forced to pay for something that I don't want doesn't become less onerous just because the daily tithe is below some imaginary financial line.

Yes it does. If you used the BBC more you might know what onerous means.
posted by howfar at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


The guy does not say that he never watches broadcast TV, but that he watches it "less than an hour per week." Oh, is that the amount he thinks he gets for free?

(Says the man who buys the iTunes Season Pass to Doctor Who and rationalizes that cost as free reign to download DW episodes as soon as they hit the UK.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2012


Here in Japan they have a similar system. They send someone to your door to collect about $30 USD from you. No threatening or anything like that when it happened to me. Just a more or less polite, but intensely frightened (upon seeing a foreigner) old man.
I don't watch Japanese TV as it is universally worthless garbage, and for some reason the old man they sent three years ago believed me when I stammered out "I DON'T HAVE TV! NO TV!!" in as thick a fake German accent I could muster.
Unlike the BBC, NHK has had a slew of scandals involving corruption and political influence; the most salient in my mind was when they were caught being forbidden from showing a news special of some sort that exposed some aspect of political corruption regarding the current prime minister.
Here's an article about it.
posted by GoingToShopping at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the UK, people pay a yearly licence fee to watch live television

It doesn't matter if the content you watch is live or taped.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2012


I don't get this at all. Why charge the tax on the televisions? Why not just charge for BBC content like we pay for CNN content? It would seem they just need to have over-the-air DTV with some kind of subscriber and access control system.
posted by floam at 5:32 AM on January 12, 2012


::sigh:: This person seems to be on a crusade for a crusades sake.

Yes a large chuck of the BBC licence fee goes towards broadcast (entertainment) TV, but that funding is also used to produce non partisan news, and radio broadcasts, and a bajillion other BBC services that I have no doubt this crusading individual uses.

*IF* he doesn't own a TV that is capable of picking up broadcast Tv and NEVER watches any form of terrestrial TV live, then he can safely ignore any BBC Licence fee related correspondence, safe in the knowledge that he doesn't have to pay the fee, because he is not using those services.

He seems to me like he is harrumphing for the sake of harrumphing.

He also points out that only buys DVD's and VHS programmes from ebay. Blissfully ignoring that second hand sales do *nothing* to contribute to the original production team (everyone directly involved) of a show. THOSE BBC SHOWS HE IS BUYING SECOND HAND ONLY EXIST BECAUSE SOMEBODY PAYED THIER LICENCE FEES IN THE FIRST INSTANCE.

No media pops into existence without the aid of somebody, somewhere working to make it happen. Those people deserve to be paid for their time and skills, same as everyone else.
posted by Faintdreams at 5:32 AM on January 12, 2012


..in protest against insufficient pay rises..
..who don't want to pay that don't watch...
governmnet and certain vested insterests...

Probably plenty of other typos too. This is your brain on sugar!
posted by asok at 5:33 AM on January 12, 2012


Congratulations howfar, you've just proved my point: ignorance and condescension in one easy to take little pill.
posted by veedubya at 5:34 AM on January 12, 2012


Why not just charge for BBC content like we pay for CNN content?

Because the Licence Fee subsidises content that could never make a profit. I and my fellow Guardianistas believe that making things of value is worthwhile even if there is no money in it. What cunts we are.
posted by howfar at 5:35 AM on January 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


Veedubya, I'm crying into my frappucino.
posted by howfar at 5:36 AM on January 12, 2012


I and my fellow Guardianistas believe that making things of value is worthwhile even if there is no money in it.

Of course, it should be you and your fellow Guardianistas that decide how other people's money should be spent, not the people who are actually providing (under duress) the money.
posted by veedubya at 5:37 AM on January 12, 2012


That's pretty much how taxation works, veedubya, and the Licence Fee is a tax, just like Car Tax. You don't get to decide what roads get resurfaced, do you?
posted by howfar at 5:42 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Society without TV license fees looks like the US. We have some excellent commercial programming, some solid but wildly underfunded public programming, and then vast seas of garbage. And just about no news program in the US is the equal of what the BBC cranks out. Of particular note would be our political coverage (atrocious) and our local news (beyond atrocious).
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:42 AM on January 12, 2012


Road Tax. I'm making up taxes here. Must be my Guardianista tendencies coming out.
posted by howfar at 5:43 AM on January 12, 2012


howfar, as a thought exercise, why don't you ask a friend to explain to you how the lessons of the M6 Toll might possibly to applied to broadcast media. It's even possible that the infrastructure might be in place to support such a thing.
posted by veedubya at 5:46 AM on January 12, 2012


Surprised at the near universal support for the license fee here. As I see it, the BBC is a public service and should be paid for out of general taxation, which would be fairer and wouldn't require a nasty collection agency.
posted by tomcooke at 5:48 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I generally dislike the Guardianista, but on this I agree with howfar.

People are pretty short sighted when it comes to paying for things.
posted by fistynuts at 5:48 AM on January 12, 2012


Why is it a fee rather than a straight tax?
posted by pracowity at 5:49 AM on January 12, 2012


Once upon a time, not everybody owned a tv ...
posted by fistynuts at 5:51 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


veedubya, my friends don't have time to make your arguments for you. They're too busy building iPhone apps and snorting Fair Trade cocaine off Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Why don't you try doing your own work instead?
posted by howfar at 5:52 AM on January 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Good points Faintdreams.

'In this day and age it's incredibly easy to restrict viewing of a channel to those who choose to pay for the privilege.'

Are there any channels that provide uninterrupted advertisement free viewing on a pay per view basis? I would certainly pay for that, but I can't imagine paying to watch advertising.

One of the many reasons I am happy to pay the License fee.
posted by asok at 5:52 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


howfar, grow up.
posted by veedubya at 5:54 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aw come on. Be a sport. You can't expect me to take an argument that starts with "Guardianista" seriously. I'm sorry if you were taking this is a different spirit to me, and I apologise for any hurt feelings, because I'm just messing. Sorry if it came across as more mean than silly.
posted by howfar at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Car Tax

Road Tax

Road Fund Licence


It's Vehicle Excise Duty.

Are there any channels that provide uninterrupted advertisement free viewing on a pay per view basis? I would certainly pay for that, but I can't imagine paying to watch advertising.
One of the many reasons I am happy to pay the License fee.


Another good point. You can pay all manner of exorbitant fees for cable or satellite TV channels, but it all has ads except the BBC which, huh, you've already paid for separately.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2012


Are there any channels that provide uninterrupted advertisement free viewing on a pay per view basis? I would certainly pay for that, but I can't imagine paying to watch advertising.

ditto

From what I recall, the bulk of Sky's revenue comes from the advertising/pub licences, not subs.

I've pretty much implemented the same solution with hard disks and freeview, my time is worth more to me than it is to the advertisers ... plus the cost of the licence fee ...
posted by fistynuts at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2012


I support the idea that the state funds certain kinds of broadcast, especially, but not limited to, news, World Service, Parliament, children's, educational, and disabled access. However, I don't believe some items, such as sports, drama, or live entertainment should be funded, and I don't believe the BBC model is the most suitable. The Channel 4 model is probably better, as least for some of the output. I'm sorry to say folks, but I don't think the BBC should be making Doctor Who, as there's not only little social benefit from it, but it's clearly a commercially viable program.

I would also rather these be paid out of general taxation, and not by specific license fee. I don't watch tv of my own accord, and so don't pay for a license, but nor do I contribute to letting my neffa enjoy watching children's tv without ads.

It doesn't matter if the content you watch is live or taped.

To clarify, the license must be purchased if you intend to receive the broadcast live, whether you watch it at the time or later. Anything not watched or recorded at the time of broadcast is fine, such as purchasing your own DVDs or watching a non-broadcast channel from the internet.
posted by Jehan at 5:59 AM on January 12, 2012


I'd assume that you cannot legally sell cable or satellite television connectivity in Britain without collecting the BBC's fees, yes? If yes, doesn't that cover an enormous number of British people? If not, doesn't that makes Sky TV the biggest cheat? I'm happy with a for-profit television system being taxed to benefit a traditional non-profit television system. Also, couldn't you avoid the nasty letters by taking down your aerial? Or do you need it for lighting protection?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:07 AM on January 12, 2012


I'm sorry to say folks, but I don't think the BBC should be making Doctor Who, as there's not only little social benefit from it, but it's clearly a commercially viable program.

What's interesting about the BBC's commercially viable programming is that on the one hand, yes, shows like Doctor Who don't contribute to the nation the same way that the news does, and they earn their keep besides. But, there's also something to be said for how the BBC has shepherded these shows. Wholly private media companies continually find new and interesting ways to completely ruin these sorts of shows, as they're often forced to think in terms of shorter-term shareholder value. BBC's unique structure and mission leads to stronger content, especially content intended for more enduring value. There's a reason why ITV shows X-Factor, but the BBC shows Downton Abbey, just as there's also probably a reason why Channel Four shows Black Mirror.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:18 AM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


EndsOfInvention - It's Vehicle Excise Duty.

Absolutely, but we pay Duty on things we bring back through Customs after that trip abroad.
posted by episodic at 6:19 AM on January 12, 2012


Some US cable TV companies are almost this bad. When I moved into my current home in the early 1990's I received threatening letters from the cable provider and had them come around a couple of times snooping because they simply couldn't believe that someone could live without their service. That stopped when I showed the snoop that their precious cable was not only disconnected outside of my house, but that I had removed the junction box which it would be connected to.

If the US had a fee such as Britain charges for the privilege, I would immediately disconnect the aerial and stop watching the hour or two of broadcast TV I catch per month. As it is I waited until the very last minute to get a digital converter because the subsidy didn't fully cover the cost. Like another commenter or two upthread, I do not pay for programming that carries advertisements. The advertisements are the fee. I was pleasantly surprised that my partial investment in the converter did pay off in more channels with better picture quality, but I still only watch a few hours of TV per month. I probably spend twice the time watching Netflix DVD's (2 disks out at a time) than I do watching broadcast, and I'd watch even less than that if the local football team hadn't stopped sucking in 2009.

The scale of Britain's fee is only reasonable if you assume typical TV watching habits of several hours per day. In such a case the fee is only a few cents per hour for one's entertainment. But for someone who watches TV as little as I do it would be more like a few dollars per hour. It would make more sense to spend my money renting DVD's or even going to a movie theatre.

Of course if the fee were a tax, like the tax I pay to support local schools even though I am childless and likely to die that way, it wouldn't matter. But the fee is not a tax, it's a fee. I don't pay the toll for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway unless I drive across the bridge, I don't pay the vehicle license tax unless I buy a car, and I don't pay the gasoline tax unless I drive. TV programming does not quite rise to the level of social necessity as schools, and it makes sense that the fee to support it is based on voluntary usage.

But then it also makes sense to treat those who opt out with a bit of respect. There are actually people who don't spend six hours a day plopped in front of the tube, and we don't want to pay for something we don't use. Deal with it.
posted by localroger at 6:28 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why is it a fee rather than a straight tax?

Because the money from the licence fee does not go to the government, but directly to the BBC to keep its independence - this is simplified but you can look it all up on Wikipedia if you're really interested in the topic.

I don't find the idea that the licence fee peoples assume that everybody owns/watches television, because for the most part this is true, far more so than even car ownership.

IIRC it's not just the BBC who gets this money, but also ITV, right?

The Netherlands had a similar system for years but switched to paying it out of taxes some time ago.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:30 AM on January 12, 2012


...Being forced to pay for something that I don't want doesn't become less onerous just because the daily tithe is below some imaginary financial line....posted by veedubya

Yes it does. If you used the BBC more you might know what onerous means.
posted by howfar


on·er·ous 
adjective
1.
burdensome, oppressive, or troublesome; causing hardship: onerous duties.
2.
having or involving obligations or responsibilities, especially legal ones, that outweigh the advantages: an onerous agreement.

It seems to me that Veedubya's use of the word onerous was correct in the context he used it. Does it have a different meaning in the UK?
posted by Daddy-O at 6:30 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't pay the toll for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway unless I drive across the bridge

But you will pay the toll even if you only drive a few metres across the bridge, just like you have to pay a licence fee even if you only watch a couple of hours of tv a month.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:32 AM on January 12, 2012


I'd assume that you cannot legally sell cable or satellite television connectivity in Britain without collecting the BBC's fees, yes? If yes, doesn't that cover an enormous number of British people? If not, doesn't that makes Sky TV the biggest cheat?

Not at all, Sky does not have any duty to collect the licence fee. Anyone who is a customer of Sky is likely to be eligible to pay the licence fee but the onus is on the consumer to meet their obligations, not on Sky.
posted by biffa at 6:36 AM on January 12, 2012


Fair enough, howfar. My apologies for misreading your tone.

Anyone who is a customer of Sky is likely to be eligible to pay the licence fee but the onus is on the consumer to meet their obligations, not on Sky.

Yeah, this is my beef with the licence fee. I choose to pay more than £1000 a year for my Sky subscription, although this does include telephone line (which I don't make use of but is required for broadband) and unlimited broadband. Ideology aside, and I'm no Murdoch fan, Sky has everything that I want, as far as telly goes, so I'm happy to subscribe. I'd be perfectly happy if all BBC channels were encrypted and I could choose to avoid paying the licence fee by not subscribing to them. Maybe I would choose to subscribe, but that would be my choice.

It's the lack of choice in the matter, when the technology clearly exists to enable that choice, that pees me off.
posted by veedubya at 6:53 AM on January 12, 2012


The imposition of the license fee is justified while the BBC strives to be different from commercial programming, and doesn't simply chase viewing figures with lowest-common-denominator output. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:00 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


So... did the bloke in the OP actually contact the TV licensing people to tell them he wasn't doing anything he needed a license for? Because that's what they expect you to do if you're in that position, and while I respect his right to grandstand about not having to take time out of his day to do so, it seems like a relatively small matter to take such a dramatic stand against.

I was TV-less for about five years and got a few letters, and at one point a TV license inspector did actually turn up at the door to check I wasn't watching TV without a license. Bit odd - I invited him in, he glanced around one room and said 'okay, fair enough', ticked a box and left - but even so, I didn't get anything like the scale of threats this man got, and no more surprise visits or 'we have no record of a TV license at your address, PAY UP!' letters after I told them I didn't own a TV.
posted by Catseye at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2012


Also, the contrast with British Gas on his 2006 page isn't really a fair comparison, since he moved to another gas supplier (who would have contacted British Gas to tell them so). If instead of doing that, he'd just silently stopped paying British Gas for their supply and heated his house with electrical heaters instead, they would have been a lot less polite and conciliatory.
posted by Catseye at 7:15 AM on January 12, 2012


The thing is, veedubya, it really is hard to imagine that the choice would continue to exist in the scenario you describe. High quality broadcasting for those with vision and hearing impairments, for example, would almost certainly disappear without a large organisation capable of fostering it and providing a wide range of resources.

Or take Radio 4. Little of what is broadcast by R4 would exist without the licence fee, and yet, because of the nature of the station, huge numbers of people listen to it. It is entertaining, educational and enlightening as well as infuriating and idiotic at times*, and I would be absolutely devastated to lose it. But there is simply no way for those of us who want R4 or the BBC online, or the World Service or any of that stuff, to have it without some form of subsidy.

The Licence Fee has many flaws, but it provides a stronger basis for BBC independence than a hypothecated tax would, and I think this is a strong argument for preserving the status quo. I genuinely believe that the goods the BBC provides to society go beyond those parts of it that I choose to listen to and watch. Indeed, I don't own a TV, can't remember the last time I watched a live streamed programme on the iPlayer, and I still pay the Licence Fee, despite having no legal obligation to.

I don't just want to watch BBC programming, I want the BBC.

*Brrrrr. Too much alliteration.
posted by howfar at 7:17 AM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't imagine the farm report would exist without the license fee.

While I am a strong believer in collectively paying for things, I must point out that WGN Radio in Chicago has a farm report, complete with a call-in segment for farmers to phone in from their tractors.

The letter from 1974 reads much like the letter we got in Berkeley when our garbage bill went unpaid for a year.
posted by hoyland at 7:18 AM on January 12, 2012


The guy does not say that he never watches broadcast TV, but that he watches it "less than an hour per week." Oh, is that the amount he thinks he gets for free?

Actually he does. In the very next sentence.

I found that my television viewing consisted almost entirely of tapes of old programmes purchased off Ebay, and that my watching of broadcast television was less than an hour a week. I therefore decided to stop watching broadcast television ...
posted by papercrane at 7:29 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The BBC license fee is the huge bargain I miss the most as an Englishman living in the US. The hundreds of channels I pay for on cable are no substitute for BBC1 and BBC2.

Advertising free and not government funded doesn't just mean less annoying, it means independent. BBC news and documentary shows are happy to slam any corporation or product or politician that deserves it, because they are not in anybody's pocket. That sets the standard high for other channels and has a positive knock-on effect across all the media in the UK.

It's not just that a BBC interviewer will actually ask a politician hard questions, it's that they will shout at them "Answer the question!" when required. The surreal level of political corruption in the US, where changes that are against the interests of large industries are effectively impossible due to the politicians they own, would be impossible in the UK for just this reason. The BBC acts in the public interest, and makes other people do that to.
posted by w0mbat at 7:34 AM on January 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Ah, UK television licensing fees. I studied in Edinburgh for a semester, living in university housing (with other international students plus 3 or 4 local first-years) that consistent of 12 single rooms with a shared kitchen/living room. Somehow each of these rooms constituted a separate residence as far as the BBC was concerned, so about two weeks after moving in, we started finding stacks of scolding letters under the mail slot. Not a single television among us, of course. After some frantic googling I asked one of the local students about these, and she shrugged and said that her lawyer father had 'worked it out' the previous semester. Sure enough after several weeks of these letters someone did show up to check, (and was SUPER dubious about us not having televisions), but they did leave pretty quickly if I recall.
posted by heyforfour at 7:38 AM on January 12, 2012


howfar - "Indeed, I don't own a TV, can't remember the last time I watched a live streamed programme on the iPlayer, and I still pay the Licence Fee, despite having no legal obligation to."

That's all very well, if you choose to do so, and you are in the financial position to afford it. I love the BBC too, but a big part of why I do not own a television is because I cannot afford one. I don't like being made to feel guilty for not paying the licence fee when I don't have to, because if I had the money I would happily have a TV, pay my licence fee, and enjoy the BBC content that way. That I object to TV Licensing harassing me when I am doing nothing illegal. I have told them multiple times that I do not have a TV; they keep sending me letters and threatening to inspect the flat although no one ever shows up to do so.
posted by maybeandroid at 7:50 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear what you're saying, howfar, but I disagree. I don't think that, considering the vast amount of money it rakes in, the BBC generates particularly high quality programming.

The problem is, it seems to me, that the BBC spreads itself so broadly that both you and I could pick examples to bolster our argument. For example, I think that it's just plain wrong that a programme like 'Strictly Come Dancing' is financed via threats of court action. I also take particular exception to my (unwillingly given) cash paying for the seemingly infinite series of Huw Edwards' Disaster Tourism.
posted by veedubya at 7:51 AM on January 12, 2012


This sounds to me like a form of work/welfare. The government cannot lay these people off, so instead, they let them keep sending letters and trying to collect enough to pay their salaries. Half the government agencies here in the US are like that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:58 AM on January 12, 2012


The problem with TV licences like these is that they're basically a regressive tax - £150 is a lot for starving students living alone, less so for households with two adults working full time in (relatively) well paid jobs.

It's no coincidence that the people who dislike it most and try to dodge/refuse to pay are 18-25-year olds that just moved away from home.
posted by ymgve at 7:59 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't watched live TV in 7 years. I canceled my TV license two years ago because you only need it to watch live TV*.

I used to pay, even though I technically didn't have to, because I supported what the BBC stood for.

I stopped paying because they have actively fought against my interests in terms of being able to watch media on the player of my choice while conferring special status on the owners of certain high end electronic products (probably ones owned by the Trust and executives), partnered exclusively with certain companies (Adobe), shut down regional operations and are generally selling out the public service side of the operation...

The BBC has been pretty much corporatised and commercialized by the British TV industry's turnstile hiring practices which has resulted in the Beeb being infiltrated with commercial TV executives who have succeeded in undermining both the quality and character of a formerly great institution.

*They came by and checked and told me that unless they were allowed in (they have no right to enter) they would harass me every week until I either got a license or let them in.
posted by srboisvert at 8:05 AM on January 12, 2012


The government cannot lay these people off, so instead, they let them keep sending letters and trying to collect enough to pay their salaries.

The people sending the letters are employees of a contractor who has every reason to save money by laying people off, or outsourcing to India, as mentioned above.
posted by grouse at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2012


Somehow each of these rooms constituted a separate residence as far as the BBC was concerned

The right to "exclusive possession", most obviously evidenced by a locking front door, is the basic test for the existence of a lease. The weirdness is more a product of how a residential tenancy is defined and treated in British (well, English and Scottish) law, which has its own good reasons which are beside the point right now.


I don't think that, considering the vast amount of money it rakes in, the BBC generates particularly high quality programming.


It could certainly do much better if it realised that it is in a fundamentally different business to commercial broadcasters. A large part of what a commercial broadcaster does is deliver eyes to advertisers. This requires the creation of a particular kind of programming. The BBC should be in the business of delivering quality programming to the public, and it often (not always) fails to recognise this.

My position is that the BBC does not always generate particularly good programming of the type that can be generated by commercial broadcasters, but that it generates an astonishing range of good programming (radio and TV) that cannot be. Its public service role also has the tendency of preventing too rapid a race toward the lowest common denominator. I think one could make a similar argument about the NHS and private health care.

Like the NHS, the BBC also has all kinds of subsidiary benefits. The most obvious to me, if I may sink toward patriotism for a moment, is that the BBC is a major factor in Britain's disproportionate cultural significance. It is our equivalent of Hollywood. I can't think of any other broadcaster in the world that would generate this thread, for example. The BBC is also a news gathering and distribution agency of enormous diversity, both in broadcast and online.

I know you don't like the value for money argument, but I think it has a place. I truly believe that the BBC enriches and improves my life in ways that are worth far more than 40p a day, whether I watch its television programmes or not.
posted by howfar at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I found that my television viewing consisted almost entirely of tapes of old programmes purchased off Ebay...

I wonder if any of the programmes he buys were produced by the BBC.
posted by jack_mo at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2012


I'm just wondering why he bothers. I've sent an e-mail from each of my houses for about as long as he's been sending them. One e-mail per house just saying "I don't own a TV but do buy DVDs and use the iplayer. "

That seems to stop letters cold. And seems to be the opposite of his "Tips for avoiding harassment". I wonder why he's getting so many obnoxious letters...
posted by Francis at 8:17 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a British PhD student currently getting to grips with the long and complex history of public service vs independent television (and its impact on the ITV regional franchise holder Southern Television in the late 1950s to the late 1960s, since ya didn't ask).

Ironically, I don't own a television. I agree with DarlingBri and others that the BBC is worth paying for, and the idea of wholesale independent, commercial broadcasting does not appeal to me (even 'independent' television in Britain adheres to various public service principles, but I won't go into that).

However, I'm with oliverburkeman on this issue. TVL frames it correspondence in a disgusting fashion, designed to make people believe that they are breaking the law. There are many legitimate reasons why some folks choose not to watch broadcast television (mine are purely financial - yes it's 40p a day but it all adds up). Moreover, no one should be intimidated in this manner; it is unpleasant and unsettling for people to be led to believe they will be summoned before a court.
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:23 AM on January 12, 2012


A large part of what a commercial broadcaster does is deliver eyes to advertisers. This requires the creation of a particular kind of programming. The BBC should be in the business of delivering quality programming to the public, and it often (not always) fails to recognise this.

My position is that the BBC does not always generate particularly good programming of the type that can be generated by commercial broadcasters, but that it generates an astonishing range of good programming (radio and TV) that cannot be. Its public service role also has the tendency of preventing too rapid a race toward the lowest common denominator. I think one could make a similar argument about the NHS and private health care.


So well said it's worth quoting!

Expecially the part I often unconsciously forget to mention, operating as I possibly am from the learned-by-repetition notion that TV is about generating a program for the viewer, as opposed to the reality, which is generating eyeballs for advertisers.
posted by elpapacito at 8:25 AM on January 12, 2012


It is our equivalent of Hollywood.

I agree, in so far as it provides a completely unrealistic picture of our nation to the rest of the world. The Beeb, to me, is an embarrassing anachronism, both in the way it does business and in what it produces.

It's ironic (possibly in Morrissettian way) that the one programme that it produces which is actually representative of a part of British culture, and which is seemingly most appreciated by the rest of the world, is also the one most reviled by those who defend the BBC: Top Gear.

Eventually, I fear, The Guardian's bi-monthly campaign to get Clarkson sacked will be successful, he will decide that the hassle is not worth it, and Top Gear (in all but name) will move to Sky, and the BBC will replace it with some bland home-counties crap. That's the lowest common denominator.
posted by veedubya at 8:27 AM on January 12, 2012


Sticherbeast - Downton Abbey is an ITV programme. Weird, I know.
posted by cilantro at 8:29 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone needs a hobby, me thinks.....
posted by TrinsicWS at 8:30 AM on January 12, 2012


Martinwisse: But you will pay the toll even if you only drive a few metres across the bridge

Unless your car is equipped with wings or pontoons you are driving at least 8 miles if you go through the toll plaza, and that's if you take the earliest opportunity to turn around. The situation is hardly comparable.

In any case I said I would follow the rules and watch no TV at all if there was such a steep fee attached to the privilege.
posted by localroger at 8:31 AM on January 12, 2012


I'm just wondering why he bothers.

I personally refuse to engage with TVL on principle - it legitimises their behaviour and I don't like bullies.

However, after this thread I might buy a licence fee. I love me some Strictly (seriously).
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:32 AM on January 12, 2012


Slightly unrelated, but important: there's a comment upthread about the secondary market (ebay, etc.) not providing any value to content producers. In every single study I've ever read, the secondary market supports higher prices for the first sale, so, in fact, it really does provide value to the content producers. (In simple summary: a person is generally more willing to pay more for an object if it can be resold later.)
posted by introp at 8:36 AM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Frappuccino Guardianista Set

I'm pretty sure the Guardianista Set would recoil in horror at the idea of a Frappuccino. Single-origin espresso or perhaps Hario pour-over Guardianista set, please.
posted by yoink at 8:43 AM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in the early eighties / late seventies, we couldn't afford a TV.

The TV licencing people started sending letters asking if we wanted to get a license. After receiving each letter, my Dad would send back a nicely worded letter informing the TVL people that "no - we will not pay for a TV license." He never told them we didn't have a television, either because the license people didn't explicitly ask him if he had one or because he just wanted to cause trouble. He just kept informing them that we would not be getting a TV license.

This went on for months. I believe he would have taken it all the way through whatever legal processes he could if he was allowed to. I think he would have gone to court about it. My Mother put an end to his game when the threats of legal action started to get real. It's a shame really. I didn't see it at the time, but 40 year old me would probably do exactly the same thing.
posted by seanyboy at 8:57 AM on January 12, 2012


I have been waiting forever to say this:
Is this something I'd have to not own a TV to understand?

Okay I'm done. On a more substantive note, I don't see why the UK doesn't use an actual tax to support at least the BBC's news operations, since it extends so far beyond TV news. You don't need a TV to visit BBC.co.uk, and British citizens benefit from its watchdog reporting whether they actually watch the programs or not. But if the government wants to charge just people with TVs, then that's the rule, I guess.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:08 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


And yes - It may seem unfair that you have to pay your TV license when you don't consume any media from the BBC, but my take is the BBC acts as quality control for the likes of Sky. Make the BBC subscription only, and the quality of the shows provided by them will drop. Sky & the like can then drop their quality / costs & still compete for viewers.

The BBC License fee makes Sky better. It makes them work harder. It makes their news less biased. Rupert Murdoch may not like this fact, but I do.

The reason watching Sky is better than watching Fox is because of the BBC is there. You should be pleased you're paying for that license fee.
posted by seanyboy at 9:08 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Daddy-O: Veedubya's use of the word is incorrect in that the cheaper the license fee, the easier it is to pay it. This is what howfar was saying.
posted by seanyboy at 9:11 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast - Downton Abbey is an ITV programme. Weird, I know.

Is it?
posted by Summer at 9:13 AM on January 12, 2012


The most obvious to me, if I may sink toward patriotism for a moment, is that the BBC is a major factor in Britain's disproportionate cultural significance. It is our equivalent of Hollywood. I can't think of any other broadcaster in the world that would generate this thread, for example.

This is an important point that is often missed by the anti-BBC crown.
Tourism is a huge industry in the UK, with Americans alone accounting for 2.1 billion pounds of spending(according to wikipedia).
I imagine that a significant portion of that tourism was inspired by reruns of BBC programs on Masterpiece Theater and friends.
I'd be willing to bet, if someone did the study and maybe someone has, that the economic impact of the BBC outweighs the cost to UK residents.

They really shoud modernize themselves though. I think they could make some serious cash by selling iplayer licenses to overseas residents. I know my parents would probably be willing to pay for it.
posted by madajb at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2012


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: The reason it's not a tax is because that would pull the BBC even closer to the government. The license fee is enshrined in law, and the government has a say over what the fee costs, but that's all transparent.

The usually stated reason as to why it's a license fee is one of autonomy. The fee strengthens the fact (or cynically - the appearance) that the BBC isn't a government department.
posted by seanyboy at 9:15 AM on January 12, 2012


Any discussion of the BBC inevitably devolves into an argument about semantics.
posted by veedubya at 9:16 AM on January 12, 2012


No mention of the fish license sketch?

"The cat detector van from the Ministry of Housinge."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:16 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, maybe not a tax as in "paid with your income taxes for the year," but just have it extend to everybody, whatever method you use. Hell, collecting 150 pounds (or whatever) from every household in the country would be less intrusive and big-government-y than giving the BBC the authority to determine which houses have TVs in them.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:20 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found that my television viewing consisted almost entirely of tapes of old programmes purchased off Ebay, and that my watching of broadcast television was less than an hour a week. I therefore decided to stop watching broadcast television

Potentially interesting sidebar - this is, of course, fine because at some point somebody licensed the content, and that was factored into the first sale. However, it does highlight an interesting loophole in the UK, which I think has yet to be closed.

You need a license to watch television live (i.e. to watch the thing being broadcast at that moment) and to watch as-live recordings (so, if he is buying tapes, or now DVDs, of time-shifted material, he's back in trouble, but if he is buying commercially-available tapes/DVDs second-hand, that's fine). However, somebody can watch catch-up TV on the Internet without a license - so, you can watch BBC iPlayer without a license, AFAIK.

Which gets interesting when you look at something like the Boxee box or Google TV - is a TV hooked up to Boxee box and the Internet, with no connection to a terrestrial arial, satellite dish or cable, actually a TV, or is a computer screen hooked up to a (very specific) computer?

On a more substantive note, I don't see why the UK doesn't use an actual tax to support at least the BBC's news operations, since it extends so far beyond TV news.

Basically, this is about independence - if the BBC was funded by direct taxation, it would call its independence into question. Also, the anti-BBC wing of the Conservatives (who dislike the BBC as a concept, since it is subsidised by the state and in their eyes anticompetitive, hate it as an entity, since they are convinced it is run by Trotskyists, and want to be seen to oppose it as a matter of expediency, to stay in with the Murdoch press) would actually explode. Blood all over the leather seats of the House.

These threatening letters seem to me to be the equivalent of the lawyers who get paid to bulk-mail legal threats to suspected file sharers - the content owner is paying them to scare the more easily cowed back into compliance, even though a large number of others will either continue to watch without paying, trusting to the anonymity of the crowd, or will be stung into taking a more active role.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2012


The BBC License fee makes Sky better. It makes them work harder. It makes their news less biased. Rupert Murdoch may not like this fact, but I do.

The reason watching Sky is better than watching Fox is because of the BBC is there. You should be pleased you're paying for that license fee.


That, if you'll pardon my French, is bollocks. It's an argument that has as much basis in fact as Creationism. The idea that a bloated publicly funded, bureaucracy can somehow make a commercial organisation somehow better simply by existing is ridiculous. Just because it's repeatedly shouted by those with a vested interest doesn't make it true.

Also, is anybody still willing to argue that the BBC is unbiased? I find that astonishing.
posted by veedubya at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2012


They really shoud modernize themselves though.

Actually, considering the BBC is subsidised, it's amazingly modern. iPlayer, interactive services, niche digital channels, Project Canvas etc.
posted by Summer at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2012


The problem with the license fee that it's applied based on mailing addresses which leads to some unfair distribution of burden. It isn't pay per use or per piece of equipment (like a sales tax), it isn't paid per person (like a poll tax or payroll tax) and it isn't quite paid per residence (like a council tax). The last one is what pisses me off from my one experience with it at university: we were reminded that if we had a TV in our dorm room we had to pay the TV fee personally. It supposedly wasn't covered by the license for the common rooms in the halls of residence nor the license my parents already paid at the address where I was a registered voter. The requirement even extends to watching live TV online. It's a tax that isn't applied like a tax. It's quite absurd.
posted by rh at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2012


Actually, considering the BBC is subsidised, it's amazingly modern. iPlayer, interactive services, niche digital channels, Project Canvas etc.

Indeed. I meant their payment/funding methods.
I know many people outside the UK who would pay to be able to watch, say, Doctor Who, on iplayer when it is first broadcast.
A reliance on an increasing hard to distinguish "live television" license does not bode well for long-term existence.
posted by madajb at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2012


Sticherbeast - Downton Abbey is an ITV programme. Weird, I know.

Whoops! My mistake.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2012


The idea that a bloated publicly funded, bureaucracy can somehow make a commercial organisation somehow better simply by existing is ridiculous.

Why are you using an efficiency argument to counter a quality argument?

Also, is anybody still willing to argue that the BBC is unbiased?

It is impossible to prove a lack of bias, something borne out by the fact everyone thinks the BBC is biased against their own political leanings.

The BBC, however, has to adhere to impartiality guidelines. Whether it manages that or not is open for question, but the fact it has to try (and other broadcast news organisations do too to a certain extent) is the only thing that has stopped the emergence of a Fox-style news channel. If Murdoch could have created the Sun on TV, he would have done by now. But he can't (yet), and you can thank the notion of public broadcasting for that.
posted by Summer at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, is anybody still willing to argue that the BBC is unbiased? I find that astonishing.

More unbiased than any major broadcaster we have in the U.S.
I really think this is a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. You honestly just don't know how good you have it.
posted by madajb at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know many people outside the UK who would pay to be able to watch, say, Doctor Who, on iplayer when it is first broadcast.

Why can't HBO do that as well though? I would pay to watch Game of Thrones over the net, but I can't, I need a bloody subscription to Sky Atlantic. Are there any broadcasters that actually do this?
posted by Summer at 9:37 AM on January 12, 2012


As a minor point, speaking as a parent the fact that there are two BBC TV channels dedicated to children's programmes without direct advertising on them (CBeebies and CBBC) is saving me at least £150 a year in nasty plastic crap I'm not pestered to buy.

Yes, of course there's merchandise that you can buy based on many of the programmes on the channels. But they're not broadcasting several minutes of BUY ME BUY ME every fifteen minutes, and that makes an enormous difference.
posted by Hogshead at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've said it before, I'll say it again. Give me the option here in America, and I'll gladly pay the license fee in exchange for the BBC.

It works out to $18.50 per month. More than HBO or Showtime, and a little steep for my tastes.
posted by smackfu at 9:47 AM on January 12, 2012


The idea that a bloated publicly funded, bureaucracy can somehow make a commercial organisation somehow better simply by existing is ridiculous.

Incidentally, I think that one might argue that the NHS does this for private healthcare - at least, makes it better for consumers. Private companies can leverage the infrastructure of the NHS, and the NHS' existence as a (still, somewhat) free-at-the-point-of-care health provider keeps the costs of private healthcare at least somewhat in check in areas covered by the NHS. Compare and contrast the health insurance copays of US employees with UK employees...
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:51 AM on January 12, 2012


According to Wiki this fee has existed since 1946. I'm sure in those early days when TV sets were huge and expensive and the fee was relatively modest compared to the cost of a set, it seemed like a good idea. People who couldn't afford a TV wouldn't be complaining about subsidizing programming for their rich neighbors.

But in today's form, as rh notes, it's ridiculous. It's very high, it's regressive, and it's unfairly applied as with the example of college students. Add to that the assumption that TV is like air and nobody can live without it, and you get the outrages documented by the OP and several comments here.

A better comparison to tolls would be if the Causeway charged a flat $200 per year for an unlimited use pass instead of $1.50 per trip. That would be a great bargain for me, since I drive across it most days to get to work, but for someone who crosses it to visit Grandma or go birdwatching at the state park once a month it would be horrible. Such people would sensibly be advised to abstain or drive around, even though it adds 20 miles to the trip.

That's the problem here. If you don't watch a lot of TV the license fee is a horrible ripoff. I'm not against funding an institution like PBS or the BBC through taxes. But there's a reason you pay less taxes if you earn less, buy less, or your property is worth less, and there's a reason you only pay certain fees according to how much you use the service. Compared to nearly every other means of public funding the TV fee is truly ridiculous.

That the fee funds a useful service like the BBC is irrelevant. It's the way it's applied that is an outrage.
posted by localroger at 9:54 AM on January 12, 2012


Why can't HBO do that as well though? I would pay to watch Game of Thrones over the net, but I can't, I need a bloody subscription to Sky Atlantic. Are there any broadcasters that actually do this?

I imagine because most of their profit comes from deals with the various delivery systems.
The BBC, on the other hand, should be above those petty concerns and extra revenue would be gravy.

The thing they'd have to avoid somehow, is people looking at the extra overseas revenue and using it to eviscerate the license money.
posted by madajb at 9:59 AM on January 12, 2012


Why are you using an efficiency argument to counter a quality argument?

I'm not.

The BBC, however, has to adhere to impartiality guidelines. Whether it manages that or not is open for question, but the fact it has to try (and other broadcast news organisations do too to a certain extent) is the only thing that has stopped the emergence of a Fox-style news channel. If Murdoch could have created the Sun on TV, he would have done by now. But he can't (yet), and you can thank the notion of public broadcasting for that.

Again, just because it's constantly repeated, doesn't make it true. Let those who claim that broadcasting as a whole in the UK is better because of the existence of the BBC lay out the evidence. As it is, all I see is a lot of hand waving.
posted by veedubya at 10:00 AM on January 12, 2012


As it is, all I see is a lot of hand waving.

And your stance is what, exactly?
posted by Summer at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


lay out the evidence

I wish I could afford to buy you a plane ticket to the US so you could watch their TV for a day or so. Poor bastards.
posted by howfar at 10:03 AM on January 12, 2012


snorting Fair Trade cocaine off Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

STOP THE PRESSES! That sounds much more interesting than this silly TV thing.
posted by Twang at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2012


That the fee funds a useful service like the BBC is irrelevant. It's the way it's applied that is an outrage.

I think you're correct, a progressive hypothecated tax would make much more sense, and if we could get it, I'd grab it. The problem for those who support the BBC is that eliminating the licence fee, in the world we're in right now, without either eliminating the BBC or its relative independence from government, seems impossible. The majority of those calling for a change are doing so because they're out for BBC blood, not because they share your reasonable outrage. So we stick with the licence fee because it's the least worst option.
posted by howfar at 10:06 AM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Summer, I think it's pretty clear what my opinion is.

howfar, personally, if there has to a licence fee, I'd like to see the funds divvied up between a number of broadcasters. And those funds should be contingent upon genuine and representative public interest broadcasting. The devil there, obviously, is in the detail of policing of such a system.

My outrage is caused by my being compelled, under threat of the beak, to paying for something that I don't like, don't want, and don't need.
posted by veedubya at 10:24 AM on January 12, 2012


Fun fact: the original licence fee (for radios) was 10s in 1923 - this being at a time when the average weekly wage for a laborer was £2 12s - that is, it cost about as much as a laborer in the South of England earned in a day.

Remarkably, people who didn't pay the fee were already being called "pirates" in this 1923 silent cinema advertisement.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:31 AM on January 12, 2012


if there has to a licence fee, I'd like to see the funds divvied up between a number of broadcasters. And those funds should be contingent upon genuine and representative public interest broadcasting. The devil there, obviously, is in the detail of policing of such a system.

Indeed. The devil or, as some people like to term it, "Channel 4" (given your aversion to Guardianisti, please note link contains graphic scenes of Stewart Lee).
posted by howfar at 10:38 AM on January 12, 2012


My outrage is caused by my being compelled, under threat of the beak, to paying for something that I don't like, don't want, and don't need.

Seriously?
I was thinking you had some sort of reasoned argument with exampes of how the license fee could be used better or reduced through creative means, but instead, it turns out you just don't like paying taxes.

That's a disapointment.
posted by madajb at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2012


Let those who claim that broadcasting as a whole in the UK is better because of the existence of the BBC lay out the evidence.

A mug's game of course, as in any such discussion you can quibble endlessly about any examples I can give, but let's give it a go:

Top Gear. Q.I., This Morning with Richard, Not Judy, John Peel, "Did you threaten to overrule him", the Goodies, Round the Hornes, The Archers teaching mine safety in Afghanistan, the strictly impartial BBC worldservice operating on behalf of the Conservative Party, Match of the Day, cricket on longwave (even if I don't partake), Dead Ringers, John Peel, The Day Today, Any Questions, Question Time, Match of the Day, Not the Nine O'Clock News, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (radio, tv and online incarnations (H2G2)), the way in which the BBC led the way for news organisations to use the internet properly, Newsround, Our Friends in the North, Round the Horne, CBBeebies/CBBC, Top of the Pops, Strictly Come Dancing, House of Cards, Yes, Minister, Threads, Blue Peter, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, John Peel, Absolute Power, Have I Got News for You, the 2 Ronnies, Monty bleeding Python, The Old Grey Whistle Test, Dr Who, Quartermass, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Royle Family, "Oh Sod it. The bloody thing is stuck again", Bagpuss (and Oliver Postgate's work in general),

David Bloody Attenborough!!1!!1

Only a tiny sample of the output of the BBC that would've been difficult if not impossible to have been created had the BBC not existed.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


According to TV Licensing, if you "will not watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV" then you don't need a TV licence. The Determined Briton could just tell them he doesn't watch them "as they're being shown on TV" and stop the aggravation of receiving the letters.

According to the page...

You don't need a licence if you don't use any of these devices to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV - for example, if you use your TV only to watch DVDs or play video games, or you only watch ‘catch up’ services like BBC iPlayer or 4oD.

I don't see what the big deal is.

Or, on reflection, what maybeandroid said.
posted by no relation at 10:48 AM on January 12, 2012


Fun fact: the original licence fee (for radios) was 10s in 1923 - this being at a time when the average weekly wage for a laborer was £2 12s - that is, it cost about as much as a laborer in the South of England earned in a day.

So, if the average hourly wage is 12.50 in the UK and a license is 145.50, it's only up to a day and a half's wages?
Not a bad deal for a whole lot more choices.
posted by madajb at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2012


The BBC license fee is the huge bargain I miss the most as an Englishman living in the US.

Yup, me too.
posted by ob at 11:01 AM on January 12, 2012


I was thinking you had some sort of reasoned argument with exampes of how the license fee could be used better or reduced through creative means, but instead, it turns out you just don't like paying taxes.

I pay lots in tax, and have never quibbled about it. As I've already explained, I also have no problem with paying for television programming that I want to watch. I should mention that I also pay a monthly subscription for Cinemoi TV, a French cinema channel, so it's not like I'm averse to a little culture on occasion. I just don't like being forced to pay for rubbish, which is what, on the whole, I think that the BBC is. They spend billions of forcibly extracted pounds, and produce a handful of programmes that have any real value. The surprise isn't that there's so much quality programming coming out of the BBC, it's that there's so little.

Not a bad deal for a whole lot more choices.

If it's such a great deal, why not give everybody a choice as to whether to pay for it? The technology already exists to allow this. Could it be, perhaps, that us peasants just wouldn't make the correct choice?

This goes to the heart of it. Whenever the existence of the BBC, or the licence fee, is questioned, we get the familiar refrain of how great it is and how lucky we are to have it. And yet it seems that every single one of its advocates is strangely reluctant to put it to the test.

And for the record, I've lived and worked in the US, as well as several different EU countries. I know what the alternatives to the British system are.
posted by veedubya at 11:19 AM on January 12, 2012


You don't need a licence if you don't use any of these devices to watch or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV - for example, if you use your TV only to watch DVDs or play video games, or you only watch ‘catch up’ services like BBC iPlayer or 4oD.

I don't see what the big deal is.


This is true, I gave up on broadcast tv a while ago, and whenever I have access these days I am not really tempted to go back. I can get the few tv series I really want through lovefilm (I still read tv reviews) and most of the main channels have got the DVDs out about 5 minutes after they are shown. A years subscription to lovefilm costs about 25% more than the licence fee but I get films and games in there too and see about 5 times as much per week as I am interested in watching on the bbc (infinitely more than I would watch oin ITV). The only thing I miss is University Challenge.
posted by biffa at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2012


Could it be, perhaps, that us peasants just wouldn't make the correct choice?;

I would agree with this statement.
posted by seanyboy at 11:44 AM on January 12, 2012


veedubya, I've explained in detail why I value the BBC, and why giving people the kind of choice you want is not an option if those things are to be preserved. The BBC is so much more than a few TV channels that your insistence on assessing as such seems rather limiting to any possibility of debate. Much as you complain nobody wants to engage with you, I don't really think you're terribly interested in the argument yourself. Ho hum, it was fun while it lasted.
posted by howfar at 11:44 AM on January 12, 2012


howfar, it would help if you and the other BBC advocates didn't follow the BBC model of being patronising to anybody that had the temerity to disagree. Anyway, I'm out, I'll leave you all to your love in.
posted by veedubya at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2012


It would help if you didn't impute bad faith to those who have presented arguments you have not addressed. You dear silly boy. Love and snuggles.
posted by howfar at 12:00 PM on January 12, 2012


Get a room.
posted by smackfu at 12:15 PM on January 12, 2012


Quatermass!

Harrrumph.
posted by flabdablet at 12:22 PM on January 12, 2012


I just don't like being forced to pay for rubbish, which is what, on the whole, I think that the BBC is.

I'd rather my government didn't spend my tax money on worthless dreck either.
But that's not a choice you get to make when you pay taxes, and the license is a tax, no matter how they want to spin it.

Could it be, perhaps, that us peasants just wouldn't make the correct choice?

No, it's because you'd get something that is almost, but not entirely unlike, the BBC.
posted by madajb at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2012


"if there has to a licence fee, I'd like to see the funds divvied up between a number of broadcasters."

it is - it is shared between the beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, with the BBC getting the lions share.

It is difficult to know what to think about the BBC, sometimes I love it (c.f the Andrew Gilligan thing, Paxo roasting someone, Today program roasting someone), and then other times, I find it a bit condescending and patronising, an Auntie Knows Best attitude.
posted by marienbad at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2012


There's a TV on at number 5. It's in the front room... and they're watching Colombo.

Over time, this boggle-eyed Orwellian stick appears to have moderated to the comedy carrot of John Cleese demanding to know what the BBC have ever done for us and Reeves and Mortimer's diverse programming.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:31 PM on January 12, 2012


And like the NHS, the peasants are very much in favour of the BBC anyway. It's only the Murdoch activists who dislike it.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:32 PM on January 12, 2012


Arguing that the general quality of British TV is better than that of American TV is like arguing that cow shit tastes better than dog shit.

Yes, there are a small number of excellent shows made by the BBC and they are generally commercially successful around the world and can easily pay for themselves. (So, why is the BBC making them?) There are also a small number of cultural and educational programmes which are worth paying for out of public money.

The bulk of it, however, is brainless popular trash which seems to exist in order to compete for audience share with the similar brainless popular trash peddled by ITV, C5 and the satellite channels. I don't approve of it, I don't like it, I don't watch it and I'm not paying for it.

I do use the BBC - I listen to the radio a lot (world service, R4, 6 music a bit). I'd pay a little for that, but there is no radio tax/license/subscription/charity option, and an absolutely tiny proportion of their overall budget gets spent on radio.

I firmly believe the BBC is trying to do too much, that it should focus on quality output that doesn't make commercial sense. Trying to operate 8 TV channels and a sprawling internet presence is wasting a huge amount of money that is better spent on other things (or not spent at all).

I've worked for the BBC too. It's a honeypot for affable slightly lefty privately educated chaps who are very pleasant to work for but really have no incentive or desire to work efficiently and effectively. My suggestions for alternative technical solutions that would save moderate amounts of money (£50K+ off a £200K budget) were viewed with some bemusement, as an example.

Back on topic, when I stopped renewing my license I ignored the letters for about 6 months, answered the door to the friendly chap who came around to visit, showed him my TV with no discernible connection to anything but a DVD player and he thanked politely and departed, remarking that it's not unusual for people to give up on television, nowadays.
posted by dickasso at 12:45 PM on January 12, 2012


it is - it is shared between the beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, with the BBC getting the lions share.

This is a common misconception, but the BBC gets it all. Channel 4 asked for some license fee money in 2007 and was told no.

Arguing that the general quality of British TV is better than that of American TV is like arguing that cow shit tastes better than dog shit.

Yes, many people who believe this haven't spent much time watching the BBC itself, but only the cream of the crop that makes it to PBS or maybe BBC America. That cream is very good indeed, but so are the best television shows produced in the U.S. The rest is "a vast wasteland" on both sides of the Atlantic.
posted by grouse at 12:54 PM on January 12, 2012


The best way to view TV in the UK is via iPlayer and 4OD, in my opinion. They're like a library of treasures - an impression you don't get when you actually watch the BBC or Channel 4 live.
posted by Summer at 1:05 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguing that the general quality of British TV is better than that of American TV is like arguing that cow shit tastes better than dog shit.

It's like arguing that the average meal in one country is better than the average meal in another, when none of us are even eating the average meal.

AKA, it's pointless.
posted by smackfu at 1:07 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


an absolutely tiny proportion of their overall budget gets spent on radio

18% in fact.
posted by howfar at 2:56 PM on January 12, 2012


But to address the point more fully, you get however much R4, R6 etc a day for your 40p, someone else gets to watch Strictly... and The Apprentice, other people get excellent sports coverage. Everyone is getting great value for money, and it's just whinging to say "but I don't use that bit". I pay for the NHS like you. If I keel over from a heart attack, I'm not going to lie in the ambulance complaining that I should be getting a rebate because I haven't got cancer as well.
posted by howfar at 3:05 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish we had something similar in Canada. The CBC is chronically underfunded as a public broadcaster and even the right wing (yes, we have those here) wants to kill them off. I wish we had a licence fee that guaranteed the CBC proper funding to be comparable in quality to the BBC. The BBC has something like 10 national radio channels plus the regional ones, then the 4 TV channels - that's a lot of value.
posted by Meathamper at 3:16 PM on January 12, 2012


You have that CanCon thing, that tends to create a lot of programming that surely would never be created otherwise.
posted by smackfu at 3:17 PM on January 12, 2012


I see the BBC as biased against the left (especially against protest movements), others see it as biased against the right, I reckon it's probably somewhere in the middle... huddled in a corner, crying.

As for licence fee enforcement, when I moved into my current house I waited to pay the licence fee until an enforcement person came to the door. I simply refused to let them in, they said they'd call back again at some point, and I bought a licence.

I am happy to pay the money for the BBC, but would vastly prefer it to be funded out of general taxation, mainly because of the disproportionate impact a £145 fee has on low income households. I also have little sympathy with the moaning coming from someone who pays over £1000 a year to Sky - I'd love to know your most watched channels incidentally veedubya, because from my experience the vast majority of channels available on Sky are filled with absolute rubbish. There's some value in the movie channels, sports and a limited amount from the documentary channels (only so many shows about Hitler and Megastructures I can stomach)... but beyond that? Pffft.
posted by knapah at 3:42 PM on January 12, 2012


You have that CanCon thing, that tends to create a lot of programming that surely would never be created otherwise.

It's very low-budget and usually terrible. While it is true CanCon means all channels in Canada (give or take) have to provide a certain amount of Canadian content, there's no regulation that says it has to be well funded. The CBC is essentially 100% Canadian but even then, more people would rather watch imported American television.
posted by Meathamper at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2012


18% in fact.
OK, you're right.. But it does go down to 10-11% if you exclude the pure entertainment (music and sport) stations. I also think R4 should save some money and reuse a lot of the excellent WS content that hardly anyone in the UK gets to hear.

Can you believe BBC One costs £1.4 billion per year? (More than double the cost of all radio.)
Is this day of TV really worth 3.8 million quid?
posted by dickasso at 4:07 PM on January 12, 2012


(You could compare it to the NHS if the NHS spent most of our money on giving people new tits, hair implants and amusing body mods.)
posted by dickasso at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the wikipedia link in the OP:
The licence fee is classified as a tax, and evasion is a criminal offence.

Objecting to paying a tax can be seen as very different from refusing to pay a fee or a license.
Well, whether it's a tax or a 'license' (it may be both) it doesn't matter. If you don't watch broadcast TV, you don't have to pay it.

It's also completely regressive, they charge you the same whether you are millionare or broke.

--
Now, again, I don't live in the U.K. But since the HD switchover I don't even own a TV capable of picking up broadcast TV. I could still watch cable, and I can use my computer to watch lots of video content. But I just realized that I actually own no devices capable of reciving HD broadcast signals. It is possible to live without broadcast TV.
That's pretty much how taxation works, veedubya, and the Licence Fee is a tax, just like Car Tax. You don't get to decide what roads get resurfaced, do you?
Yes, but if you don't own a car, wouldn't it be annoying to get letters from the government threatening you for not paying taxes on something you don't have?
It's not just that a BBC interviewer will actually ask a politician hard questions, it's that they will shout at them "Answer the question!" when required. The surreal level of political corruption in the US, where changes that are against the interests of large industries are effectively impossible due to the politicians they own, would be impossible in the UK for just this reason. The BBC acts in the public interest, and makes other people do that to.
Sure, but Rupert, and James murdoch were powerful people in the UK and they were trying to get rid of it. Given the level of corruption in the U.S, who's to say that a powerful government TV network wouldn't be corrupted as well?

The way most large government agencies work in the U.S is having their presidnet appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. Even for totally independent bodies like the suprime court and the federal reserve. So I think you would still get political hacks running it.
posted by delmoi at 4:25 PM on January 12, 2012


7:30 to midnight is actually very solid on that schedule. I've not watched Eastenders for years, but I watched it for long enough not to begrudge it to those who still do. Earthflight and New Tricks are surely exactly what BBC 1 is for: glossy, populist and solid (New Tricks is a repeat, however). News and weather are a given, and then it's just pure entertainment for losers like me until the witching hour. Given that the largest share of the daily money goes on roughly this portion of the day, yeah, I'm not going to complain.

It might not be what you want to watch, but I doubt that there is any avowedly populist channel in the world that would stand up so well to this test as BBC1.
posted by howfar at 4:40 PM on January 12, 2012


But I just realized that I actually own no devices capable of reciving HD broadcast signals. It is possible to live without broadcast TV.

For two periods totaling about 15 years I lived in places where broadcast TV reception was impossible without either an antenna or cable, and I simply lived without. The only reason I own the antenna I have today is that one of my neighbors threw it away 15 years ago when they got cable. So I fished it from the curb and set it up in my attic. Used it to watch every episode of Enterprise and a lot of Saints games since they stopped sucking in 2009. But honestly, without the New and Improved Football, I probably wouldn't have bothered to buy the converter or the amp my spiffy new flatscreen needed (cheap TV sets are often built on the assumption you have cable and don't have good noise rejection in the front end).

If I lived in Britain there is a zero percent chance that I would own an antenna or pay the fee. And if I was getting harrassed to the extent the OP is, I'd be pretty upset about it too.

Perhaps the problem is that the TV people really can't imagine how anyone could possibly live without their product. The US cable company which serves my town certainly had that attitude, and that was about cable. At times it does seem like I live in some kind of weird alternate reality. But I think the internet is making that a lot more common than it was in, say, 1990.
posted by localroger at 4:48 PM on January 12, 2012


Yes, but if you don't own a car, wouldn't it be annoying to get letters from the government threatening you for not paying taxes on something you don't have?

The guy in the FPP is a paranoid loony. You just ring them up/email and say you haven't got a TV. Threatening letters from TV Licensing are a standing joke, it's just that some idiot with a persecution complex has decided to blog about something everyone knows. Imagine a guy taking a photo of a British sky every time it rains, and you'll get the idea of how pointless this is.

Letters from TV Licensing are like discussions about the weather, just a fairly benign quirk of our cultural pantomime. This site is like someone getting really upset because Wishy-Washy keeps saying "Oh no it isn't" when any idiot can see that it really is behind him.
posted by howfar at 5:19 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Letters from TV Licensing are like discussions about the weather

Well no, from my perspective over here where I don't have to pay this loony regressive tax to watch "free" TV, it looks like these scans represent the government threatening you with all kinds of sanctions because you are doing something you're not doing. It frankly bothers me that a country that gets something as right as NHS compared to our obscenely fucked up health care system has something this fucked up marring its own legacy. Is it just impossible for a country to have no insane fucked up shit in its dealings with citizens?
posted by localroger at 6:53 PM on January 12, 2012


Is it just impossible for a country to have no insane fucked up shit in its dealings with citizens?

Yes.
posted by madajb at 7:04 PM on January 12, 2012


it looks like these scans represent the government threatening you with all kinds of sanctions because you are doing something you're not doing.

Unless you send them any form of communication that says "I don't have a TV". That's all you do. The guy in the FPP is lying. It is simple to stop TV Licensing troubling you.

What is the alternative enforcement policy you would suggest? Should people actually come to my house to check if I have a TV? Should Parliament enact new powers of search? Given the level of compliance, the ease of being removed from the list and the relatively low cost of enforcement, while I thank you for your concern, I probably don't need it right now.
posted by howfar at 7:06 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Imho, they should make Sky TV, cable, etc. bill their customers for their BBC service. Aerials won't last much longer anyways.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:18 PM on January 12, 2012


What is the alternative enforcement policy you would suggest?

It would start with a fee system not so regressive and stupid.
posted by localroger at 7:47 PM on January 12, 2012


Given the extent to which advertising costs inflate the price of almost everything that anybody ever buys, it's long seemed to me that these are functionally equivalent to an even more regressive tax than the Beeb licence fee which you can at least legitimately opt out of by choosing not to watch broadcast TV. Basically, we're paying a hugely regressive tax for the privilege of being shouted at frequently by annoying hucksters. If we could come up with a not-regressive, not-stupid way of avoiding that, I'd be all for it.
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on January 12, 2012


Unless you send them any form of communication that says "I don't have a TV". That's all you do. The guy in the FPP is lying. It is simple to stop TV Licensing troubling you.

I think the problem is that the guy quotes the BBC letter that says:
"You are under no legal obligation to notify TV Licensing that you do not have a TV set"
and
"You are under no legal obligation to notify TV Licensingif you use the receiver(s) purely for video/DVD playback"
and
"Householders are not legally obliged to respond to enquiries from TV Licensing"

His opinion is therefore that he doesn't have to tell TV Licensing anything, which is technically true but overly pedantic if it brings on all that harressment.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:52 AM on January 13, 2012


Again, just because it's constantly repeated, doesn't make it true. Let those who claim that broadcasting as a whole in the UK is better because of the existence of the BBC lay out the evidence. As it is, all I see is a lot of hand waving.

Let's start with adverts. When I saw US TV I was appalled to see a commercial break immediately after the opening credits. Try that sort of crap in Britain and people would simply turn over to the BBC or a channel too sensible to do that.

In more detail, a standard American one hour programme is (according to Wikipedia) fourty two minutes long. The BBC broadcasts those 42 minute programs in 45 minute timeslots. ITV is allowed twelve minutes of advertising per hour and must average at eight in primetime (adverts for their own programs don't count).

This means that even if you ignore any qualitative difference between the stations and assume it all to be the same, watching any given hour long show on US TV would take 45 minutes on the BBC. Or 25% less time than in America - so watching the same show on BBC as opposed to US TV is a 25% better use of your time. And the commercial stations need to compete with that - wall to wall adverts are going to have people wandering back to the BBC.
posted by Francis at 3:53 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have easy access to stats on how many black and white TVs are currently in use in the UK?

In 2008/09 there were 24,871,994 colour TV licences issued in the UK and 28,887 Black & White ones. A colour licence currently costs £149 wheras a Black & White one costs only £49

It is an oddity of the system that the licence fee paid by blind person would cost £75 which is more than the cost of a B&W licence.

Is there a counter-cult of people keeping theirs in the misguided belief that they can watch them without paying the fee?

Yes there are a number of people who still own/use Black & White TV sets. I have one friend who does just that and so only pays the fee for a B&W licence. He has no plans to stop and owns about 4 portable B&W TV sets most of which he picked up for next to nothing at car boot sales.
posted by bap98189 at 4:09 AM on January 13, 2012


One day I'll understand why many of the most vehement opposers of the licence fee are also happy to pay far greater subscription fees to watch adverts. I suspect it's a football thing.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 5:50 AM on January 13, 2012


His opinion is therefore that he doesn't have to tell TV Licensing anything, which is technically true but overly pedantic if it brings on all that harressment.

I have had reports that telling TV Licensing you don't have a TV only results in a temporary respite, and that the letters start again several months later, so when I lived in the UK, I never bothered to respond either. Why spend the postage?
posted by grouse at 7:50 AM on January 13, 2012


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